Liberia: 86-Year-Old Government’s Retiree Survives on Garbage Collection

Still his private garbage-collection suit- Mr. James Weah in front of his house in West Point Township two hours after the “day’s hustle”

From Monday to Saturday, Mr. James Weah (age 86 in 2021) leaves his one bed room zinc house in the predominantly slum West Point Township from 6am every day to tour the Central Business District of Liberia’s Capital, Monrovia. His collection tools are a large blue polythene bags, hidden in an old leather bag when he’s leaving home. His traditional ‘work uniform’ is a blue face-cap, old shirt (upper part of a private Security Firm he had done night-security work with when he was doing day-time work for MCC), and old shoes. When walking, he hops due to partial paralysis of one of his legs.

By Samuel G. Dweh—freelance Development Journalist—+231 (0)886618906/776583266/[email protected]/[email protected]

“I can go hustle—collect garbage from stores and people’s homes and throw away to get food money for me and my woman sitting over there,” Mr. Weah said, pointing at a predominantly grey hair woman eating milk-less creamy wheat and dry bread under the shade of a house adjacent theirs being invaded by blazing sun ray. “My wife’s name is Elizabeth.”

The discussion between the pensioner and this writer was in the evening of Saturday, February 12, 2021, two hours after the elderly man had returned home from his “hustle tour”.

Mr. James Weah is a neighbor to this writer’s relative living in West Point, and they (Mr. Weah and the writer) had had interactive sessions several times where the old man had narrated his “street sweeping work” life with the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC).

Mr. James Weah is a jovial old man who occasionally entertains neighbors and passers-by with Christian songs sung in his dialect—Kru—when he’s in ‘happy mood’.

“I was a street sweeper for the MCC over ten years, but they retired me because of my old age, but they haven’t paid my pension benefits over two years now. So, I’m collecting garbage around to survive,” he narrated.

When I requested proofs of his claims against the Liberian Government, the elderly excitedly reacted: “I have plenty! They are in my room. Give me one minute to produce them!” He raced into his room. Most of its contents, including the bed, were visible to me and anybody passing due to its location: facing a public road.

Less than sixty seconds he was with a bundle of papers, smiling to the face of his host.

“Here are the proofs you called for,” he said and surrendered a pile of papers and two ID cards to the ‘inquisitive visitor’.

The first ID on top of the papers had the following heading: “Pensioners Association of Liberia”, and other information—Name: James Weah, ID No.: 0513, Payroll No.: 41-35-109-0048, Occupation: Sweeper, Position/Work: Pensioner, City/Town: M.C.C (Monrovia City Corporation)

The second ID card had “Pension beneficiary” information from the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation (NASSCORP), issued on October 9, 2020 and to be expired on December 31, 2020.

The first paper under the ID Cards was “retirement letter” from the “City Government of Monrovia”, issued in October, 2001.  Portion of the letter stated: “The Management as of October 2001 asking you to be retired due to old age”, and approved by Ophelia Hoff Setumah, the Mayor of the City Government of Monrovia during the time the letter was issued.

“I used to get my pension money regularly from EcoBank, but since the Government started sending us to LBDI (Liberia Bank for Development and Industry), getting my pension money is hard, beginning from 2017. LBDI told me to bring my employment letter from MCC, I did that. But I can’t get my pension money, even during George Weah’s time (Presidency),” the octogenarian explained as the visitor (this writer) moved to other “proofs” he provided.

The second evidence was a one-page Notary Certificate, processed at the S. Peter Doe-Kpar Notary Agency on November 20, 2020. The address on the Certificate is Capitol Bye-Pass, Monrovia, and “0886528084” as first of contact phone numbers of the Notary Agency

“I gave my son ten U.S. dollars to get that paper from the Lawyer, NASSCORP sent me to that man to fix the paper, so that my son will be allowed to collect my pension money because I’m too old to be walking behind my pension money,” Mr. Weah chipped in when this writer was reading aloud the words for his hearing.

Mr. Weah’s third “proof” was a navy-blue paper with the letter head of NASSCORP, with the heading: “NOTIFICATION OF RETIREMENT/SURVIVOR PENSION BENEFITS UNDER THE NATIONAL PENSION SCHEME.

The third paragraph of the letter states: “We wish to inform you that after full scrutiny of your file, your request has been accepted and processed. You will continue to receive your Retirement Pension benefit awarded you under the Civil Service Pension Scheme, in the amount of four thousand one hundred Liberian dollars and forty cents ($4,190,40), which you will receive monthly”

The letter bears the signature of Nya D. Twayen as Deputy Director General, with “Civil Service Agency” as recipient of carbon copy of the letter.

Mr. Weah’s fourth “proof” was a new Pension beneficiary ID card issued by NASSCORP on February 10, 2021, to expire on December 31, 2022. The holder is under beneficiary category “RPB” (no meaning given), with a Payroll Number 41-35-310-0048 preceded by “CSA_Gol” (with the Payroll Number)

“The current President and I have the same name—Weah, I voted for him, but I’m angry with him because I can’t get my pension since he came to power,” the 86-year-old man complained to this writer.

On my question of his nucleus family, Mr. Weah told me only his late brother’s son, married, is near him, living in the same community (West Point), and only comes around him to cut his hair or to taste his breakfast or launch.

“Only my wife’s son, with his personal family, comes here to cook out food, draw water for us, and clean our house, because my wife get Pressure, and I’m too old to do the hard work he can do for us,” the 86-year-old man said.

Two days later, I met, by accident, Government’s retiree James Weah during his garbage-collection tour on various Streets in Central Monrovia, and secretly followed him to see places he would go and what he would do.

Pensioner James Weah on his garbage-collection tours in Central Monrovia’s Central Business District

Pensioner James Weah on his garbage-collection tours in Central Monrovia’s Central Business District

To be confirm his ‘garbage collection claim’ during our meeting at his house, I spoke to the owner of one of the stores he entered, after he had left.

“My name is  Benjamin Ledlow,” the store owner called his name after I called mine and introduced myself as ‘nephew’ to the old man he had interacted with few minutes ago. “He’s my pappey (father) and my kinsman of Sinoe County. He comes here to collect my gabage, or begs for small thing, money, when I don’t have garbage for him to dispose,” he added.

Several other retired Government’s employees have several disheartening experiences, some of which are similar to Mr. James Weah.

Mr. Joseph Saah Howard, in his middle 70s, a closer friend to Mr. James Weah, had told me in West Point community that he also have pension issue. “I have not received my pension benefits over two years. I worked for the Liberia Institute of Public Administration, and was retired,” he complained to me during my chat with his friend.

On Monday, February 8, 2021, I met the compound of NASSCORP’s Branch on 15th Street, Sinkor, engulfed with noise from complaints of Government’s retirees or their proxies and responses from NASSCORP’s officials attending to then   Office on 15th Street, Sinkor, Monrovia.

Few hours later, I chatted with two elderly women—one outside the compound, the other inside.

The first woman, identified as Sia Tamba, outside, said she had come for her the severance benefit of her late husband, an employee of Firestone Rubber Plantation (Company), but she was not lucky to get the money.

“My name is Sia Tamba. I came for my husband’s pension money, but the people say I must come back next month,” she disclosed to this writer.

The second woman, identified as Susanna Gaye, told this writer she was here to present her notarized proxy letter to enable her collect the severance benefit of her husband (William Gaye), a retired member of the National Special Security (Presidential Guard), who had fallen ill, can’t walk, and is now wheel chair-mobile.

“My husband was retired by the Government in 2017; I have been drilled backward and forward for this pension benefit business since September, 2020, two months after my husband fell serious ill. When he was well, he brought me to NASSCORP and told them I was the person to be collecting his pension, but NASSCORP told me I should bring legal proxy letter before they recognize me as the legal person to collect the pension,” Mrs. Gay explained to this writer, and showed a photo of her husband (in a wheel chair) with her and a female NASSCORP official near his hospital bed.

An announcement of a female security officer at the Liberia Bank for Development and Industry by 8am on Monday, February 15, 2021 caused a ripple of frustrated-related comments from many of pensioners gathered (sitting) and waiting for “9:00am” to collect their severance benefits.

“No NASSCORP payment today. Only GOL (Government of Liberia) pensioners will receive their money today. All those here for NASSCORP payment should come tomorrow. The NASSCORP Account will be activated by two o’clock today, and the payment will be ready tomorrow,” the security woman relayed the Bank’s comments to the body of those sitting.

Over ten persons from the group sprang up from the seats and started leaving.

“The same information I’d heard—no payment for pensioners on NASSCORP’s list—since September, 2020, when I started coming here on the Government’s instruction,” complained a male pensioner who identified himself as Jackson Dahn to this writer at the Bank during the announcement. “I worked for the General Services Agency of the Republic of Liberia, I was retired in 2027,” Mr. Dahn added during our chat.

Pensioner James Weah and his unlucky colleagues can’t see a sign of getting their retirement monetary benefits.