Liberia: Gbarpolu County Lawmaker Wants Legislators’ Salaries Cut

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Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The Co-Chairman of the House Judicial Committee, Rep. Kaine Wesso of Gbarpolu County District #2 has called for the government-backed wage harmonization program to go across all sectors including the Legislative, Executive and Judicial branches of government.

The harmonization of the wage bill is one of the measures that is being introduced by the George Weah-led administration. Under this measure, civil servants are expected to receive one salary and the issue of discretionary allowances will be canceled. 

Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel Tweah, appearing before plenary of the House of Representatives admitted that the measure is already being implemented by the Government.

According to Minister Tweah, through the measure, the salaries of 9,000 civil servants who were “overpaid” are being cut, while 15,000 civil servants experience an increase in their salary. In addition, he said 55,000 government workers’ pay remains constant. 

The government said its harmonization process is expected to increase salaries of civil servants in the health and security sectors who had been grossly underpaid.

But in the wake of the introduction of the program, several civil servants including health workers have complained of reduction in their salaries, prompting the Legislature to order the Finance Minister to stop the measure and return to status quo until the measure is fully approved through an act of legislation.

However, Rep. Wesso, speaking to reporters upon his return from the United States on medical leave, pledged his support to the measure, but cautioned it should start with the top government officials including members of the Legislature.

“The harmonization should cut across the board. Even here at the Legislature, we should be able to agree among ourselves what amount of money we can all agreed in principle to give out to our people so that they will live and smile again. If they are not happy we will not be happy. If they are happy, then our job will be easier. If our people down the line – the police, the nurses, the teachers and the security guards are not happy, how can we be happy?” he questioned.

During the administration of ex-president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, there were reports that heads of certain government’s ministries and agencies were paid huge salaries than others. 

The discretionary allowances policy also led to huge disparity in wages of government workers, resulting to some civil servants being paid higher wages their colleagues of the same rank or higher.

Cllr. Wesso called for the complete cancellation of the practice and called for the harmonization of the wage bill to benefit people down the economic ladder. 

“Harmonization of salary should be in a way that we should pay attention to the nurses, police, soldiers, and the low class people who have nothing to live on but only that one salary,” he intimated.

“It is even scaring to know that someone who works for the Liberian government over 50 years has not been able to even buy a one lot of land. It is my hope that in the future this harmonization will be carried on so that the lower bracket people, the common men down the road will be able to at least acquire one roof before God takes them away.”

Where is Legislature’s Stands On Salary Harmonization?

The Legislature has not made a definite decision through an act of legislations on the IMF backed austerity measure.

While some backed the measure, several lawmakers have termed the implementation of the measure by the Executive without legislative approval as “totally wrong and illegal.”

In July, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives Prince Moye indicated that the House of Representatives supports the government’s salary harmonization exercise even if their salaries and benefits will be sliced.

Rep. Moye, however, clarified any decision leading to an adjustment in salaries of civil servants and lawmakers will be done in accordance with the law.

The Bong County District #2 lawmaker was responding to reports that lawmakers are expected to make an ultimate sacrifice by agreeing to a massive salary slash from a whopping US$15,000 to a maximum of US$6,000 as part of recommendations from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce the country’s wage bill amid a crippled economy.

“I am in support, and I think my colleagues are also in support of the adjustments in our benefits and salary. But the way to do it is what we are going to begin comes the thirtieth of this month [July],” said the Deputy Speaker back then.

However, our reporters covering the House of Representatives noted that despite few lawmakers including Deputy Speaker Moye and Rep. Wesso’s open declaration in favor of salary cut to support the government’s wage bill harmonization measure, it is unlikely that majority of the lawmakers on Capitol Hill will vote in favor of such measure.

Currently, lawmakers are complaining of the delay in payment of their monthly wages and the failure of the Weah-led government to disburse the County Social Development fund.

In the absence of the social development fund, lawmakers said they are being put under severe pressure to use their salaries and personal earnings to implement several projects in their respective constituencies.

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