Capitol Hill, Monrovia – The House of Representatives has voted unanimously to ‘reject and return’ the Senate’s bill calling for 50% benefits of salaries to some members of the three branches of Government.
Gerald C. Koinyeneh and Henry Kamore
The bill titled “an act adopting an integrated pensions and benefits scheme for certain categories of officials of the Government of the Republic of Liberia and to repeal and or amend certain portions of title 26, Legislative Act, Title 12, Executive Law and Title 17, Judiciary (1972) and the 2003 act which amends these laws”, for the three branches of government, seeks to allot 50% benefits to retired lawmakers, the president and Vice President, justices as well as circuit courts judges. It also indicates that the President will maintain 75% of his staff and assigned security detail following retirement.
In a heated debate on the floor of the House of Representatives in its Thursday extra sitting session, several members of the House frowned on the bill, terming it as draconian and only intended to suppress the already suffering masses.
‘Draconian and Unreasonable’
The passage of the bill by the Senate sparked angry reactions from a large segment of the public, terming it as a wicked attempt by their lawmakers to plunder the country’s resources and send millions into poverty.
Its introduction and subsequent transmission to the House sent social media into a frenzy, with large segment of the public, terming it as wicked and a calculated attempt by their lawmakers to plunder the country’s resources and send millions into poverty.
They called on their direct Representatives at the House to reject or vote them out in the fourth coming 2023 presidential and legislative elections.
With that in mind, members of the House wasted no time in condemning the bill in the strongest possible terms as soon it was introduced on the floor and vowing to reject it and sends it back to the senders as though it never appeared before them.”
Representative Larry Younquoi (District #8, Nimba County) termed it as “obnoxious and unreasonable” and should not be accepted. His fellow Nimba lawmaker, Rep. Dorwohn Twain Gleekia (District #6, Nimba County), expressed delight that the House was united and for once listening to their employers to snub the Senate bill. Rep. Gleekia called on his colleagues to go beyond the pension and thrash out the controversial US$30,000 allotted to them for legislative project.
Given the seriousness of the debate, the presiding officer, Deputy Speaker Jonathan Fonatti Koffa opened the floor to almost all of the members in session.
Rep. Mary Karwor (District #2, Grand Bassa County) said, “This bill will die and die and never wake up again because if you retire, go on your farm and don’t look for benefits again so we will not pass this bill and we will throw it in the Red Sea”.
One of the strongest comments came from Rep. Frank Saah Foko (District #9, Montserrado), saying, “The bill is wicked and it is from the belly of the devil. Let’s see this bill as though it never appear here. Though it is from the House of Elders but it should not be granted based on the current economic situation facing our country and people.”
Fellow Montserrado’s lawmaker, Rep. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis (District #4, Montserrado Co.) joined several of her colleagues in calling for the Senate’s bill to be treated with dignity and the House should inform the Upper House that the bill was not resonating with their “reasonable consciousness.”
Following an exhaustive debate, Rep. Clarence Massaquoi filed a motion calling on the House to ax the bill.
Senate Makes U-Turn
While members of the House were condemning the bill on Thursday, the Liberian Senate, in the wake of public criticism, voted to recall the pension bill from the House of Representatives.
The Senate is being accused of enacting a ‘‘fat’ pension and benefits law for the legislators, members of the Executive & Judiciary, and ignored civil Servants who bear the brunt of harsh economic conditions.
The public specifically, civil servant are furious over why the Senate’s proposed law didn’t consider adding money to the very ‘small take-home salaries’ for the hardest economic working class that bears the brunt of the very harsh economy that Liberia is presently experiencing.
In response to the public criticism, the Senators Including Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County, Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County and J. Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County issued public disclaimer about what is been discussed in the public and what the Judiciary Committee submitted for Senate plenary discussion.
Senator Dillon Said: “I want the Senate to make correction to what is being discussed in the public. What is in the public is not what we submitted and that committee members don’t passed bills into law. When a bill is passed into law the President of the Senate or the Pro-Temp and the secretary of the Senate signs it.”
Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County, backed Senator Dillon’s argument that the version of the law in the public is different from what was being discussed by the Senate. Snoe blame political opponents of the Senate for playing; there is already an existing pension law that is being applied and what the Legislature intend to do was to make it confront to current day reality.
Sen. Snowe said; “I think this matter is grave, the information in the public is not right, the information about our colleagues on the judiciary committee is not fair to them. To take a committee report signature page and signal them up of passing a bill that is not how it’s done in our Legislature. People should find another way of formulating their campaign strategy.”
What’s in the Senate proposal?
The Senate’s proposed law didn’t consider adding a penny at all, to the ‘very merger take-home’ salaries for the hardest economic working class that bears the brunt of the very harsh economy that Liberia is presently experiencing.
In their amendment of the existing laws, under Section 2.1 of the amended law, “A Speaker of the House of Representatives who honorably retires to private life and who is not in any way gainfully employed by Government shall receive from the Government a pension Annuity equal to 50% of his/her last highest gross salary earned as Speaker, per annum, paid in equal monthly installments.
“In addition, he/she shall be entitled to a personal staff and facilities for the remainder of his/her natural life, and the amount allowed for this purpose shall not be more than 25% of his/her annuity, per annum provided that he/she has served as a Speaker for minimum of four years as Speaker, prior to his/her retirement.”
In addition to this greasy purse, the Senate’s proposed law provides that for the rest of the retired Speaker’s life, he/she shall also be entitled to police or other state security protection and other services around the clock.
Trying to protect themselves for the rest of their lives and tempting the Speaker of the House to side with them, the Senate’s law further states: “The surviving spouse of the deceased Speaker or former Speaker, that became eligible for pension under paragraph (a) of this Section, shall be entitled to receive an annuity equal to 50% of the pension annuity of the Speaker during the natural life of the said spouse. This annuity, if applicable, shall commence as of the date of the death of the Speaker or former Speaker.”
“On the death of the spouse or if there is no spouse, the annuity provided for the surviving spouse shall be paid in equal portion to each of the children of the deceased Speaker or former Speaker until they attain the age of 21.”
The Senate also proposed the same law entitlements for the Deputy Speaker as for the Speaker.
But for the members of the House of Representatives, other than the Speaker and Deputy Speaker, the proposed law provides that once they have served two terms in the HOR and are now retired, they shall be given 30% “of his/her last highest gross salary earned as a legislator, per annum, paid in equal monthly installments.
Additionally, if a member who has retired upon being vested, that is after serving for 12 years as a representative is again elected for another term, he/she shall receive from government a pension annuity equal to 50% of his/her last highest gross salary earned as a legislator for the subsequent term upon retirement.”
The intent of the bill was to integrate the pension and benefits scheme for certain categories of officials of the government of the Republic of Liberia. To repeal and / or amend certain portions of the Title 19, Legislative Act; Title 12, executive law of Liberia.
For the Senate Pro-Tempore, Senator Albert Chie, who has served for over four years in the post as Pro-Tempore, their proposed law states that when he “honorably” retires now, he shall be given the same equal treatments as is provided for the Speaker, who honorably retires.
“Excluding the President Pro-Tempore, a person who has been elected a Senator and who has served 12 years at the Senate, meaning one full elective term and three years in any subsequent term, or who has served at least one term at the Senate and at least one term at the House of Representatives and, who has honorably retired to private life, and who is not in any way gainfully employed by government, shall receive from the government a pension annuity equal to 30% of his/her last highest gross salary earned as a Senator, per annum, paid in equal monthly installments.”
Other purses as are the same for members of the House of Representatives shall also be applied to members of the Senate.
For the Executive Branch of Government, which is headed by the President, the Senate’s proposed law calls for the retired President to get 50% of his/her last highest gross salary per annum. The law further states that he/she must receive “not more than 75% of his/her annuity per annum for his/her personal staff and facilities for the remainder of his/her natural life.”
Further for the President, as in the case of the President, the law states that when he dies, his wife, shall become eligible for pension of this Section that covers him. She shall be entitled to receive an annuity equal to 50% of the pension of her husband.
“In addition, the surviving spouse of the deceased President or former President shall be entitled to a personal staff and facilities for the remainder of the natural life of said spouse, and the amount allowed for this purpose shall not be less than 25% of the pension annuity of the President per annum. This annuity, if applicable, shall commence as of the date of the death of the President or former President.”