FPA Using FOI to Requests Liberia Lawmakers Salaries, Benefits

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Monrovia – Information regarding the salaries and other incomes of public officials paid directly from taxes are not secret in many countries around the world but for Liberia, the situation is quite different. Liberia’s Lawmakers salaries

“This information is crucial for our work in the media and will arm us with the knowledge and end the mounting speculations over how much legislatures are actually making. We need to know” – Rodney D. Sieh, Editor/Publisher, FrontPageAfrca

In countries such as Kenya, the salaries and other incentives of lawmakers are voted publicly during parliament deliberations and the public aware of how much their lawmakers are earning.

Kenyan lawmakers in July 2010 voted to boost their own salaries, making them among the world’s best paid politicians. The parliamentarians voted to be paid a basic $44,000 (£29,000) a year.

But extra allowances can bring the salary up to up to $126,000 (£84,000) after tax – a rise of 18%. The allowances include $370 (£250) a day for turning up in parliament.

In Liberia there is still secrecy surrounding how much lawmakers earn monthly in basic salaries, incentives and other allowances giving individual lawmakers the leverage to provide their own version of information to the public regarding their earning.

Make Information Available

FrontPageAfrica has taken the lead in ensuring that both the House of Representatives and Senate provide information regarding their earnings.

In two letters addressed to the Senate and the House of Representatives, Rodney S. Sieh, Editor and Publisher of FrontPageAfrica is requesting the legislature to make available all information regarding lawmakers’ salaries and other incentives to the news outlet.

Using the Freedom of Information Act passed into law by the National Legislature and signed into by the President, Editor Sieh stated that Access to information is a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution of Liberia.

In separate letters to dated May 3 and addressed to Nabolor Singbe, Secretary of the Senate and Mildred Sayon, Chief Clerk, House of Representatives, Republic of Liberia, Editor Sieh stated:

“Recognizing that access to information is a fundamental right guaranteed by the Constitution of Liberia and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and realizing that the right of access to information encompasses the right to request and receive information, especially information involving public interest, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf on October 10, 2010, signed into law a Freedom of Information Act”.

The FPA editor added that the Act which has already been signed into law and printed into a hand bill made Liberia the first West African country with a freedom of information law. Stated Editor Sieh: “It is in this light that I wish to request from your office a breakdown of salaries and benefits for elected members of the Upper House of the National Legislature”.

‘Crucial to Our work’

He continued “This information is crucial for our work in the media and will arm us with the knowledge and end the mounting speculations over how much legislatures are actually making”.

Editor Sieh indicated that various media outlets have in the past few months given conflicting information in their reports regarding the actual salaries of elected officials.

Quoting the FOI, Editor Sieh said it is clearly stated: “The right of access to information applies to private entities that receive public resources and benefits, engage in public functions, and or provide public services, particularly in respect of information relating to the public resources, benefits, functions or services.

The right to information is independent of a personal interest in the information, and there is no need whatsoever for a person requesting information to provide a reason or justification for his or her request”.

In an initial response to the request Singbe told FrontPageAfrica that he will submit the request to the leadership of the Senate and will only act when mandated to do so. “I will forward your request to the Senate leadership and you will hear from me on anything they mandate me to do”, Singbe told FPA.

In similar manner, Editor Sieh in another letter addressed to Mildred Sayon, Chief Clerk of the House of Representatives also requested information on the salaries and incentives of members of the House of Representatives.

Misunderstanding on lawmakers’ salaries

Although FrontPageAfrica has requested information on the salaries and allowances of lawmakers but from figures allotted in the national budget, the lawmakers are earning hefty salaries and allowances.

“There is much misunderstanding on the salaries and allowances of the Liberian Lawmakers. The only open, accessible source is the National Budget. In the National Budget 2015/2016 section 101 is dedicated to the National Legislature (page 3-13).

In this section you will find the budgets for salaries and allowances that are allocated for the members of the House and the Senate”, stated the Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD) on its website looking at the salaries and allowances paid to lawmakers.

In the budget the lawmakers have several line items listed under their budget including basic salary, general allowance, special allowance, transportation reimbursement, foreign travel ticket, domestic travel, amongst others.

The Speaker, Deputy Speaker and Senate Pro temp have separate budgets from the rest of the lawmakers.

Besides the budget for the operations of their respective offices, the three earn more in terms of basic salary, and other allowances.

Speaker Alex Tyler gets US$444,945 annually in budget line items such as basic salary, general allowance, special allowance, residential property, fuel vehicle, fuel generator, repairs vehicles, other specialized materials and others.

The Deputy Speaker Hans Barchue gets US$440,961 annually in line items such as basic salary, general allowance, special allowance, residential property, fuel vehicle, fuel generator, repairs vehicles, other specialized materials and others.

Senate Pro temp Armah Jallah gets US$482,203 annually under similar expenditure line items including basic salary, general allowance, special allowance, residential property, fuel vehicle, fuel generator, repairs vehicles, other specialized materials and others.

Senators Net Over 15K monthly

Each senator besides the Pro temp receives an amount of US$209,516 annually from the national budget.

Individual senators get US$3, 4956 each for general allowance monthly; US$ 81736; US$30,000 as special allowance and US$38,400 as transportation reimbursement allowance.

On a monthly basis each senator gets US$2,913 as basic salary; US$6,811.33 as general allowance; US$2,500 as special allowance; US$3,200 summing to a little over US$15,424 monthly.

Other budgetary expenditure line items such as Telecom/Internet/Post amounting to US$ 13,793 annually; Residential property lease of US$ 12, 000; Fuel Vehicle of US$ 42,371; Fuel Generator-US$ 2,465; Repairs Vehicles-US$19,832; Other Specialized Materials-19,938; Foreign Travel (incidental)-US$ 14,000 are all cash given in lump sum to the senators.

Representatives Get over 14K monthly

On the other hand, members of the House of Representatives also take home more than US$14,000 monthly excluding other amounts given them in cash during the course of the annual budget.

Members of the House of Representatives are paid an annual amount of US$34,482 in basic salary, US$ 107,622 in general allowance and US$ 30,000 in Special allowance amongst others annually.

On a monthly basis individual members of the House of Representatives get US$2,873.3 in basic salary; US$8,968.5 in general allowance, US$2,500 in special allowance and US$3,175 in transportation reimbursement allowance totalling over US$14,342 monthly.

Individuals’ representatives also get other allowances that are received in cash in lump sum like the senators during the course of the budget year.

Other budgetary line items such as Telecom/Internet/Post amounting to US$ 16,957annually; Residential property lease of US$15,656; Fuel Vehicle of US$45,499; Fuel Generator-US$ 2,586; Repairs Vehicles-US$ 1,724; Other Specialized Materials- $35,896; Domestic Travel- $20,128 are all cash given in lump sum to the senators.

The state spends an amount of US$17, 710, 41 on all 103 members of the House of Representatives annually.

Samwar S. Fallah, [email protected]

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