Liberia’s Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor has been prevented from parking his vehicle at its usual parking lot at the Temple of Justice, as angry judicial staffers intentionally occupied the spot to deny him access while they hold a meeting regarding an alleged unpaid Liberian dollar component of their salaries.
The protesters sat in chairs in a circle at the chief justice’s car parking area at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia Thursday, 10 September to conduct a meeting in the open which was followed by a peaceful march and chanting of slogans against the Chief Justice.
While the Chief Justice was approaching the premises, his securities went ahead of him to ask the protesting judicial workers to clear the place for their boss’ car to be parked, but the protesters insisted they were not leaving.
And until their meeting was over, they did not leave the spot, compelling Chief Justice Korkpor’s vehicle to be parked elsewhere. However there was no report of confrontation between the protesters and the securities brought to the attention of this paper.
Series of protests have been held by the group in recent times over misunderstanding between them and their bosses regarding what is attributed to be a cut of their Liberian dollars component of their salaries on account of the government’s salaries harmonization program.
As the judicial workers marched in the premises of the Temple of Justice, holding each other’s hands Thursday, they were seen repeatedly chanting the name of Chief Justice Korkpor, saying: “Korkpor, bring back our money; and bring the people’s money.”
The protesters say they do not want three months pay, but they want their arrears in full, allegedly totaling 11 months.
“If we [don’t] get it, we’ll lock this place, nobody will not enter, that’s the justice we will give. That’s the justice,” one female protester says from the crowd as the group’s leader Mr. Archie Ponpon addresses journalists.
“The Chief Justice, when he was acting, he called us to Supreme Court meeting. He said that the least man in his regime will build house. He was deceiving us to tell us that the least man will eat grand pea peeling,” another elderly female judicial worker among the protesters says, but declines to be named.
The group’s head Mr. Archie Ponpo claims that they have been made to understand following meetings that “the Chief Justice is the only one that can solve the problem to bring back our Liberian dollars.”
According to Ponpon, the protesters also want various issues to be addressed, ranging from alleged wrongful dismissals to the authorities’ alleged failure to put some court support staff on payroll for years despite using their services.
Despite marching and occupying the Chief Justice’s parking lot, Mr. Ponpon says their protest is yet to come “because the people are in gear.”
Ponpon says one of such protests could be the fact that angry judicial workers “have denied the Chief Justice his right … to park his car,” thanking his fellow protesters “for doing justice.”
“That alone must send a message to him to hastily bring back our money. That’s all,” Mr. Ponpon warns, as he makes a demand for the full payment of 11 months of arrears allegedly owed them.
He further warns that this matter will extend to a major issue because everybody in that protest is traumatized at home due to lack of money.
Ponpon says if they go to a meeting with the authorities, they will only there to get their money back, saying they will not compromise on this one.
He threatens that they will walk out of the meeting if the authorities bring about any bureaucracy like they allegedly did and made a powerpoint presentation during the previous meeting, adding that the protesters will ensure that there will be no court opening in October if the issues are not addressed.
Mr. Dee Flomo, the Financial Secretary of the group of aggrieved judicial workers accuses Chief Justice Korkpor and his associates of depriving judicial workers their just salaries and by extension, bringing economic starvation upon them.
“Because we don’t have money to eat, we come here we don’t eat.No money. Our mothers, our sisters, our brothers are hungry. Our families at home are hungry. Their families are eating the best of food, we don’t have justice,” says Flomo.
When contacted for the Judiciary’s response, the head of communication Atty. Ambrose Nmah says this matter has been explained time and again, and he does not know how he can explain it anymore.
Atty. Nmah says the Liberian dollars component which the judicial staff ersare protesting for was cut off by the Ministry of Finance, not by the Judiciary.
“That Liberian dollars portion, the Ministry of Finance, the Government of Liberia cut it. The workers agitated. The entire bench two weeks ago, sat here and had a meeting,” he says.
According to Atty. Nmah, in that meeting which was held two weeks ago, Mr. D. Francis Wreh from the Ministry of Finance told employees of the Judiciary that three million dollars was cut from the Judiciary’s salary, and that has allegedly affected the employees’ Liberian dollars component of their salaries.
“It is not the Judiciary that cut it, that Ministry of Finance because they had to meet the World Bank standard so they cut it. So when you come and say the Judiciary should put it back, all of us are civil servants, all of us are paid by the Ministry of Finance, so how can the Judiciary put it back,” Nmah says.
Additionally Atty. Nmah says he is not in the capacity to respond to the aggrieved judicial workers’ threats to disrupt the opening of the Supreme Court this October, and “whether they were able to stop the Chief Justice from parking where he’s supposed to park or whether they want to bring him down from his car.”
Nmah notes that the Chief Justice has officers from the Executive Protection Service (EPS) and other security there, concluding that the Judicial Staff Association does not sanction whatever that is being done by those protesting for salaries.
By Winston W. Parley