-In reaction to ‘Arab style protest’
Exactly a week after judicial worker Archie Ponpon set himself ablaze over his indefinite suspension following sustained protests against salary cuts, Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor, Sr. says he sees no reason why judicial workers have to continue protesting if it was about salary cuts, unless there is invincible hands in it.
Addressing the opening of the Criminal Courts at the Temple of Justice Monday, 9 November, he noted that the issue of the salary cuts has already been discussed and it would be paid retroactively with the understanding that it would take effect on the October pay.
“So if it is indeed the cut that hurting you … there is no reason to continue it, unless now we have invincible hands for other reasons they want to foster other things,” the Chief Justice says
“Other hands are in there now. Cannot be this way, because when you brought your grievance to us, we were able to listen. The solution is not lying down where the Chief Justice parks his car so that he will not park,” he laments.
His comment came Monday after Mr. Ponpon who has been leading aggrieved judicial staffers into weeks of protests against cuts in their salaries set himself ablaze on Monday, 2 November at the Temple of Justice.
Ponpon went to the extreme last week after accusing Chief Justice Korkpor of allegedly using all draconian means to hunt, suspend and relieve aggrieved staffers of their positions due to their protest.
The judicial workers started the protest roughly four months back in demand for the Liberian dollars component of their salaries that had been outstanding for about a year, but it escalated recently and their leader Mr. Ponpon set himself ablaze after judicial authorities indefinitely suspended, transferred and placed some of the protesters under investigation.
Ponpon and few of his fellow aggrieved judicial workers had just been served some writ of arrests Monday, 2 November by court officers when he suddenly walked up the stairs outside the building hosting the Supreme Court and pulled out a bottle filled with gas and a fire litter from under his clothes, setting himself ablaze.
Reacting to the series of protests in which his vehicle was prevented from parking at one point, Chief Justice Korpor argues that the solution is not for protester to lie down under his car to prevent his movement, noting that the same thing was done to the Court Administrator Cllr. Elizabeth Nelson and she had to leave her car at the Temple of Justice, board a public transport to go home.
According to Chief Justice Korkpor, on Friday, some people who are not judicial workers went to disturb the West Point Court, saying this tells him that “this is more than just asking for the money that was cut from you.”
“You cannot disturb court proceedings, go and stop people from going to court, like what has been happening at the Monrovia City Court here. The judge wrote me,” he says.
“These are not what we should be doing. All along, nobody has touched them because this is the place of law. The law says one has the right to peacefully assemble … present their grievances to their leaders. But you must do it, as the Constitution says, peacefully,” he continues.
He indicates that what has been happening at the Temple of Justice is not peaceful, adding that the protesters have taken another turn, recalling that they attempted to disrupt the opening of the Supreme Court as well as other programs.
“Then somebody, a Liberian citizen, an employee of the Judiciary should set himself on fire? Ablaze? This is the first time I have witnessed a thing like this. It shocked me!” Chief Justice Korkpor says further.
At the time of the incident, he says he was at a program seating a judge who had been appointed. When he was informed about the incident, Chief Justice Korkpor says he called the personnel director to find out where Ponpon was taken so that he could pay visit there later.
“And the Acting Director of Personnel went there, he was driven away. Oh you have come here to spy to see where he is so y’all can kill him? Kill him for what?” Chief Justice Korkpor asks.
He terms it as a sad situation, explaining that the Finance Ministry has indicated that there will be some retroactive payments to some of the judicial workers which is supposed to take effect on the October pay.
He rejects accusation that he allegedly sent people to Ponpon’s house to kill him. Additionally, Chief Justice Korkpor says it is totally false, claims that the judicial workers have not taken pay for one year.
“This is not true. Judiciary is current with payment. The only month that is due is the month of October which just ended, we are in November now, nobody has taken pay for October,” he says.
Earlier on 13 October this year, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah told protesting judicial staffers that the government will restore cuts in their salaries that necessitated their protests over the past weeks, saying each of them would have received US$153 representing the first three months, in addition to their October pay.
“We’re giving three months in October, and I didn’t make any firm commitment in terms of timing, but I did say that we will continue to search and overtime continue to meet them,” he said.
Meanwhile, Chief Justice Korkpor notes that what is at stake is the national program of harmonization under which everyone was affected by cuts in their salaries, adding that this is what some of the judicial employees have been protesting for so that the government can put back.
“Members of the Supreme Court did not initiate the cut. Central government under the program for which a law was passed. It hurts all of us. My money was cut, the judges’ money was cut, justices’ money was cut,” he says. “But to believe that the money that was cut is being deposited in the accounts of the Chief Justice and Associate Justices, as being alleged, is unfortunate,” he adds.
According to Chief Justice Korkpor, he understood the workers’ situation because when your money is cut, it leaves a gap and affects your ability to put bread on the table. On the basis of this concern he says the judicial workers were entertained in a meeting and a committee was setup which led the Finance Ministry officials to explain how the package was put together. By Winston W. Parley