Liberia’s Finance Minister Samuel Tweah has told protesting judicial staffers that the government will restore cuts in their salaries that have necessitated their protests over the past weeks, saying this month each of them will receive US$153 representing the first three months, in addition to their October pay.
Following a mass meeting at the Temple of Justice Tuesday, 13 October, Mr. Tweah told journalists that over time the government will find a way to address some of the judicial workers’ other remaining issues.
“But we did recognize that there were some gaps; there’s something owed them. So that’s why, so they are happy that going forward they’ve set the formula as I said yesterday, what they are going to get, what the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branches are getting is what they are getting,” he says.
“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 adds. He admits that the government owes the judicial workers 12 months, saying the formula that they applied on their payment “it has been determined that they are due back pay.”
Tuesday’s meeting with the Minister of Finance follows a sustained protest that was held outside during a formal program marking the opening of the Supreme Court on Monday, 12 October with judicial staffers demanding Liberian dollars component of their salaries.
The protest was marred by anti- Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor slogans and drumming with gallons and pot tops. In the process the protesters were dragged by riot police later in the day, and some of them including protest leader Archie Ponpon were left unconscious.
It followed failed negotiations with authorities at the Judicial branch of government that led to the aggrieved judicial staffers’ protest on Monday in extension of several weeks of protests for Liberian dollars component of their salaries allegedly cut, as they assembled outside the court, beating drums and chanting Chief Justice Francis S. Korpor’s name.
It remains unclear why the judicial staffers targeted Chief Justice Francis S. Korkpor in their protests against cuts in their salaries, despite the Judiciary issuing a clarity in September informing the aggrieved employees that the cuts in salaries were not done by the Judiciary and that the cuts affected all employees in the government sector.
During the opening of the Supreme Court Monday, the Chief Justice indicated that the protesters were under the illusion that the deductions made in their salaries are being deposited in the account of the Chief Justice and Associate Justices of the Supreme Court.
He urged them to refrain from further protest, saying their action is disrupting court processes and deprives party litigants of unhindered right of access to justice.
Meanwhile, Finance Minister Tweah frowns on the judicial workers for being very disrespectful to the Chief Justice, Associate Justices and the leadership at the Judiciary, especially the insults against their leaders.
“The Chief Justice didn’t owe anybody money, okay. We must make that clear. They didn’t have to insult the Chief Justice and all of that. But they understand that, we are now on a solution path and I think that’s where we want to carry the country,” Minister Tweah says.
He explains that the government is working with the judicial employees to restore what is due them, noting that this month the judicial workers will each receive the first payment of US$153 representing three months, in addition to their October pay, acknowledging that lack of information is all responsible for these things.
Regarding the medical concerns raised during the meeting about the judicial workers that became unconscious, Minister Tweah says he had ordered the ambulance for the judicial employees that were taken to hospital, noting that he will call Dr. Brown and it will be taken care of.
He indicates that there’s no need for people to get into the streets when there are issues because the government is willing to sit with everybody to solve problems. He also praises the judicial staff for not being violent because they are people who understand the rule of law, saying they were pressed to do what they did.
Giving a background of the harmonization program, Mr. Tweah informs the judicial workers during the meeting that 15,000 real human beings, including Immigration officers, were lifted from as low as US$40.00 per month for years, to US$120.
To do that, he says about 9,000 Liberians who were making more had to make that sacrifice, meaning the government took money from those who were earning more and passed it on to those who were making less.
He reveals that the government team recently identified US$2.2m on account of some government employees who were getting two or three salaries in the same government. According to a presentation by the Technical Team from the Ministry Of Finance, the Judiciary’s wage bill was reduced from US$15.4m to US$12.8m, leaving a difference of US$2.6m.
The team indicates that ideally anybody who is working under the Judiciary is affected by 16 percent reduction which is done when the basic salary and allowance are combined.
The team notes that allowances were not taxed prior to the harmonization program, revealing also that the total payroll for the judiciary is around 2,000 or 1,800.
Based on the technical team’s presentation, some of the judicial workers who for instance, are earning a basic salary of US$125 plus an allowance which prior to the harmination program was in the tune of US$150, would get a combined total of US$275 by then.
The team notes that it is the US$275 that is supposed to be reduced by the 16 percent because the Judiciary’s budget is reduced from US$15.4m to US$12.8m. When the 16 percent is applied to the US$275, the employee in this category like a bailiff for instance, would be left with US$231.
While a representative of the judicial worker was responding to the Finance Ministry officials on behalf of the aggrieved workers, Associate Justice Yusif D. Kaba abruptly asked the judicial worker to leave the stage, saying the essence of the gathering is concluded and he is grateful for the information provided by the Minister.
By Winston W. Parley