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Hanging on Thin Rope:Salary Harmonization or Salary Cut?

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In this first edition of my new writing series titled “Under The Sycamore Tree”, I hereby present this brief but strong case on behalf of approximately 70,000 civil servants in Liberia. This case has 3 basic parameters, namely: economic, legal, and logical.

The new ruling class was overwhelmingly voted for by civil servants in December 2017. Their ‘Change for Hope’ slogan became so popular and enchanting among members of the working poor of Liberia. After just 18 months, this ‘Change for Hope’ mantra has completely lost essence as the hope of about 70,000 civil servants hangs on a thin rope.

The Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) continues to argue that it is carrying out ‘Salary Harmonization’ and not ‘Salary Cut’. Such argument is not only frail and faulty in my opinion, but has no reasonable link to truth-telling. The FACT is that the government is carrying out ‘Salary Cut’ and not ‘Salary Harmonization’ as they have made our people to believe.

Now, let us define both ‘Salary Cut’ and ‘Salary Harmonization’:

a) Salary Cut (SC) – is the reduction or decrease in one’s pay or income. It is also called salary deduction or wage cut.

b) Salary Harmonization (SH) – simply means equal work for equal pay across government or same position for same salary. SH mainly focuses on equity on the payment scale or bridging salary disparities and/or imbalances.

When the salaries and allowances of public school teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, managers, supervisors, officers, drivers, janitors, and civil servants in general have been cut or deducted, how can this downward shift or adjustment be called ‘Salary Harmonization’? Let the government spare us this wit or horseplay.

For instance, a leaked document in my possession indicates the following cuts or deductions at the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA):

a. Managers – US$750.25
b. Supervisors – US$600
c. Senior Officers – US$549.50
d. Officers – US$250.25

Besides these cuts, transportation allowance, medical insurance, communication allowance, and ration gasoline have all been cancelled. Amidst the high cost of living mainly as a result of hyperinflation and other macroeconomic shocks, LRA could experience revenue leakages and a downward shift in domestic revenue most likely due to malfeasance. On the average, between L$5,000 and L$18,000 are being cut from public school teachers, administrators, janitors, and other civil servants without their acquiescence.

Currently, the Tubman University in Maryland County is closed because of such unjustified cut which has severely affected the disposable income of faculty members and other employees. Is this ‘Salary Harmonization’ or ‘Salary Cut’? The latter would suffice in my opinion. This “pro-poor austerity measure” which is intended to save our run-down economy is more of a kangaroo process. It is not only impacting household income and purchasing power negatively, but also creating a breeding ground for all forms of corruption including economic sabotage and bribery in public service.

The unauthorized action of Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. to engender this premature scheme of cutting the salaries/allowances of civil servants is not only unconstitutional, but economically imprudent. What legal authority does he have to appropriate or readjust salaries and allowances without the approval of the National Legislature? In fact, his unlawful action to cut wages, which he often describes as a “Revolutionary Exercise”, is even contemptuous.

What is ‘revolutionary’ about cutting the salaries and allowances of a group of already underpaid and salary-delayed people (Civil Servants)? What a poor fiscal stance indeed. Tweah should be held in contempt for usurping the function of the Legislature by grossly violating these two (2) basic laws of Liberia:

a) Chapter 5 Article 34(d) of the 1986 Constitution
b) Part 2 Section 15 of the 2009 Public Financial Management Law.

Chapter 5 Article 34(d) of the Constitution states “The Legislature shall have the power to levy taxes, duties, imports, excise and other revenues, to borrow money, issue currency, mint coins, and to make appropriations for the fiscal governance of the Republic.

Part 2 Section 15 of the 2009 PFM Law states “The Legislature shall review and approve the Proposed Budget in accordance with the rules and procedures set forth in the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia.

Even Section 11 of this same 2009 PFM Law only authorizes the Executive through the President to propose allotment(s) and not to appropriate or cut wages. The power to appropriate and/or approve salaries/allowances/budgets lies with the National Legislature. So how did Samuel D. Tweah reach the decision to begin cutting the salaries and allowances of civil servants? He needs to be called in for legislative questioning.

Furthermore, the overburdening of the wage bill can be predominantly attributed to the mass influx of CDC partisans and sympathizers in public service mainly as a result of patronage and partisanship. For 12 years under President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, Liberia had nearly 40,000 civil servants with a total wage bill of about US$297m. In less than a year under President George Weah, this number sharply increased to around 70,000 civil servants with a wage bill of US$330m.

So logically, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah et al are to be held liable for the current problem our economy is facing. In an effort to absorb and maintain thousands of CDCians or partisans of CDC on the payroll most of whom are unqualified and incompetent, the government is cutting the salaries/allowances of civil servants for the purpose of political accommodation in exchange for unreasonable loyalty. No wonder why efficiency and productivity in public service are low. I thought when the cost of living is high, wages should shift upward in order to cushion the sharp increase in the prices of goods and services. Unfortunately, the hope of civil servants is now on a thin rope. The once popular “Change for Hope” mantra has let them down.

Interestingly, while Finance Minister Samuel Tweah is slicing the budgets of other public agencies and line ministries, he has increased the budget of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP). While the salaries and allowances of civil servants have been cut, the proposed budget of MFDP has been increased from US$49,683,051 for FY2018-2019 to a whopping US$80,526,744 for FY2019-2020. This accounts for over US$30.8m increment. Wow. So, how is Tweah doing this ‘harmonization’?

Does this US$30.8m increment sound logical considering emerging demands? It will interest you to know that the proposed budget for the entire Civil Service Agency for FY2019-2019 is just US$21,698,920. Already civil servants do not receive their pay on time, then Tweah is reducing it again. Such action in my opinion is not only cruel, but irrational and unjustified.

There are a number of wastages or avoidable losses in our National Budget. Off-budget spending, overspending, economic sabotage, illicit capital outflow, and fiscal indiscipline need to STOP now. The cutting of civil servants’ salaries/allowances is not a positive development at all and cannot be a concrete solution. Thousands of our people who are already ‘Working Poor’ will become poorer. Hence, a reversal of or halt to this anti-poor decision could avert any unprovoked crisis.

Any News:
Any news about the seven (7) regional football stadiums President George M. Weah promised to construct?

The Trumpet of Truth:
Is it fair or reasonable for these whopping amounts to be allotted to these public offices for Fiscal Year 2019-2020 when thousands of parents do not have money to pay their children’s school fees?

a. National Legislature – US$34.5m
b. The Office of President George Weah – US$2.1m excluding Ministry of State for President Affairs
c. The Office of First Lady Clar Weah – US$700,000
d. Executive Protection Service (EPS) – US$6.9m
e. National Security Agency (NSA) – US$8.8m

The PEN can never stop leaking The Facts – Our reliance is The Truth – Our mission is to build national consciousness – Our analyses are fact-based. From the top of Ducor and the slum of West Point, I see a new Liberia rising above Africa. Watch out for Edition 2.

About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth and student activist who currently studies Economics at the University of Liberia. He is an avowed proponent of social democracy and economic justice. He is a stalwart of SUP and can be reached via: martinkerkula1989@yahoo.com

By Martin K. N. Kollie, Youth and Student Activist
martinkerkula1989@yahoo.com

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