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Judicial staffers face mass suspension

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-Following protest for salaries

Several staffers of Liberia’s Judicial branch of government who took part in recent protests for salaries are facing suspensions, transfers and investigations, more than a week after the government, through Finance Minister Samuel Tweah conceded to the workers’ claim and assured that it would pay the first three months this October.

In a suspension letter dated 19 October and addressed to the aggrieved judicial workers’ leader Mr. Archie Ponpon, the author identified as R. Stephen Wontee, Deputy Personnel Director at the Judiciary, indicates that Ponpon accused Chief Justice Francis S. Korpor of sending people to his (Ponpon’s) house to kill him.

According to the communication, this accusation was repeated and allegedly confirmed by Mr. Ponpon at a meeting that the Chief Justice held with employees of the Judiciary at the ground floor of the Temple of Justice on 8 October 2020.

The communication continues that this is a serious allegation which the Chief Justice categorically denies as having no iota of truth, but merely intended to besmear him. “In this regard, the matter has been sent to the Minister of Justice/Attorney General for full scale investigation,” he adds.

“In view of the above, you are hereby suspended from work effective Monday, October 19, 2020 pending the outcome of the investigation,” it concludes.

In another communication dated 8 October under the signature of Civil Law Court “B” Clerk Nah J. Wollor and approved by Civil Law Court “B” Judge Scheaplor R. Dunbar, a request was made to Court Administrator Cllr. Elizabeth B. Nelson for the transfer of bailiffs Brenda Geekor and Cynthia Wildoh.

The communication cites the two bailiffs’ unwillingness to work, habitual absence from work and refusal to wear uniforms.

The NewDawn has contacted the head of communication at the Judiciary Atty. Ambrose Nmah, referencing the letter addressed to Archie Ponpon to get the judiciary’s response, but Atty. Nmah says the letter is clear, declining to speak further on the matter because he was not in the know.

Courage Jackson, one of the protesting judicial workers from the Omega Magisterial Court told the NewDawn newspaper Thursday that the head of security at the Temple of Justice has called her for investigation for abandoning her post.

In an interview, Mr. Archie Ponpon claims that over 19 persons are undergoing investigation, noting that the Chief Justice has again started another “war with us.”

Earlier on 13 October, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah 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.

“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.

The meeting with the Finance Minister followed a sustained protest at the judiciary 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 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.

Minister Samuel Tweah informed 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 said 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 revealed 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 indicated 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 noted 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 noted 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.

By Winston W. Parley

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