Residents around the Edward Binyan Kessely Military Barracks along the Robertsfield highway woke up Tuesday morning 9 January to a dramatic scene when protesting soldiers from the barracks accompanied by their wives erect roadblock on the main highway leading from the airport to the Liberian Capital Monrovia.
The aggrieved soldiers dressed in ordinary outfits along with their wives are demanding money deducted from their monthly salary by the Ministry of Defense headed by Minister Brownie Samukai.
According to the protestors, since 2006 to present, the ministry has instituted a compulsory monthly deduction of US$20.00 from the salary of each soldier at the E.B.K. barracks, accumulating to thousands of dollars.
Defense Ministry’s authorities are yet to account for said amount, something that has particularly enraged soldiers’ wives here, staging a protest outside the barracks.
Aggrieved soldiers, who begged for anonymity on Tuesday, turned away commuters enroute to the RIA and beyond.
According to them, since 2006, Minister Samukai and officials of the Defense Ministry have allegedly deducted US$20.00 monthly from each officer’s salary, promising that the money will be reimbursed after their service to the country.
Each soldier of the Armed Forces of Liberia signed a five-year contract with the Government of Liberia, which is renewable.
The protesting wives explain that the ministry subjected their husbands to a compulsory savings scheme with promise that the premium will be paid before expiration of the tenure of Commanding-In-Chief President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
President Sirleaf is expected to hand over power to President-elect, George Weah on 22 January to end two six-year terms in office.
A spokesperson for the protesters only identified as Madam Williams narrates that they had earlier engaged Defense Minister Samukai for their husbands’ savings, but were told that the money has been used to treat wounded soldiers on peacekeeping mission in Mali.
She further laments that for the past three months, the barracks has been without electricity and their husbands don’t have money to pay for their children’s school fees, among others.
Madam Williams vows that they would continue the protest until their demand is met, disclosing that today, Wednesday, 10 January wives of soldiers from the Todee Military Barracks will join the protest along with their colleagues from the Barclay Training Center in Monrovia.
“We know what is happening now, we used to excuse our husbands for not bringing home enough money, not knowing the people in higher authority have been playing on them, but we will make sure we get our husbands’ money,” she vows.
She continues that as soldiers, their husbands have dedicated their lives to defend and protect the country, but they and their immediate families receive nothing much in return.
When the Chief Staff of the AFL was contacted via mobile, General Daniel Zankan says negotiations are ongoing to resolving the ongoing crisis, admitting that the deduction also affected him.
Gen. Zankan however discloses that the authority has made available US$700,000 for disbursement to soldiers, adding that the balance will be restituted subsequently.
Defense boss Samukai, who is member of President Sirleaf’s transitional team, is yet to officially comment on the situation that has a propensity to create mass resentment in the military.
By Ben P. Wesee-Editing by Jonathan Browne