MONROVIA, Montserrado – Employees of the judicial branch of government have temporarily suspended their protest at the Temple of Justice in Monrovia after Finance Minister Samuel Tweah assured them of the government’s commitment to investigate their claim.
Hundreds of judicial workers had disrupted the official opening of the Supreme Court for the October term last Monday in demand of salary arrears owed them by the government. They claimed that for 12 months since the government introduced pay harmonization for its officials and employees, they have not received the Liberian dollar component of their salary, which constitutes 40 percent of their monthly salaries.
For more than a month, the workers have been protesting for their salary arrears. But their action on Monday brought to standstill normal activities at the opening of the country’s highest court. The staffers held placards expressing dismay over the prolonged delay of the missing portion of their salaries and vowed to remain uncompromising until the arrears are settled. The workers are also demanding a decent working environment.
“How can we be working under a harsh environment as judicial staffers? Sometimes, there are no toiletries or water in the judiciary bathrooms. We often come to work and walk in the nearby communities to look for a good bathroom,” an aggrieved worker told The Bush Chicken. They decided to remain anonymous for fear of retribution.
“We have been working over one year without our Liberian dollar component of our salaries and it has not bothered our heads [leaders] until we started protesting – then they are calling on us to stop without addressing our concern.”
Judicial staffers accused officers of the Liberia National Police of wrongfully dislodging them from the grounds of the Temple of Justice.
In an attempt to calm the workers down, the finance minister assured the protesters of the government’s commitment to settling their arrears if their claims are substantiated. He said the government’s pay harmonization was not meant to take cheat its employees and their families.
Tweah also appeared to be defending Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the associate justices, whom protestors seemed to accuse of pilfering their salaries. Tweah told the staffers that the justices knew nothing about the alleged elimination of the Liberian dollar portion of their salaries.
“I’m here to assure you all that every legal claim of salaries will be restituted by the government, and now that I’m here, I want you people to abandon this protest as I investigate this matter and I don’t want you to believe that the chief justice and the associate justices stole your money,” he said.
Tweah announced that he constituted a committee comprising of officials of the Ministry of Finance and members of the aggrieved workers’ leadership to negotiate the ongoing protest.
Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Supreme Court’s opening on October 12 was held in the Banquet Hall via videoconference.
Speaking during the opening ceremony, Justice Francis Korkpor acknowledged the workers’ right to protest under the constitution but cautioned them to be peaceful to avoid obstructing the court’s functions.
“We know what you people are going through, especially family men and women, and agree that under the constitution, you all have the right to protest but you can’t do so and disrupt courts function,” Korkpor said.
He called on the Finance Ministry to speedily investigate the ongoing salaries dispute and put an end to the “tension and misinterpretation.”
The judicial staffers are following a route used by the counterparts at the legislature in July this year. Legislative staffers had raised alarm about the Liberian dollar portion of their salaries disappearing after the controversial salary harmonization process meant to allow the government to reign in a ballooning wage bill.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah