MONROVIA, Montserrado – After legislative staffers threatened to barricade the Capitol Building if the Liberian Dollars portion of their salary arrears were not paid, the Senate’s Ways, Means, and Finance Committee says that portion was eliminated during the government-wide ‘salary harmonization’ process.
The salary harmonization process was announced as a way to reduce the government’s wage bill from 60 to 40 percent of the total government revenue. The controversial process angered government workers because it violated the Civil Service Code and labor laws.
Maryland’s Sen. Gbleh-bo Brown, a member of the committee, said during the harmonization process they accepted as a nation that the Liberian Dollars portion that goes to each employee be cut off as of June 30, 2019. He also said senators agreed to cut their salaries and add on to their staffers’ salaries.
“Our salaries were reduced drastically,” he said. “We, senators, met and said due to the impact of the reduction on staffers’ salaries, we agreed to cut their salaries and what was cut from our salaries were added on staffers’ income.”
He added that the harmonization meant “nobody is getting two components of the salary – it was harmonized into one component, which is the USD. The USD is what they give you when you go to the bank, but the bank gives you 20 percent in LD and 80 percent in USD.”
Sen. Brown said the change in salary payments and the elimination of the Liberian Dollar component was explained to all senators, but they have not educated their staff.
Sen. Morris Saytumah of Bomi, who chairs the influential committee, also noted that when the budget was finalized, copies were given to senators to explain to their staff. He said if senators had explained the decision to their staff, they would not have threatened to barricade the Capitol Building.
“The Senate Committee on Rules and Order and the Human Resources office were all informed in a meeting about this decision more than one time in the joint chambers of the Legislature,” Saytumah said. “Why are they behaving as if they don’t know?”
He emphasized that the changes have actually benefited staffers: “Because of the cuts in our salaries, directors are making US$915 instead of US$850 while assistant directors go home with US$673 rather than the US$610.”
However, on the contrary, staffers say there has been no increment in their salaries. This has prompted concerns from a few senators, including Sen. Darius Dillon of Montserrado, Sen. Jonathan Kaipay of Grand Bassa, and Sen. Daniel Naatehn of Gbarpolu, who have called on the Senate president pro tempore, Albert Chie, to launch an investigation.
The senators said they have called for a comprehensive report of the Senate Finance Office in the past, but this has not happened because they lack direct oversight over the office.
“We wanted the Finance Office to give us a comprehensive financial report in one of our sessions, but these people have been prevented from coming to report to us only because some people right here are benefiting from the scheme,” Sen. Naatehn said.
However, Sen. Varney Sherman of Grand Cape Mount retorted that it was unnecessary to have the officials within the Finance Office appear before the Senate. He sees the issue as an information dissemination issue, and not one about misplaced or misused finances.
Meanwhile, Pro-Temp Chie has mandated that two members of the Ways, Means, and Finance Committee reach out to staffers and educate them about the budget progress and provide basic information about the salary cuts.
“What I’m gathering here is that staffers at the Senate have not been educated about the decision that was taken based on the harmonization,” he said. “Sen. Saytumah and Sen. Brown, please go and educate the staffers – if anything comes out differently, we will investigate it, but go and educate them first.”
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah