Senators Johnson, Tornonlah and Others Reject Pay Cut as Measures against Declining Economy

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Barely one week after a proposal calling for a reduction in the salaries and benefits of public officials was presented to the Liberian Senate, some senators have strongly rejected the proposal.

Gbarpolu senator and president pro tempore of the Liberian Senate, Armah Jallah, Grand Bassa’s Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, and Bomi’s Senator Morris Saytumah proposed to their colleagues an immediate review of the benefits of public officials.

Jallah, Karnga-Lawrence, and Saytumah named the president, vice president, legislators, the chief justice and associate justices of the Supreme Court, ministers, deputy and assistant ministers, heads of public corporations, directors and commissioners as officials who should be affected by the reduction in salaries and benefits.

Although the proposal was generally welcomed by the public, Nimba’s Senator Prince Johnson and Margibi’s Senator Jim Tornonlah are among the lawmakers against the proposal.

Johnson angrily walked out of plenary Tuesday after he failed to stop discussions on the floor concerning the proposal.

Speaking to journalists after his walkout, Johnson – also the political leader of the Movement for Democratic and Reconstruction ­– argued that his salary will build Liberia amid the massive corruption in the government led by the Unity Party.

He suggested that President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must first make available the US$13 million that allegedly went missing at the National Oil Company of Liberia.

Johnson added that he has sacrificed too much for the country to hear any more of these discussions.

For his part, Tornonlah said a cut in the benefits of lawmakers would not be possible, noting that he needs the allowance to properly lead.

“For me in Margibi, I need the allowance to carry to my people,” Tornonlah said.

He said while he is welcoming to the drafters of the proposal, the contents of the documents go too far.

However, another Nimba lawmaker, Rep. Larry Younquoi, has pledged to support the proposal.

He said anything in the interest of the country and the people he represents would meet his approval.

The Senate’s Communications Director Jalawa Tompoe encouraged the public to wait a week for the senators’ decision.

Investigations reveal that Liberian lawmakers are among the highest paid around the world. A Liberian representative makes US$210,000 annually from a budget of US$600 million, as compared to a member of the United States Congress who earns US$174,000 from a national budget of over US$4.2 trillion.

Liberian senators and representatives are increasingly viewed as corrupt and concerned only with their own interests. This has led many individuals and groups to call for replacing all lawmakers in the upcoming elections. In 2014, such frustration towards lawmakers resulted in only two out of the 15 incumbent senators being reelected during the special senatorial election.

Featured photo by David Stanley

Gbatemah Senah

Gbatemah is a graduate of the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications. In 2017, Senah won three Press Union of Liberia awards: Women's Rights Reporter of the Year, Legislative Reporter of the Year, and Land Rights Reporter of the Year. In 2018, he was also recognized as the Land Rights Reporter of the Year.

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