Liberia: Gov’t to Halt Payments to Contractors, Consultants

President Joseph N. Boakai

Until Personnel Audits are completed across gov’t’s entities, top sources disclose

The Unity Party government has reached a decision to withhold salary payments to consultants and contractors hired by the previous administration until a comprehensive review of their legitimacy is conducted, top sources have hinted to the Daily Observer.

“It has been a huge discussion within the government for the past week and the general feeling is that payments for people who fall in those categories need to be withheld until the government does a thorough scrutiny of their legitimacy,” a top Ministry of State source, who asked for anonymity, said. “If the government does not do this, it will be putting the Liberian people’s money in the wrong hands while the people who are doing the actual work will be short-changed.

There is a growing concern within the government that many individuals hired by the previous CDC administration were hired as consultants and contractors, based on their political affiliations or personal relationships with former President George Weah and other top officials, rather than for their professional expertise.

It is alleged that these individuals received taxpayer funds without fulfilling their duties as consultants or contractors.

It is in response to these concerns that the Boakai administration has called for a thorough assessment of all consultants and contractors to identify and remove those who were illegitimately appointed.

“The goal is to integrate genuine consultants and contractors into the new system while eliminating those who were not properly vetted. I cannot be too definite about actions that we are intending to take against them now, but I can assure you that the government is on the verge of taking a tough stance,” a source at the Finance Ministry said. “We will communicate these things through the appropriate channel, but we have resolved to be rigid against people who are exploiting the system.”

President Joseph Boakai on Wednesday, February 14, signed a US$41.3 million spending bill that will keep the government functional and afloat till the end of February 2024 — a move that was intended to avoid a shutdown of the government.

However, top priorities in February’s spending bill include government employees’ compensation or salary, which constitutes a whopping US$26 million (63%). “We have a huge debt to settle with our employees and that is more than half of the budget that the President submitted for February. If we do a thorough vetting of people on the lists of consultants and contractors, I’m sure that we will save the country a huge amount. This is why it is better to withhold their salaries until the scrutiny is done,” the Ministry of State official said.

However, the Executive Mansion could not confirm whether payments to consultants and contractors are being put on hold but said that some actions are being taken to get a proper understanding of the statuses and legitimacy of those who are working with the government.

“I cannot confirm whether ministries and agencies are stopping the payments of consultants or contractors because every institution has its own starting consultancy or contractor requirement, but there is a growing need for staff assessment,” Kula V. Fofana, Presidential Press Secretary, told the Observer Sunday evening. “Some consultants are working on specific projects or contracts which are ongoing and it will be unfair to stop their payments. In fact, there are consultants who are paid by UN agencies or partners but report to a particular government ministry or agency, and so it will be unfair to stop payments of all consultants because there are ongoing projects and contracts.”

Weah Accused of Bloating Executive Mansion Payroll

The barrage of calls to halt payments to consultants and contractors follow the discovery of hundreds of names of individuals across ministries’ and agencies’ supplementary payrolls who are not registered with the Civil Service Agency. Specific references were made to the Ministry of State and the National Port Authority, where individuals such as musicians and comedians were reportedly earning substantial sums of money as consultants without providing any actual consultation services.

Accusations have arisen regarding potential payroll inflation at the Executive Mansion under the previous administration led by George Weah, with alleged individuals connected to Weah's party, the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC), being involved.

The Unity Party government has expressed concerns over this situation, which it says is leading to financial strain on the government.

Deputy Minister of State for Presidential Affairs for Administration-designate, Atty. Cornelia Kruah Togba disclosed that an assessment conducted by the new administration revealed over 730 unrecognized employees on a supplementary payroll at the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs.

This information was shared during her confirmation hearing at the Liberian Senate. She said MOS, under the previous government, privately managed the supplementary payroll through collaborations with the Ministry of Finance.

Despite these unregistered employees contributing to a financial burden, the ministry reportedly employs 385 recognized staff members according to the Civil Service Agency. Efforts are underway by the ministry's Senior Management Team, in collaboration with the Civil Service Agency and the Governance Commission, to conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the institution.

“We are currently working with the CSA and the Governance Commission to do a total assessment of the ministry so that we ensure that we do not just have employees at the Ministry of State but people’s time, energy and the positions they serve in contribute to the overall efficiency of the ministry and the resources of Liberia are used effectively,” she added.

The aim is to enhance operational efficiency and optimize the use of Liberia's resources. Togba underscored the importance of aligning the ministry's operations with governance standards, emphasizing the need for transparency and accountability.

Addressing these operational deficiencies at the Executive Mansion is seen as a crucial step toward implementing best practices that could be mirrored by other government ministries. Atty. Togba expressed the ministry's commitment to ensuring that resources are utilized effectively and that employees contribute to the overall efficiency of the institution.

“We believe that once we address these issues at the ministry that hosts the seat of the presidency, it’s easy for other ministries to mirror similar patterns or similar administrative decisions that are taken by the ministry,” Togba said.

CSA Begins Personnel Audit at MOS Today

The Presidential Press Secretary has disclosed that the Civil Service Agency will today, Monday, February 19, begin the personnel audit at the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs (MOS) with the aim of establishing the category of people who are working in the ministry.

Ms. Fofana said the personnel audit of the ministry is intended to clearly establish the classification of the people who are on the entity’s payroll, whether they are consultants, civil service employees, or contractors, and the form of contract they have with the ministry.

“Across government ministries and agencies, there is a bloating of payrolls where there are people who are not covered under civil service. There has been a mountain call across government institutions for personnel audits to establish or understand people who are employed and to know the nature of their employment,” she said.

If there are people who are consultants, the government should establish their role as consultants and the contract signed, as well as the project and program for which they were hired.

Ms. Fofana indicated that certain entities are built for a particular capacity, but preliminary information gathered indicates that there are more people who are currently employed within those institutions than should be mandated or meant for.

Ms. Fofana said though the initiative or personnel audit is kick-starting with the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs, there is a general need for assessment for everyone in the employ of the institution. “There is a growing need for staff assessment,” she said.

The Civil Service Agency and the Ministry of Finance, through a circular issued over the weekend, have mandated all heads of government entities to halt the employment of people in civil service positions until all payroll audits being done by the government are completed.      Meanwhile, the government’s push for stringent scrutiny of consultants and contractors reflects its commitment to transparency and accountability in the use of public funds. By identifying and rectifying instances of improper appointments, the government aims to enhance efficiency and effectiveness in its operations.