Liberia: Gov’t Lawyer Goes on Strike, Blames Ministry of Finance
.... “The current salaries of State prosecutors are unrealistic and unacceptable and the body has resolved that salaries of prosecutors be increased to commemorate the herculean work and task associated with prosecution,” said, Cllr. Karnuah.
The Ministry of Justice is poised to face hurdles in prosecuting cases across the country as government lawyers go on strike, saying that unpaid wages and other allowances have pushed them to the breaking point.
The strike action has been blamed on the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, who has been battling to secure the timely release of government workers' salary arrears.
“I have never seen people so overwhelmingly furious at how we’re being treated,” said a government lawyer speaking on the condition of anonymity. “At the crux of our demands is not just the issues of unpaid salaries, and allowances which are chronically low but logistics to enable us to handle the surge in caseloads.
“The government currently struggles to prosecute cases on time due to logistic issues, leading to inadequate representation in various courts across the country. When we strike, we shut the courts down. This is not something we want but we have no choice: We have been pushed by the ministry of finance. “
Announcing the strike, the President of the National Association of Prosecutors of Liberia, Cllr. J. Adolphus Karnuah, said the group’s action is in protest against unpaid salaries and other allowances and logistics, as prosecutors have been left with no choice but to choose the course of action it has taken.
Karnuah’s announcement would lead to prosecutors boycotting the ongoing November term of Court — as a result — it could bring much of the justice system to halt at a time when courts across the country are struggling with the huge backlog of cases that has increased the rate of pre-trial detention.
Pre-trial detainees represent over three-quarters of all prisoners in Liberia, and the issue has been blamed on the government's inability to end the vicious cycle of low pay and overwork among prosecutors leading to low retention rates, as many seek private practice, which comes with higher pay grades.
“The current salaries of State prosecutors are unrealistic and unacceptable and the body has resolved that salaries of prosecutors be increased to commemorate the herculean work and task associated with prosecution,” Karnuah noted
“Government needed to urgently address the issue of six prosecutors who were admitted as Counselors-at-law and requested that their status be improved in order to accommodate the roles they are playing.”
Karnuah noted that if said requests are not granted, prosecutors across the country will stay away from the court’s term in November.
“As failure for those demands to be met,” he said, “prosecutors under this banner will engage in the boycott of courts across the country.”
He informed the Minister of Justice, Cllr Frank Musah Dean, that the group action was not just for unpaid salaries and benefits but seeking an environment where prosecutors get the necessary support to adequately carry out their functions.
The government, according to Karnuah, needs to fulfill promises made to prosecutors, which among other things include providing vehicles for county prosecutors within the various counties and increasing the salaries of prosecutors across the country.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Justice, in response to the strike, has announced plans to grant letters of a patent to private lawyers, to prosecute cases across the country, while working out modalities to have the issue with its lawyer resolved.
The move, according to Cllr. Wesseh A. Wesseh, Assistant Minister for Litigation, is to assure the general public and party litigants that all is being done to resolve the boycott “of courts instituted by prosecuting attorneys.”
The strike, however, is not the first. Prosecutors protested for a brief period in 2021 to protest pay cuts, the unavailability of scratch cards, delays in prosecution financing, and the lack of allocated cars for county attorneys in outlying counties.
However, their demand for greater compensation, financial assistance, and other logistics was satisfied at the time, but an agreement was reached with the Ministry of Justice to address the matter -- something which prosecutors -- allege has not been done since.
Karnuah and his colleagues' action follows a November 1 warning to the Ministry of Justice of a pending strike action that would result in a boycott of the November Term of Court by government lawyers if the "Ministry of Finance and Development Planning fails to uphold the promises made to them in a meeting held with members of the Association.”
It also comes a few weeks after the Supreme Court warned the Minister of Finance and Development Planning that he runs the risk of being punished harshly if the salaries of judges and justices, as well as judicial personnel, are delayed again under his watch.
The Court's warning was then followed by the revoking of Tweah’s arrest and contempt orders which among other things, accused him of hindering court operations and causing a constitutional crisis for the Judiciary by delaying the disbursement of funds as well as paying salaries.
“Minister Tweah, this is our last warning to you, But, if this is repeated, next time, we will take harsher punishment against you, according to the law,” said Chief Justice, Sie-A-Nyene Gyapay Yuoh in a ruling on Nov.8. “We purged the contempt charge and you are now free and you can now go about your normal business.”
Yuoh’s purged the contempt charges against Tweah after he had issued an apology, saying he erred in withholding the funding of the judiciary as he blamed the decision on a recommendation from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
However, he did not provide any evidence to support his claim as his apology was enough to have the Court dismiss the contempt charge against him, but not without a stern warning about unspecified future repercussions.