Liberia: Judges at Minister Tweah’s Neck Again
“US$911.34 multiplied by forty months as of January 31, 2023, is equal to US$36,453.60,” Judge Blamo Dixon, who is also Resident Judge of Criminal Court "C' for Montserrado County, claimed. “This is what the minister owed each judge in Liberia and must be refunded.”
A high ranking official of the National Trial Judges Association of Liberia has given the Minister of Finance, Samuel Tweah, a four-month deadline to restitute more than US$182,000 “unfairly deducted” from the salaries of at least five judges during the harmonization process four years ago.
Tweah, who has been the Minister of Finance for nearly six years, stands accused of violating the Constitution by illegally slashing the salaries of judges.
The latest demand from the judges is one of the many conflicts that have sparked between Tweah and the Judiciary since he spearheaded the implementation of the National Remuneration Standardization Act of 2019, which saw judges' salaries and allowances reduced significantly.
According to the Vice President of the National Trial Judges Association of Liberia, each judge is owed over US$36k — having had "US$911 taken" from salaries for a period of 40 months.
“US$911.34 multiplied by forty months as of January 31, 2023, is equal to US$36,453.60,” Judge Blamo Dixon, who is also Resident Judge of Criminal Court "C' for Montserrado County claimed. “This is what the minister owed each judge in Liberia and must be refunded.”
“I derived the said amount when I did a case study of my salaries in both Liberian and United States Dollars components. The result is applicable to all judges because we earned the same salary.”
Dixon, however, could not specify the actual number of judges owed, stating that his calculation excludes money owed to magistrates, and support workers of the judiciary.
But by multiplying the US$36k by five, the amount is over a little US$182k, for only five judges.
In his ultimatum, Dixon informed his colleagues at the opening of the Criminal Courts (“A, B, C, D, & E”) across the country that their salaries were cut illegally when the judiciary does not suffer from any issues of salary disparity.
“All of the Associate Justices of the Honorable Supreme Court of Liberia were earning the same and equal salaries and benefits likewise the Judges,” he said.
Continuing, he said “the illegal harmonization exercise was not a national program as contempt by Article 72 (a) of the constitution to warrant diminishment of the salaries of justices and judges.”
Article 72[a] of the 1986 Constitution states that “…allowances and benefits paid to Justices of the Supreme Court and subordinate Courts may by law be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the legislature, nor shall such allowances and benefits be subject to taxation.”
Dixon's view is also echoed by Supreme Court Justices who believe the harmonization process harmed the judiciary in a negative manner. The Justices in 2022 had to warn the Minister of Finance 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 warning came after the Justice had revoked Tweah’s arrest and contempt orders — having accused him of hindering court operations — and causing a constitutional crisis for the Judiciary.
Meanwhile, it remains to be seen how effective Dixon's ultimatum will be, given that judges have already complained publicly about the 2019 harmonization legislation, which they constantly argue is "wrongful and illegitimate," as well as "discriminatory and unconstitutional."
The government was then sued in 2021, as the judges sought a court’s approval to declare the Act unconstitutional, while holding the government liable for damages for the wrongful and illegal abolition and withholding of petitioners’ allowances.
However, the judges withdrew the lawsuit after the government claimed that their action was compliant with Article 72(a) of the Constitution, which forbids reducing judges’ allowances and perks “unless under a national program established by the Legislature,” as it did in 2019.
But Dixon appeared determined as he claims “We shall continue the advocacy for the refund of our monies, which are increasing every day as we are working.”
We shall keep you posted at every opening of courts until our monies are retroactively refunded for our wellbeing and upkeep,” the judge added.
The harmonization, of which Dixon has been a fierce critic, ended the judges’ monthly compensation of L$22,950 in taxable pay and US$5,000 in non-taxable pay, which came as an allowance. The amount of gasoline subsidies each month was reduced from 350 gallons to 135 gallons.
Judges, as it stands, are now paid a taxable salary of US$5,000 per month with no allowance benefits, as a result of the 2019 harmonization process. Supreme Court justices receive a higher income than judges and magistrates.
Meanwhile, Dixon's ultimatum also came weeks after the General Auditing Commission in a report noted that the pay-grade harmonization initiative of the government was not comprehensively implemented across all entities, leaving some employees earning below the above and established pay-grades while others have no established pay-grade.
The GAC in a report found that 3,970 people, or 5.9% of government employees across 80 ministries and agencies, were receiving more than the harmonized pay-grade projected salary, with a total monthly differential of US$581,439.15.
The study also said that 32,759 people, or 48.7% of civil servants in government across 90 government entities, were receiving less than the harmonized pay-grade projected salary, with a total monthly disparity of US$5,710,026.97, while a total of 25,162 employees representing 37.4% of civil servants in government across 97 ministries and agencies did not have pay grades.
The GAC further said that some ministries and agencies made arbitrary increments in the net salaries of some workers, while payrolls were reconciled periodically.