Liberia: MoL Probes Cocopa Fraud Allegation

Liberia’s Labor Minister, Cllr. Charles H. Gibson. 

... Over former workers’ severance pay

The Ministry of Labor is probing some senior staff of Cocopa for an alleged fraud surrounding the recent severance salary disbursements to over 600 former Cocopa workers.

On May 6, a team from the Ministry of Labor, headed by Hannah McCauley Karbo as Deputy Minister for Planning Manpower and Human Resource, gathered both the former workers’ union of Cocopa, some senior staff, including the Operations Manager Solomon Gaigaie; the HR Manager, Gonde Nawah; and Nimba District #8 Representative Larry Younquoi, were among those who were in the meeting held in one of the conference halls of Alvino Guest House in Ganta.

The whole story surrounding the alleged fraud saga was not disclosed to the press as the minister could not allow reporters to be part of the meeting, nor was she willing to grant reporters an interview, evading every appointment made by reporters to her for interviews. But the Daily Observer has established that Rep. Larry Younquoi complained to the staff of Nimba Rubber Incorporated to the Labor Ministry for 'mismanaging the severance salary of the former workers.'

Rep. Younquoi alleged that during the payment of the former workers' severance salary, the HR of NRI, formerly Cocopa, carried on unlawful deduction from the former workers’ wages, something that brought a setback to many.

When contacted, the Human Resource Manager, Nenwah, confirmed being complained by Rep. Younquoi to the Labor Ministry for alleged fraud but denied any unlawful deduction from the workers. He didn’t give much because the case was still under investigation by the Ministry of Labor, but he said every deduction that was carried out was in agreement with the former workers and their union leaders.

Rep. Younquoi has been on air recently, accusing some staff of NRI of unlawful deduction of former workers’ severance wages and promised to bring them to book. In February this year, the NRI resumed phase two of the payment of severance salary to over 600 former Cocopa workers who were forcibly retired when the civil war broke out in 1990.

The former workers have been staging several protests in demand for the payment of their salaries after the cessation of the hostilities nearly 20 years ago, but their demand was yet to be addressed until last year September when the government pressed on the Management of Nimba Rubber Incorporated to settle their arrears.

The exact amount of money owed as arrear by the government or Cocopa Management is yet known. Still, the Human Resource Manager of NRI, Newah, said due to the financial constraints the management reached an agreement with the workers union to make the arrear payment in stages, or whereby the budget of US$95,000 was set aside to be disbursed for each batch.

In an interview in February this year, Mr. Newah said there is a lot of bureaucracy involved in the disbursement because it has taken over three decades and those who are benefiting were children, wives, and other beneficiaries, so documents were required to authenticate some of the actual workers who have died because it was only the beneficiaries who were coming.

“There are several procedures, beginning with court procedure, vetting to identify the next of kin before the money lands into the wrong person's hand,” he told the Daily Observer in February this year. He added that the payment is done 60 days apart to allow the management to generate money to cover each batch.

Some workers, including the spokesperson of the former workers, Mafred Saye Yeegbeh, but others also expressed frustrations in the process. D. Gibrel Glay, one of the beneficiaries, expressed some frustrations in the process, where he complained of some deductions done beyond the their expectation.

He said his father was to have received US$785, but surprisingly, when he signed for the check, US$85 was deducted, only to be told that the deduction goes to those who were advocating, lawyers, and other documentation. Harris Piaseh, a son of a tapper, who came to receive his deceased father's arrear expressed that the paying process was too slow.

According to the payment scheme, those who have arrears fixed between the amount of US$1 to US$499 received cash, while those who get above US$ 500 receive checks.