Liberia: Senators Play Blame Game on ‘Controversial Retirement Package’

Senators- Snowe (left), Dillon and Teahjay

“I want the Senate to make corrections to what is being discussed in the public. What is in the public is not what we submitted. And that committee members don’t pass bills into law,” Dillion said. 

Some members of the Senate have begun to blame each other for the public rejection of a pension bill that critics have slammed as draconian and would negatively impact the country’s already stretched resources.

Senator Abraham Darius Dillon, while defending the Senate Judiciary Committee, which drafted the controversial pension bill, disclosed that the version of the bill in question is quite different from what the committee submitted for legislative action. 

“I want the Senate to make corrections to what is being discussed in the public. What is in the public is not what we submitted. And that committee members don’t pass bills into law,” Dillion said.  “When a bill is passed into law, the President of the Senate and the secretary of the senate sign it to the House for concurrence. And if it is to be sent to the Executive Mansion, the same signatures apply. But committee members don’t sign bills.”

The bill, which the Senate passed on August 31 but has now been rejected by the House of Representatives after public outcry, attached 50% retirement benefits to certain public positions after retirements as well as other emoluments.

It is titled an act “adopting an integrated pensions and benefits scheme for certain categories of officials of the government of the republic of Liberia and repealing and or amending certain portions of title 26, Legislative Act, Title 12, Executive Law, and Title 17,  Judiciary (1972) and the 2003 act,” to grant upon themselves fabulous retirement packages.

The position of the Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Pro-tempore, President, Vice President, Chief Justice, and all Associate Justices as well as circuit court judges were the ones expected to benefit from the 50% monthly pension annuity, which the government would have paid, considering the official’s gross salary earned per annum.

Dillon then asserted that probably if the bill had been open for debate, the controversial issues around it would have been settled.

However, Dillon's attempt to defend his committee was met with stiff resistance from Senator J. Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County.

Teahjay stated that his colleagues knew that the issue about the pension scheme would have had a backlash but decided to proceed with it. 

“And presiding, we need to learn from experiences from previous legislation; what is out there is not a bill that we passed, and let that be said clearly and that’s why I put out here a recall of what others will consider as a bill that we passed.”

However, the Senator later changed his tongue by confirming that indeed the bill was passed, but that it was sent to the committee room for cleanup and that the body is still awaiting its return from the cleanup.

Teahjay’s assertion was backed by Senator Saah Joseph, who was presiding over yesterday’s session.  Joseph noted that the bill in question was passed and not sent out for cleaning up; “it was passed and the Secretary of the Senate was requested to send it to the House.”

Also, Senator Edwin Melvin Snowe of Bomi County noted that the Senate has some fundamental problems that need to be corrected, before arguing about the retirement bill.

“We come to session only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, but as soon as we come here and start reading documents and the Secretary of the Senate reads one page, someone cries out voluminous nature, let’s vote on it.”

 “This Senate must decide that when an instrument comes before the Senate let it be read and understand what is at stake. That’s where our problem lies. The version (of the retirement bill) in the public compared to the consultative meeting we had is different from what’s in the public.

“By the time we started reading it, we cited voluminously, ‘let it pass. And what is also obtaining, presiding? Maybe the public doesn't know that there is already an existing retirement bill in the public; people that were here in 2005 and didn't get reelected are getting their retirement package every month, and what the Senate did was to harmonize the current retirement package.”

The bill, according to the Senate, is in line with Article 34(k) of the country’s Constitution, which empowers them to "enact laws providing pension schemes for various categories of government officials and employees in accordance with age and tenure of service.”

According to the Senate, under current arrangements, pension information for the categories of officials covered exists in fragments at different locations that create disharmony and difficulties in assessing that information for decision-making, and thus their integration under one act would promote the needed access and harmony and consolidation.

It added that the bill would have helped address current gaps and shortcomings in existing pension laws for the categories of officials covered hereunder, as well as make necessary and proper adjustments that holistically address those gaps and shortcomings. 

“Additionally, it will align the pension and benefit schemes to conform to current economic and social realities.”