.... “Pro-Tem and colleagues, I am calling for the complete repeal of this law for all lawmakers, with the exception of President, Vice President, Chief Justice, and Associate Justices, Speaker, and Pro-Tempore; no current or former should get a retirement pension,” Senator Dillon said.
The move by the Senate to amend the country’s pension law for public officials appears to still be on course despite rejection from the House of Representatives.
The Senators believe that said amendment of the laws is necessary since, under current arrangements, pension information on public officials exists in fragments at different locations, creating disharmony. However, Senators including Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado County are calling for a watered-down amendment, so as to address the gaps and differences in the various pension laws.
Senator Dillion’s suggestion would see Senators, Judges, and Representatives missing out on expanding pension benefits as captured in the Senate’s previous amendment, which the House rejected. A 2023 law on the books called for former lawmakers to be entitled to pension benefits, which some Senators, including Jeremiah Koung, Senator of Nimba County claimed to be in the amount of US$4,000 monthly.
Koung noted that if the current law is amended as passed, it would give lawmakers who retired honorably after a six-year tenure US$800.00 monthly and not US$ 4,000.00 as it is in the existing 2003 law."
“Pro-Tem and colleagues, I am calling for the complete repeal of this law for all lawmakers, with the exception of President, Vice President, Chief Justice, and Associate Justices, Speaker, and Pro-Tempore; no current or former should get retirement pension,” Dillon said in a session on September 12, calling on his colleagues to join his cause.
The Senate bill
The House on Sept. 9 struck down an amended pension bill from the Senate that would have allowed the government to pay some public officials a pension annuity that is equal to 50% of the highest gross salary.
The bill was 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 Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Pro-Tempore, President, Vice President, Chief Justice, and all Associate Justices, as well as circuit court judges, were expected to benefit from the 50% monthly pension annuity, in which they were not expected to make contributions.
They would have access to the money monthly, provided that the official has served his term and honorably retired to private life, and is not in any way gainfully employed elsewhere by the government.
Senators’ and Representatives’ monthly annuities are however determined by term factors: the longer you stay, the higher the payout. The amended bill also allows the surviving spouse of the deceased official to be eligible for the pension that would have been done during the life of the said official.
While annuity varies slightly, it, however, remains constant on the issues regarding being gainfully re-employed upon retirement. The Senate rejected bill and called for the annuity payment in such a case to be “suspended until the employment is terminated or has retired; in which case, the right is given to choose the greater of the two annuities.”
Dillon’s call is being made in the wake of public criticism against him and his colleagues decision to attempt an amendment to the various pension laws, which triple retired public officials' pension benefits, which would be paid for by taxpayers' money.
A member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary and whose signature appeared along with other members of the committee on the report, Dillon has been specifically criticized for allegedly demeaning his doctrine -- the light”.
But debating the Senate’s amended version of the 1982 and 2003 law yesterday, following its recall from the House, Dillon asserted that the amended bill, as it was passed, may have not benefited lawmakers who failed their inscribed version of twelve years and above as eligibility for consideration.
He added: “Unlike the 2003 law, which states that even if a lawmaker serves for four years and is defeated in an election, he nonetheless qualifies for the pension benefits as is the case now,” the amended bill sets the bar higher.
As for Pro-Tem Albert Chie, he said he was surprised at what he was hearing from the House, despite discussing the bill with his counterpart, the Speaker.
Chie added that the bill rejected by the House went through at least two drafts and was discussed in detail. However, it appeared that Senators are in support of a full repeal instead of amendments.
“What I have gathered from you is that we must repeal the 2003 bill, and that is overwhelming because we know it will put more burden on the state if it remains like that.” So in spite of people [saying], we must repeal it, I have gathered from you that we must have a public hearing looking at the 1972 Public Law, the Judiciary law, and the Legislative law that were passed in the 1970s,” the Grand Kru County Senator said.
He added: “Then we look at the 2003 act that is available and is being used, then we can come out with a new bill, whatever it will be.”
Chie, however, promised that after the Senate’s review of the public official pension bill, they would also look at other pension bills for civil servants, since the existing pension bill “could be so obsolete so that we can bring it to present day reality.”
Chie’s position was also backed by the fourth highest-ranking official in the Senate — Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence.
The Grand Bassa County Senator added that the Senate should not amend the law but repeal it. However, she recommended that a proper investigation be conducted so that its benefits are cut across the board instead of just serving the heads of the various branches of government.
“So the question is, do we keep the law, amend the law until we can do financial analysis to see if it is something that is workable, that the country can afford? I will say let’s repeal,” the Senator said.
“I am suggesting that we repeal the law and do proper investigation; because for me pension benefits should be across the board and shouldn’t just be the heads of the branches of government. Pension law should be for sustainability. Let us look at the people at the lower level and every sector of the workforce.”
The Senator noted that the criticism against the Senate amendment would not have happened if the country’s national budget was benefiting the people, “our oversight yielding results nobody would care about pension laws.”
Lawrence added the Senate needs to carry out a financial analysis before deciding on repealing or amending the law, and that will help in determining the next course of action.
“Financial analysis will tell us that the law is not workable and the country cannot afford that; because how can we have a law and we cannot pay, at the end of the day the people have to go Court. And that tells you that we are not ready for the implementation of the pension law because we cannot even afford it.
Meanwhile, Bomi County Senator Edwin Snowe has taken serious exception to House's “unorthodox” manner in which they returned the engrossed Bill back to the Senate.
“Protemp and colleagues, we are not at war with the House, to warrant their current attitude toward us; I think the Senate may have accepted just too much from the House; for me let’s do what is right to help move this Senate forward,” Snowe intimated.