Liberia: Stop Being The Grinch That Stole Christmas, FHI360!

Liberia: Stop Being The Grinch That Stole Christmas, FHI360!

.... As it stands now, FHI360 closes today for the holidays to resume in January 2024. Smiles, from ear to ear, are on the faces of their staff whose bread has been buttered. What a joyful Christmas it shall be for them and their families. 

Christmas is the biggest holiday in Liberia. During the holiday season, parents spend their best on their children—purchasing their “Christmas clothes”, etc. Children, deck in their Christmas best on December 25, move around their communities in droves with their latest toys–it’s a sight to behold. 

It is also a gathering and perhaps a reunion of family and friends as food and drinks galore in endless display. As it is suggestively festive, Liberians go all out to be in the craze of the holiday season. 

However, across Liberia, thousands of civil servants in the public sector will experience a morose Christmas, according to FrontPage Africa, due to the inability of the Liberian government to service its debt to the Central Bank of Liberia which has refused to honor financial instruments emanating from the Ministry of Finance of Development Planning. 

But civil servants aren’t the only ones who will experience a grim Christmas filled with sadness and hunger due to the apparent lack of purchasing power. 

Across the country, hundreds of LGBTIQ+ employees of local human rights organizations working on the USAID’s PEPFAR initiative that is being implemented by the global health chain, FHI360, will also experience a fate akin to civil servants. 

Some of these individuals are breadwinners of their families, while others are partners—husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, etc—that have people who also look up to them for acts of magnanimity. The paltry sum they earn pales in comparison to the thousands of dollars staff at FHI360 earns in Liberia. 

For example, a Peer Educator (PE) under the USAID PEPFAR initiative earns US$110, while the minimum amount the lowest employee at FHI360 earns is anywhere around US$400, excluding amenities and add-ons. 

From the amount that is given to the peer educator, US$15 is set for transportation, leaving them with US$95 for a stipend. 

And it doesn’t come monthly or biweekly. 

This is below the minimum wage of Liberia for the formal sector which is set at US$142. 

The work of the peer educator is to get clients enrolled and get tested for HIV. If a client is positive, they are linked to a peer navigator who linked them to the facility to get on a treatment. 

Peer educators, according to sources, are expected to transport clients to the facility to get treated at their own expense with no hope of reimbursement. 

Just why they are indignantly paid this amount in willful violation of the labor law and their rights remains the lingering question. 

Although staff of implementing partners who do the real work of collecting the raw data and transmitting it to FHI360 to meet the global 90-90-90 goal of HIV eradication have been calling for increments in their stipend, transportation allowance, and calling cards, the management team in Liberia has been perennially tone deaf to their pleas.

The fact that many of these organizations are cash strapped, their tongues remain tied with their heads bowed in supplication as they roll over to play dead in violation of all that they claim to stand for—human rights. 

Unlike civil servants whose fate remains in limbo due to the inability of the government to shoulder its responsibility, such cannot be said of FHI360 which subcontracts them as implementing partners under the PEPFAR initiative. 

FHI360 has the money to pay what is due them by the stroke of the pen. Just why they willfully choose to give others a sad Christmas is a question for which answers appear not to be forthcoming.

Staff of FHI360 in Liberia, according to sources, are paid biweekly. But the biweekly approach cannot be said of its implementing partners who sometimes complained of going months without getting what is duly theirs, contravening the labor laws of Liberia. 

The global health organization, according to its partners, uses a carrot and stick method to implement its work. 

Taking advantage of the vulnerability of these organizations, this inhumane method, which would never fly in the United States and other areas, was embedded in its work methodology since it was awarded the grant by the USAID to implement the PEPFAR initiative in the country. 

This should claim the attention of the United States Agency for International Development. For, the work that FHI360 does in Liberia is in its (USAID’s) name. 

Thousands of stickers emblazoned on walls across the country carry the logos of USAID and FHI360. 

And since FHI360’s work plans and activities are approved by the agency, can we say that USAID is aware of the violation of the rights of these LGBTIQ+ workers who are afraid to speak up for fear that the hovering Sword of Damocles may decapitate their heads?

Editor’s note: The views expressed in this commentary are solely of the author and do not necessarily represent that of the Daily Observer newspaper.