As the country’s justice sector gradually weakens in respect and dignity, if several legal instruments are not carefully taken into consideration, during the harmonization process that have dramatically reduced the salaries of judges, it would serve as a recipe for high level of corruption among judges and the downward spiral of public confidence not only in the law generally but in the economy.
An inevitable consequence would be a side-stepping of legal services, resulting in a breakdown of law and order.
However, while delivering the keynote address, at the 8th Annual Conference for the election and installation of officers of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL), Associate Justice Yussif D. Kaba reminded the government to carefully look at Judicial Canon #6, which he says is a nature of a judicial officer.
That cannon states, “The judge is a government paid official and must be paid adequately. He holds an exalted position which prevents him from engaging in any business pursuit. Therefore, he must be provided with the necessities of life and every means by which he will be able to perform his judicial duties effectively, efficiently and speedily.
It continues, “The judge must be encouraged and given incentive to live a decent and dignified life that would prevent financial and domestic worries and enable him or her to repel temptation which is susceptible to human life.
It concludes, “As priest of justice, a judge should not be given cause to be corrupted in the performance of his or her judicial duties so as to be justified for any disciplinary action taken against him or her, if found deficient in those qualities.”
On Friday, January 31, Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. appeared before members of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL) to discuss the mechanism used during the harmonization process that drastically reduced the salaries of the judges.
In his powerpoint presentation, Tweah dramatically defended the harmonization exercise by saying that, “nothing can be done now, because the decision came from our international partners. But, you, whenever the revenue generation improves we will be looking back at your harmonized salaries.”
However, most of the judges attending the program, after Minister Tweah’s statement, informed the minister that there is disparity within those placed in Category C.
According to them, the harmonization reduced government ministers’ salaries from that of US$7,000 to US$5,000, while judges were reduced from US$5,000 to US$3,000 and both are placed in the same Category C.
Before the harmonization process, Judges were making US$5,000 as monthly salaries; however, the harmonization exercise reduced that to US$3,000, which reduction necessitated the judges to communicate with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to meet Minister Tweah face to face to discuss about the drastic reduction of their take-home pay, as well as the violation of Article 72 (a) of the 1986 Constitution, which has to do with judges’ salaries.
Article 72 (a) provides: “The Justices of the Supreme Court and all other judges shall receive such salaries, allowances, and benefits as shall be established by law. Such salaries shall be subject to taxes as defined by law, provided that they shall not otherwise be diminished. Allowances and benefits paid to Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts may by law be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the Legislature; nor shall such allowance and benefits be subject to taxation.”
To support the judges’ concern, Justice Kaba also noted that the harmonization process resulted in an increment in the pension of judges upon retirement, but deprived them of allowances which were necessary for the upkeep of their families.
Justice Kaba: “Unlike in the case of other public employees, benefit for judges are expressly provided for by the Constitution. We, therefore, urge the executive department and members of the legislature to reconsider the situation of judges and act in the best interest of our constitution and the preservation of the sanctity of our justice system.”
Kaba went added that the reduction in the compensation of judges under the government harmonization program is a concern to all judicial officials. “While we appreciate the good intention of the government in the implementation of this program, we caution, however, that Article 72 of the Constitution and the peculiar nature of the judiciary should have been given due consideration,” Kaba reminded Tweah. “The position of the judge is sacred. As a priest of justice, the entire life of a judge is devoted to his sacred duty. The judge’s job is not limited to the time he spends in court. Even at home, he continues to be engaged in his vocation.”
“What is of interest to us the exploration of the nexus between the avoidance of improper influence on the courts and a tranquil, non-agitated and of high standard and condition of living in a society,” Justice Kaba said.