Disbelief and frustration were the expressions on the faces of former Bong Mining Company (BMC) workers when the payment of overdue severance benefits was postponed indefinitely.
Most of the would-be beneficiaries are already in their 60s and 70s.
The chairman of the former BMC employees’ Committee, Jaye J. Larblah, announced Wednesday, January 15, that the payment, which was to be done on the same day, was deferred owing to alleged discrepancy figures that made up the US$4m, discovered by the Finance Ministry on Tuesday.
In a sad but heartening tone, Mr. Larblah assured the more than 100 ex-BMC employees present of BMC’s immediate collaboration with the Finance Ministry for speedy rectification of the situation.
According to the records from August 1990, the ex-BMC workers numbered at least 1,804.
“We are sorry to inform you that the payments of your justified severance benefits have been postponed. We will certainly inform you through the media and text messages about the new date,” Mr. Larblah said, carefully counting his words.
Some of the aged and downhearted former BMC employees and their widows wept at the news, including Ma Karpeh, the widow of caterpillar operator John Karpeh, when the announcement was made.
Mrs. Nowah Pannoh, the wife of the late Samuel Pannoh, burst into cynical laughter, while Ma Petto, the wife of a disabled former caterpillar operator, whimpered when the news of “hold your heart, payment will be later” was interpreted to her in Kpelle.
Oldman Kanneh, 67 , sat quietly in a state confusion and rested the palm of his hands on his head amid the news about the postponement.
He told the Daily Observer that his only worry is that he does not meet his demise before the final distribution of the BMC’s severance benefits.
“I have lot of things to settle, son. My old lady is not well. And I have to make some refunds on lands I sold before my children kill me,” he said, as tears set in his brown eyes.
He exhaled heavily: “Ah God," he lamented in his Kpelle vernacular, "nobody can tell the sadness of a big-toothed man.”
Alfred Nah, a relative to one of the beneficiaries, said: “Transportation…..my son, from Gbarnga to Monrovia, we have been on this three months, taking photos and making sure our name is listed.”
An instant survey conducted by our reporter showed that most of the ex-BMC workers and relatives who came did so with the expectation of getting their respective checks. Most of them are living in rural Liberia and had to pay the high cost of transportation only to be disappointed.
But an official of the ex-BMC Committee, who spoke under the condition of anonymity, told the Daily Observer in a telephone conversation that the former BMC workers would begin collecting payment on Monday, January 20.
He noted that the ex-BMC delegation had already corrected the discrepancy Tuesday but are expecting confirmation of the printing of checks and onward submission to the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) on Thursday.
“We are on course for Monday, but maybe another thing may come up, so it is still indefinite until all the T’s are crossed and I’s are dotted,” the official said.
The official, however, disclosed that they have resolved to pay those former employees of BMC who are still alive first and foremost, regardless of where their names fall on the list. All money for deceased employees will be paid later after a week of scrutiny to avoid further embarrassment.
“Some of the deceased have more than one wife, while others have authorized another relative to collect their severance benefits. So, we have decided to stage a week-long verification process and then pay them.”
The Liberian Government and ex-BMC workers signed an MOU for the payment US$4million of their US$8.9million to close a decade-long chapter in the case of the former Bong Mines Workers and those who illegally settled on the abandoned properties of the company.
The deal, which brought the saga to a close, was signed at the Ministry of Finance on Wednesday, November 27, 2013, with J. J. Larblah, chairman of the former Bong Mining company employees End of Service Benefits Committee, signing on behalf of the former workers, and Finance Minister Amara Konneh signing on behalf of the government.
The MOU signified the ex-BMC workers had waived the US$4.9 million to settle for US$4 million to end the long tussle between the government and the aged workers.