The officer in charge at the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), Debby Moulton, has reacted to the disenchantment of some employees of the entity about its salary structures and their treatment at work.
Ms. Moulton, who is temporarily holding on as person-in-charge of FDA as per the order of President George Manneh Weah, is the director of the human resource (HR) department.
Addressing the media recently at her office in Bernard Farm, Paynesville, she said employees who are complaining that their salaries are below the current official benchmark of US$225 for people at the lowest ebb of service should be fair enough and say the truth instead of raising unnecessary alarm at this time of the ongoing transition.
Her reaction came following expressed disenchantment by some FDA workers who requested anonymity on grounds that they could lose their jobs for speaking out on the ongoing alleged bad labor practice.
“I am a driver and I am making US$225, but my recent finding has shown that some people who are drivers like me are making more money. Even some B.Sc degree holders are complaining because they too are not equally treated. Some are making US$600 while others are making US$300 or at most 400,” said the anonymous driver.
The driver noted that even when there is an increment in salary, only a few benefit while others remain at the same level. He pointed out that janitors, security personnel and drivers are receiving the same amount instead of each department receiving salaries based on service provided or the qualifications of individual members in the department.
The HR director, Ms. Moulton, however, disagreed with the employees and said it is not true that management has increased salaries artificially, neither has it done so with bias, as is being presented by the aggrieved employees.
“There are challenges but what I can say is that no one at FDA is paid below US$225,” she said.
Concerning her role now as the officer-in-charge of FDA, she said everything is intact and operations are ongoing. She said it is her hope that President Weah will decide and appoint whom he would like to see head the FDA soon. “We pray that the President will retain our managing director, Darlington Tuagben. He has done well in the short course of time and we believe that with his understanding of the forestry sector, he will do better and improve a lot of things,” she said.
She also noted that the need for the President to make known the name of the next managing director along with his or her deputies cannot be overemphasized as she and others do not have the right to affix their signatures to documents for the procurement of office materials or anything else.
For his part, the project manager for national reforestation, William Pewu, said it is appalling that there is no starting salary for any employee at FDA regardless of his or her educational credentials and job experience.
“I have a master’s degree and have served FDA for twenty years now but you won’t believe that there are some of our colleagues here, who we are ahead of in credentials and experience, making more money than us. FDA is paying people according to rank, rather than qualification,” Pewu said.
He noted that it was shocking to learn that a new employee who was hired to fill a vacancy created by the death of a manager is now earning US$1,700 a month. “The person that was there was earning US$1,200 but to our utmost surprise, such a huge increment was made for the newcomer. He does not have a master’s degree but probably for some reason such a consideration was given him,” William Pewu said, adding that they are not happy with such an unstructured system.
He noted that officers at FDA are making manager salaries while managers are making officer salaries.
When contacted via mobile phone, the ‘outgoing’ managing director, Darlington Tuagben said he inherited the current payment structure and other challenges, but had been working along with his team of officers to curtail the many difficulties associated with the operations of FDA.
Tuagben said the FDA is a technical institution and its agenda over the period under his administration had been to introduce reforms for the betterment of the institution and its employees.
“It sounds comical, gentlemen, for one to say I have increased the salary of some staff while others remain at the same level. Salary increment comes based on budgetary allotment to an institution in the national budget. I don’t have my own personal money to pay salaries; how come I increased the salary of certain people and ignore others?” he asked rhetorically.
He said the autonomy the FDA previously enjoyed is no longer in place, adding that it is the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) that controls FDA’s funding. “I received a series of concerns from almost all the departments at FDA ranging from salary disparity to the atmosphere at their various areas of operations. I had a meeting with each department and arranged with a committee setup by a panel to work on a new financial policy so we could present it to the government for perusal and consideration of the need to adopt some changes that will impact every department, most especially in term of salary payment,” he said, adding that it is true people are paid at FDA according to their positions of service rather than credentials. “It is the tradition we met. Trying to change it must be legal, more so with the involvement of the very people who are affected,” he said.
Tuagben noted that the financial policy FDA is using was formulated in the 1980’s, and pointed out that some project managers at the FDA are receiving US$900 while others are receiving a little below that amount.
“What I did over the months is that I tried, through the help of my colleagues in the managerial area, to raise the salary of janitors, security personnel and drivers from US$120 to at least US$225. I did so because I know that they are very important to the system, too. They are doing well in their own capacities as any of us and should not be treated with indignity,” he said, adding that he was working over the period of his leadership to ensure that others, too, get their fair share.
About concerns that he employed his relatives and friends and has been paying them more than they deserve, Tuagben dismissed same as falsehood created by detractors with intent to unnecessarily paint him black.
“I did not employ anyone connected to me in whatsoever way. Those we employed recently after the retirement ceremony of 43 of our long serving staff were vetted by an independent panel. All of the 25 personnel hired came in on the basis of merit, not friendship,” he said.
He noted that the retirement exercise was the first of its kind at FDA.
The FDA MD stated that under his administration, FDA now has a number of projects, including the Liberia Forestry Sector Project (LFSP), and a more participatory style of leadership than ever before.
Tuagben said that even though he could not solve all of the problems at FDA, he was able to ensure that the road leading to the authority is paved, with a strategic plan devised to deal with both long term and short term programs and problems. “FDA is now contributing about US$20 million to national revenue. We have just opened the Grebo-Krahn National Park, and the Sapo National Park is bringing in revenue. Disputes among many of our workers have been settled and issues of concern about FDA’s relationship to local community dwellers have been addressed appropriately,” he said.
On his recall to work as managing director by President Weah, he said, it is the sole constitutional mandate of the President to decide on who should hold whatever position at agencies under the executive branch of government.
“I love my country and I am willing to serve at all times. Whatever will be the decision of the President, I will obey as I have already begun by leaving the office in the hands of the human resource manager,” he added.