‘GoL Ready for Finance, Planning Merger’

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Finance Minister Amara M. Konneh has told the Daily Observer that the Government of Liberia (GoL) is ready for the merger of both the Ministries of Finance (MoF) and Planning and Economy Affairs (MPEA). The merger by law becomes effective as of today, July 1, 2014.

“This reform has been driven by a thoroughly organized and methodical process pre-dating our administration. We believe, a truly professionalized public sector is the most effective way to deliver quality services to our people and value of this exercise would be seen in increased efficiency, better organizational management and improved serviced delivery, particularly in the fiscal and development policy direction of the country,” Finance Minister Konneh, who will head the merged entities said.

Both entities have now been renamed to Ministry of Finance, Development and Planning (MFDP).

According to the Minister, the policy thinking behind the merger is to bring synergies to the government through the avoidance of duplications and gaps in the functions of both the Ministries of Finance and Planning and Economic Affairs, thereby resulting in better allocation of human/financial resources and better service delivery.

Minister Konneh, who is the nation’s Chief Financial Officer was, however, quick to point out, “As with every transition, there are rough roads and bumpy rides. As we pursue this painful process of helping to streamline the government through the rollout of the Ministry of Finance and Development and the operationalization of the Liberia Revenue Authority, we remain conscious of our responsibility to treat our employees with respect and dignity.”

“We are opened to ideas and have broadened the consultative process from the very inception of this reform. While July 1st is being announced as the date of commencement, the Acts creating both entities has provided a one-year window from its adoption to implementation of the law,” the Finance Minister, who was also Minister of MPEA, clarified.

Minister Konneh further assured the workforce of both entities that everything would be done in their powers to ensure the concerns and views of the workforce are considered as “We have done over the last few months through direct and indirect engagements but we must remain focused on the broader objective of working to reform our public sector. We can’t afford to go back. ”

Apparently, because some employees of the Ministry of Finance have not understood the Acts creating both MFDP and Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), which was once a part of the Ministry of Finance, last week decided to engage in a “go-slow.” According to some of the employees, the management team of the Ministry was about to terminate their employment come Tuesday, July 1, 2014.

They further contended that the management was incentive to their plight by allegedly proposing a voluntary separation package of US$5,000 and $7,000 for employees who had served between 1 and 10 years and 11 and 22 years respectively.

As a result of this “go-slow” staged by employees, activities at the Ministry of Finance were disrupted especially when some employees started threatening others who decided to carry on with their normal duties. This led to the authorities of MoF calling in the National Police to ensure that lives, properties and rights of others were protected in the process, a highly placed source, who is not authorized to speak with media, also told the Observer.

The Ministry said consistent with the Act of 2013, which created the MFDP and LRA Act of 2013, these two institutions are supposed to be made operational within 12 months as of the signing of the acts.

Since the Acts were all signed into Law by the President on September 19 and 23, 2013 respectively, both institutions are to come into effective no later than September 2014.

“However, because of the nature of revenue collections, the Management team decided that it would make sense to ensure that the LRA started on July 1, 2014 since that is beginning of the budget year. Management decided also that it would make sense, if possible, for the MFPD to also start on said date,” our MoF source stated.

He further said the Law is clear that all employees (not only civil servants) of the Department of Revenue will be transferred to the LRA for a period of 12 months during which time they will be required to complete application formalities. “The Law is clear that if these employees apply for a position with the LRA, they shall be granted employment.”

However, in the event that an employee decides not to apply within the 12 months, the Law requires that they return to the Civil Service Agency (CSA) for reassignment.

The MoF said consistent with these provisions of the Law, it has forwarded the names of all employees of the Department of Revenue to LRA through the CSA and added that separate memos have also being served each employees of the Department of Revenue informing them that as of July 1, 2014, they are to report to the LRA for assigning and begin application formalities.

“By the LRA Act, on the date that LRA begins operations, the Department of Revenue will seize to exist. However, few staff of the Department will remain in holder positions for the proposed Department of Fiscal Affairs, which is part of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.”

According to our source, the Ministry, however, clarified that even though the LRA comes on line, Revenue and Tax Policy remains a function of the MFDP and it would only be collection, enforcement, auditing and other operations of tax administration that are being placed under the LRA.

“It is important to note that the Minister of Finance and Development Planning has general supervision and direction of the LRA.”

“Regarding the MFDP, from all practical purposes, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 is not a go-live date as all the conditions necessary for this to happen have not occurred. So employees who felt that come July 1, 2014 they were out job are not correct.”

“However, in anticipation of the fact that not all employees from both the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning & Economic Affairs will be absorbed into the new Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, the Management decided to put together a proposal intended to deal with the few employees who may not be absorbed.”

Our source said the management team said even though the Act calls for those employees whose positions are not available in the new Ministry to be redundant, they said they thought that it would be prudent to put together a package that will be better than the one offered to redundant employees.

“In furtherance of this, on Monday, June 23, 2014, the Management team communicated a proposal to the employees of the Ministry of Finance and then on Tuesday, June 24, 2014, the same proposal was communicated to the employees of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs.”

During a June 25, meeting, employees declared that the voluntary separation package proposed by Management was unacceptable to them. Management informed the employees that it was prepared to listen and asked the employees to come back with a counter proposal.

“Strange enough, while Management was awaiting the proposal, the leadership of the employees decided to announce a ‘go-slow’ and started moving from office-to-office requesting employees to stop performing their functions,” the source stated.

After receiving the counter proposal from the employees on Thursday, Management informed them it was going to discuss the proposal and revert to them. But again, strangely, the employees decided to continue their “go-slow” and this time started to become more violent.

“While Management feels that the employees are making efforts to create the space needed to dialogue and respect their constitutional rights to act in their interest, Management remains appalled that employees would be engaging in threats and intimidation as a means of gaining support for their actions.”

On a number of occasions, some members of the leadership team of the employees were going around threatening other employees who were performing their functions, our source, who refused to name any of the leaders, said.

The proposal, which Management communicated had among other things that employees with a bachelor degree and above would receive a voluntary separation package containing US$5000 that is for employees who have served 1 to 10 years and US$7000 for employees, who have served 11 to 22 years.

According to the package, this is not compulsory. “It is intended for those who no longer want to work for the MFDP or feel that they don’t have the skills to compete for positions that will be available. No one is forced to take this option as each employee has the right to compete for any position that is announced in the new Ministry. The decision to voluntarily separate is solely at the discretion of the employees who will make that decision once the approved organogram is published and positions clearly identified in the MFPD.”

Among the proposals, include competitive recruiting for every employee; redundancy, once an employee doesn’t fall in any of the above categories. The management team further named a US$3000 for present workers, who don’t have a bachelor’s degree, for them to severe ties with the MFDP.

Students, meaning those without a degree but are currently enrolled, can take a severance package plus tuition payment; others, if someone feels that their severance package as per the CSA standing order is more than the $3,000, they have the option to take severance.

Our source said the Ministry has stated that for employees with two years or less from retirement, they are not included in any of the categories above as the Ministry will pay them for the remaining years of their service so that they can benefit from retirement.

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