It seems that President George Weah’s recent pronouncement about the reduction of his salary and other benefits by 25 percent has not gone down well with judges throughout the country.
The judges made known their displeasure yesterday at the opening of the February 2018 Term of Criminal Courts, A, B, C, D and E at the Temple of Justice, where they argued that any salary cut must take into consideration Article 72 (a) of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.
President Weah, at his inaugural speech, defended his salary reduction plan when he indicated that it was because of the rapidly deteriorating situation of the economy.
Weah by then publicly announced, “I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25 percent.”
The President continued, “Our economy is broken; our government is broke. Our currency is in free fall; inflation is rising; unemployment is at an unprecedented high; and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low.”
Article 72 (a) provides that, “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.”
But, delivering his charge at the opening of the criminal courts, Judge Roosevelt Z. Willie of Criminal Court ‘A’ clearly showed their disapproval with these words, “Salary and other benefits for judges and magistrates shall not be diminished without a national program enacted by the Legislature as enshrined in Article 72 of the 1986 Constitution of Liberia.”
Besides, Willie, also president of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL), emphasized that for judges and magistrates to be fully independent, it means that their retirement benefits cannot continue to be L$7,500 a month.
Currently, Circuit Court Judges earn US$4,500 per month and magistrates also earn US$1,500 per month.
Judges also receive US$5,000 each as allowance plus unspecified number of scratch cards, gasoline, and medical and housing benefits, while magistrates are likely not benefiting from those allowances.
As for the Associate Justices and the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court they make as much as US$9,000 to US$11,000 each per month.
The money excludes allowances, plus unspecified number of scratch cards, gasoline, medical and housing benefit, which judicial experts put the total at over US$25,000 for each of the justices as take home pay and benefits.
Each of the five justices including the Chief Justice now rides a jeep that cost over US$50,000.
The criminal court judge also suggested that judges and magistrates must be provided vehicles and other logistics like any other government official.
In his passionate plea, Willie stressed that “Judges and magistrates must be provided with the necessary logistics particularly vehicles and other items for the smooth operation of their judicial functions,” adding, “because as we deliver this charge, some of our judges have gone home from their respective assignments either using their own vehicles or have taken commercial ones, which poses security risk for them.”
According to Judge Willie, some of his colleagues have faced premature death because, while they earn between US$2,000 to US$4,000 during active service, in retirement they receive L$7,500 with no transportation allowance which, according to him, equates to a “death sentence.”