For a government that has cried persistently from inheriting a ‘broke economy,’ it was widely expected that it would support legislation that seeks to reduce the monthly salaries of Senators and Representatives who earn approximately US$15,000 and US$10,000 respectively to US$5,000.
But as it seems to be, this is not how the government and most of its supporters feel as evidenced by Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah’s assertions kicking against a draft Act compiled by Montserrado County Senator Darius Dillon to reduce lawmakers’ salaries.
Minister Tweah, while attending what would be considered as “a pre-election campaign rally” of Rep. Thomas Fallah, a member of the ruling CDC contesting the December 8 Senatorial Midterm elections, boastfully said that the previous US$16 million dollar reduction in the lawmakers’ budget is sufficient and therefore he does not support further salary reduction.
According to the Minister, the lawmakers’ budget was previously set at US$49 million (actually US$42,375,922 as stated in the recast FY2019-20 budget) but was slashed to US$33 million (actually US$33,403,304 as of FY2020-21 draft budget), which means US$16 million was cut from the lawmakers in this year’s draft budget. However, the real figure should have been US$8,972,618 (US$42,375,922 minus US$33,403,304).
Minister Tweah, therefore, believes that any additional cuts will lead to heartache and disappointment to constituents who heavily rely on begging their lawmakers for money.
“US$49 million minus US$33 million, it means we have taken US$16 million dollars from the Legislature. We have cut them down. But some people are saying, we should still cut the people’s salary,” Min. Tweah said. “When the Legislature salary is cut too much; when you run to them for help, they will not be able to help and those who are advocating for salary cuts, it’s the people’s money they are cutting. When the legislators do not get money, you will not go there to ask them for anything because they will not have money to give.”
Min. Tweah further added: “I’m the Minister of Finance; we have cut their money down and they are under pressure. Some of them took loans and they do not have money to pay back the loans. I myself, I feel for them because I, the Minister, have been working with the president to cut, cut, cut… but when I look at the lawmakers, I feel sorry because I know what they are going through. So, nobody should tell you to cut their salaries. They have done a lot of good work.”
Before Tweah’s remark, President Weah in 2018 after taking office attributed the tough time the government was facing in its early years to inheriting a ‘broke economy.’
“Our economy is broken, our government is broke, our currency is in free-fall, inflation is rising, unemployment is at an unprecedented height, and our foreign reserves are at an all-time low,” President Weah said in his speech by then. These lines from the President were sung by his supports, most especially the Finance Minister over the difficulty the government was facing in paying wage bills and servicing both internal and internal debts.
And quite recently, the President in his remark to the nation during its 173 years of Independence said that the coronavirus has a negative prospect on the growth and prosperity of the country in the years to come.
“Not surprisingly, it has caused a drastic downturn in business activity and a consequent decline in revenue generation, as well as resulted in food shortages, rising inflation, and negative projections of GDP growth, amongst others,” President Weah said.
Amid those highlighted economic situations, Montserrado County Senator Abe Darius Dillon, an opposition lawmaker whom Rep. Fallah is planning to unseat in the pending senatorial election, last week submitted a bill seeking to set US$5,000 for a lawmaker as a gross salary.
The bill, the Senator argues, will help the government reduce its massive wage bills—which stands at US$291.9 million in the draft budget for FY2020/20201, which is US$535,452,000 increased by US$9 million more than the previous budget (US$526 million).
The proposed bill, according to Sen. Dillon, will save the government US$11 million, an amount which can be used for other development projects including the construction of schools among other things.
In countering the Min. Tweah’s assertion, Sen. Dillion on his Facebook Page criticized the Finance Minister saying that “a governance system that is structured such that it works for and serves the needs of the citizens, keeps the citizens from begging for handouts.”
“Public policymakers should always strive to manage, apply, and use public resources for the general good of the people and country; the Senator said. “Public policymakers should work the system that empowers the people to earn their living in dignity than turn them into perpetual beggars.”
Arguing further, Sen. Dillion said: “Sadly, the CDC/Weah-led regime already lacking in any clear vision as to how to properly lead, believes that public officials should pocket more of the public resources and have our people going to beg the very public officials for handouts to live.”
“This kind of mindset is insensitive, callous, and purely evil. Public elected officials are employees of the people; the people are our employers, and it is their tax dollars that pay us the amounts we pay ourselves. How and why should our employers be turned into perpetual beggars by their employees? What kind of policy or attitude is that?”
“But with God above, such evildoers will continue to expose themselves and their plans to keep our people in poverty. The Light from above will confuse them in their wicked ways! And our people will see and know them for who they really are,” Sen. Dillion added.
Prior to Senator Dillon entering the Senate, salaries for members of the House of Representatives and Senate were kept secret. Salaries for members of the Senate became known after Senator Dillion disclosed his monthly salary.
In addition to the salary, lawmakers also receive gas slips and scratch cards which have been reportedly cut down to 50% from the cash value of US$2,400 to US$1,200. Since revealing his salary, Sen Dillon said he has for one fiscal year lived on US$5,000, giving the remaining US$3,000 to Montserrado County, and yet, he has been able to maintain the sanctity and integrity of the office of the County’s Senator.
Minister Tweah, the first senior Minister to criticize Dillon’s bill has been joined by a lot of Representatives, particularly members of the ruling party including Rep. Acarous Gray of Montserrado County District #8, and Grand Kru County District #2 Representative Cllr. J. Fonati Koffa, who also serves as Chairman of the House Committee on Judiciary to criticize their colleague’s bill.
Their argument is that Montserrado County Senator allegedly failed to study the constitutional backing and applicability of the document seeking to cut lawmakers’ salaries.
According to them, the Dillon Bill runs contrary to Article 34d (i) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution, noting that said document should have originated from the House of Representatives.
Article 34d (i) of the Liberian Constitution states that: “All revenue bills, whether subsidies, charges, imports, duties or taxes, and other financial bills, shall originate in the House of Representatives, but the Senate may propose or concur with amendments as on other bills. No other financial charge shall be established, fixed, laid, or levied on any individual, community, or locality under any pretext whatsoever except by the expressed consent of the individual, community, or locality. In all such cases, a true and correct account of funds collected shall be made to the community or locality”.
Meanwhile, members of the collaborating political party legislative caucus are yet to release any statement in support or against Senator Dillion.