In consultation with President-elect George Weah, authorities of the Ministry of National Defense (MOD) have agreed to take appropriate action to refund the US$1,147,656.35 that was reportedly taken from the soldiers’ pension fund and expended on operations of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) since August 2009.
Minister Brownie J. Samukai told reporters yesterday at his office in Monrovia that there is an immediate plan to refund the soldiers’ money in the next budgetary appropriation, as agreed by the government.
According to Minister Samukai, the protest by the wives of some of the affected AFL soldiers came to the attention of the government when an alarm was raised concerning how and why the fund was deducted from soldiers’ monthly salary and deposited into a pension fund account for each soldier.
“They were concerned that funds used from the account of the AFL activities should not have been used for that purpose; that the government should have allotted money in the budget to cater to the welfare of the soldiers,” Samukai said.
According to him, in August 2009, the ministry established a ‘contributory savings’ that involved deductions from all ranks of the AFL for their welfare and supplementary pension benefit after their years of honorable service. As of October 2017, the amount of US$2,062,160.14, including accrued interest, were collected and deposited into that account at one of the local banks.
Samukai said: “It has been established that about US$1,147,656.35 was spent on the AFL and the balance of US$688,946.96 as of November 8, 2017.” Following the outcry by families of the AFL personnel on the status of said account, the Chief of Staff (COS), Major/General Daniel Dee Ziankahn, ordered an immediate investigation through the Board of Inquiry to determine the status, utilization and balance of said account.
Meanwhile the findings from the report have established that the MOD neither set up guidelines nor a clear policy on how the welfare account would be used. Therefore, the ministry authorized the expenditure of funds from this account on soldiers’ welfare without the requisite consent of the AFL high command; that the ministry did not provide timely information to personnel of the AFL on the operations and utilization of the money.
The findings also reported that MOD failed to seek requisite budgetary appropriations for the welfare of the soldiers and that the ministry should not have used the funds for the benefit of the soldiers without the requisite budgetary appropriation; that the ministry is also responsible for the procedural lapses in the management, expenditure and utilization of said funds while all monies spent on personnel welfare should have been handled by and through the government’s normal budgetary appropriation, and not from the AFL welfare account. Documents revealed that expenditures made from this welfare account were for the benefit of the soldiers and their families, but that was never done.
Following these findings, Samukai said that the AFL shall manage all of its accounts, including the welfare account, through their chains of command without any hindrance nor interference from authorities of the MOD, adding “There shall be no further withdrawal from this account until such time when a clear and concise policy is put into place that will articulate the management, procedure, criteria and authorization for the usage and expenditure of monies from the AFL and welfare account, and there shall be no further deduction from the morale and welfare account.”
“The MOD shall not utilize any funds appropriated for or belonging to the AFL for any purpose absolutely whatsoever,” Samukai said.
In a related development, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in her capacity as the Commander-In-Chief of the AFL, yesterday met the wives of the aggrieved soldiers to resolve outstanding problems surrounding the compulsory savings that the women claimed the MOD owes them. The President assured the aggrieved women of government’s commitment to resolving their concerns.
According to an Executive Mansion release, the President assured that women that the government will pay the money into the soldiers’ accounts over a period of time, noting, “I, as well as the President-elect have been briefed by the Chief of Staff of the AFL.” President Sirleaf met the aggrieved wives of AFL soldiers, who were accompanied to the President’s Fish Market residence by the Chief of Staff, Major General Daniel Dee Ziankahn.
It can be recalled that the aggrieved wives of AFL soldiers recently blocked the main road leading to Roberts International Airport (RIA), which hampered the free flow of traffic, in demand of accountability for their husbands’ compulsory savings. The President then commended the women for the professional services their husbands exhibited on behalf of the country.
“Let me use this time to commend you for allowing your beloved husbands to serve our country,” President Sirleaf said. She then thanked the women for their patience in addressing their concerns, stressing that Maj. Gen. Ziankahn will take charge of the matter instead of the MOD.