— Senate calls MFDP action a serious national security threat
The Liberian Senate after a heated debate, has voted to call a halt to what they described as “constitutional transgression” — the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning’s action of “salaries harmonization,” and instead reverse the process and those affected be reimbursed.
The Senate vote came as a result of a communication from Gbarpolu County Senator Armah Zolu Jallah, requesting plenary to have the MFDP submit the Government’s “Salary Harmonization Plan”, inclusive of the three branches of the Government and autonomous agencies. The vote also followed another letter from Maryland County Senator H. Dan Morais, complaining of students protest actions over a go-slow action by teachers at the Tubman University in Harper for salary payment.
“While on my feet, I move… that this plenary communicate with the Executive, informing it of the transgression it has done and order that it stops all salary payments until the 2019/2020 national budget is passed and, if possible, reverse what they have done; until the Legislature completes the process on the budget that will be deemed passed,” said Bong County Senator Henry W. Yallah, proffering a motion.
Kicking off the debate on Tuesday, a member of the Senate Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget, Bomi County Senator Morris G. Saytumah briefly informed plenary that, even if there is any harmonization plan, it is not stressed as far as private agency. “As far as I am concerned from us on the Ways and Means, we have got no plan or policy coming to us to talk about harmonization of salary and compensation of Liberian employees; there aren’t any instruments that tells us that and, as to whether arbitrary harmonization has been done, I don’t know about it.”
As usual, firebrand Senator Oscar Cooper requested that both the heads of the MFDP and Civil Service Agency be cited to appear before plenary, and asked whether they indeed have a harmonization structure policy that they can present to the Senate and the Legislature.
“We are getting communications from our constituents, who are doctors as professional people who are supposed to receive US$1,999, and they have displayed their bank account statements, which showed they received US$254.00. So this is happening whether you know about it or not,” Senator Cooper intimated.
River Cess Senator Dallas Gueh agreed that any decision taken to arbitrarily cut salaries or harmonize salaries without legislative approval “is a violation of the Constitution and the Public Finance Management Law, which states that when the budget has not yet passed one-twelfth of the previous budget be implemented.”
Grand Gedeh County Senator Marshall Dennis, for his part, called for prompt action on the salary harmonization; “information is coming from sources to us that salaries for July are being badly cut. So, if we are not careful, a lot of noise is going to be around here. It is better that we put our feet down now and start to investigate.”
Referencing teachers’ salary cut in her constituency, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence said the discussion should be beyond just the policy and planning, “because I know there are teachers in my constituency who met with me and some of them were making LRD18,000 and received LRD6,000. So I think there should be an immediate motion to call our financial team here to prove to us that this is not happening, and if it’s happening what action they are taking immediately.”
“Considering the noise of salary cut, we should not procrastinate, I think the leadership of the Senate should now communicate with the President to advise him that he should instruct his Finance Minister to put a halt to any cut in civil servants’ salaries until that policy document can be made available,” Grand Gedeh County Senator Alphonso Gaye warned.
“There is nowhere in the world where the Ministry of Finance proceeds to execute a budget that has never been approved by the Legislature, this is the only place I am seeing it. What is happening now only takes place in a banana republic. The laws are there that you cannot execute a budget until is passed by the Legislature, but yet our budget is been executed based on proposal, no approval yet. We must put our feet down or else this country will break down,” outspoken Sinoe County Senator J. Milton Teahjay warned.
Speaking as a legal mind, Grand Cape Mount County ranking Senator H. Varney Sherman said the Constitution is clear that the Legislature is responsible for appropriation that no government agency, other than the Legislature, has that authority. “And ladies and gentlemen, we are running the risk, an individual that may be affected by this salary reduction could go to the Supreme Court on the writ of prohibition, only that the Ministry of Finance or whoever he is is violating the Constitution, because the Legislature has not made the appropriation. Instead of calling people here, Pro Temp and Speaker, tell the Minister of Finance, [to not] embarrass us; wait until the appropriation is made.”
Other Senators who spoke on the issue also decried the action by the Ministry of Finance.