After Months of opposition from judges throughout the country against any to attempt to place rigorous taxes on their incomes as part of the government harmonization exercise, Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel D. Tweah, Jr., on Tuesday, October 14, laid the matter to rest when he said Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and other justices had endorsed the program.
Minister Tweah’s disclosure comes after judges and judicial workers have contended over the time that their salaries and benefits should not be affected by the harmonization process.
Minister Tweah, while addressing aggrieved judicial workers, went on to say: “Late Chief Justice Johnnie N. Lewis opposed taxing of judges’ and justices’ incomes, and he planned to challenge any attempt to cut or tax the income of judges and that didn’t happen, but Chief Justice Francis Korkpor and the other justices understand, and they have agreed that we tax your income.”
The President at the time, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, paying her tribute to the late Chief Johnnie Lewis in 2015 said: “Justice Lewis collaborated with my government to obtain the resources required to renovate the Temple of Justice and to build courthouses not only in Monrovia but in other parts of the country.”
In defense of the Justices’ acceptance of taxation on judicial staff incomes, Minister Tweah informed the workers that the rationale for the payroll reform was basically to standardize pay across the government and to reduce huge irregularities and disparities in salaries.
Article 72(a) of the 1986 Constitution provides: “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 should not otherwise be diminished.
“Allowances and benefits paid to justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate Court may by law be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the Legislature nor shall such allowances and benefits be subject to taxation.”
It can be recalled that during the opening of the February term of court throughout the country, the Resident Judge of the 13th Judicial Circuit Court in Margibi County, Mardea Tarr Chenoweth, informed her audience that the government’s salary harmonization program would depress judges and magistrates and undermine the effectiveness of the judiciary.
Judge Chenoweth noted: “No act shall therefore be promulgated by the Legislature to contravene the intent of framers of the Constitution.”
Defending her opinion, Judge Chenoweth said that in other common law jurisdictions like the United States of America, judges are well-paid to ensure that they are not saddled with an issue that might affect their ability to perform in the protection of fundamental rights and liberties.
Judicial Canon #6, titled, “Government paid officials,” provides among other things that, “A judge is a government-paid official and must be paid adequately; he holds an exalted position which prevents him from engaging in any business pursuit, therefore, he must be provided with the necessities of life and with every means by which he or she will be able to perform his or her judicial duties effectively, efficiently, and speedily. The judge must be encouraged and given the incentive to live a decent and dignified life that would prevent financial and domestic worries, and enable him to repel temptation which is susceptible to human life. As priests of justice, a judge should not be given the cause to be corrupted in the performance of his or her judicial duty to be justified for any disciplinary action taken against him if found deficient in those qualities.”