Senate: ‘25% Pay Cut Won’t Fix The Problem’

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Senators Morris G. Saytumah and Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence.jpg

A recent letter by three Senators recommending 25 percent pay cut for officials of government has created discontentment in the Upper House to the extent that some of the Senators, including Prince Y. Johnson (Nimba County), walked out of Tuesday’s session.

The communication, dated February 14 and signed by Senators Morris G. Saytumah, Armah Zolu Jallah and Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence recommended that the Ways, Means and Finance Committee of that august body and the Ministry of Finance should immediately start an extensive and comprehensive review of expenditure.

The objective, accordingly, is to streamline government’s spending to meet important national development targets with the reduction in benefits for the President, Vice President, Speaker, President Pro-Tempore, Chief Justice, Associate Justices, Legislators, Ministers, Deputy Ministers, Assistant Ministers, Heads of Public Corporations, Directors and Commissioners.

The story, however, took a dramatic turn yesterday when some of their colleagues said they welcomed the communication for the 25 percent pay cut as an austerity measure to address the downward trend in the economy.

The Senators have therefore recommended the holistic review of the economy by setting up an Economic Review Commission, which they believe will bring together local economists and financial experts with the mandate to thoroughly review the nation’s economy and come out with recommendations for a way out of the looming financial quagmire.

The recommendation by the Senators came during debates on the February 14 letter in which the three Senators recommended that their committee on Ways, Means and Finance and the Ministry of Finance immediately start an extensive and comprehensive review of expenditure with a goal to streamline it to meet important national development targets.

The benefits to be affected by the pay cut, accordingly, will include the supply of gas slips, scratch cards, and travel allowances.

But in their almost two-hour deliberation on Tuesday, the Senators argued that even a 90 percent cut in salary does not address some of the fundamental issues that are needed to streamline the economy.

As good as it looks, the communication from the three Senators, according to some other members of the Senate, is not meant to work, but only to serve as a publicity stunt.

River Gee County Senator Conmany B. Wesseh decried the dependent tendency of Liberians to think that somebody will always do it for the country.

“Putting an economic commission in place will help us craft a national economic policy; a 25 percent cut in salary is just one of many issues that financial and economic experts will look at in their deliberations,” Wesseh argued.

Senators Daniel Flomo Naatehn of Gbarpolu and Jim Tornolah of Margibi counties agreed that cutting certain percentages in salary will not save the economy, protesting that what they receive as salary is not enough to take care of their “domestic and philanthropic” obligations, adding: “We need radical economic decisions.”

Maryland County Senator Gbleh-Bo Brown recalled that the Senate did not do well when it allowed the Central Bank of Liberia to print new bank notes without knowing how much money was already in circulation.

“Unless something is done to urgently address the messy economic condition in the country, the issue of a smooth transition of power would be highly unlikely,” he added.

He, too, agreed that setting up an economic review commission is the way forward for now.

Former chairman of the Senate Committee on Judiciary, Sinoe County Senator Joseph Nagbe, welcomed the communication and described it as an eye-opener, but did not agree that it would solve the problem. He warned that even cutting the salary by 90 percent would still not solve the economic problem.

Senator Nagbe re-emphasized his usual blame on government’s lack of a national policy, accusing most government officials as being too greedy, corrupt, insincere and dishonest, with their tastes for living beyond their means.

He recalled how a foreign scholar once described Liberia as a sick society, because it rushed into declaring independence without a set vision of where it wanted to go.

River Cess County Senator Dallas Gueh recommended that government focus on investing in the agriculture industry, as did neighboring Cote d’Ivoire, and structure the economy by taking it from the hands of foreigners.

He then accused the government of putting too much emphasis on salary, “because of a bloated government.”

Meanwhile, on the dual currency issue, Gueh said it is killing the economy, and urged that the Liberian currency takes prominence.

One of the authors of the communication, Senator Karnga-Lawrence, said some governmental institutions are given budgetary allocation for administrative costs even though they have nothing to show as production during budget hearings.

The Senators therefore mandated the Committees on Ways, Means, and Commerce to look into the letter and report to plenary within one week, beginning today.

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