-Defense Minister Ziahnkan announces
Soldiers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL), particularly those of lower ranks, may have something to smile about soon as plans are underway to pay them their money accrued under the compulsory saving scheme initiated by the former administration of Brownie J. Samukai.
It can be recalled that under the leadership of then Defense Minister Samukai, soldiers at all barracks across the country were compelled to surrender a portion of their earnings to the compulsory savings scheme.
Minister Ziahnkan, who appeared on the Truth Breakfast Show on Wednesday, July 18, said he has instructed the Chief of Staff, General Prince C. Johnson, III (No relation to Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson), to go ahead and distribute the money among the soldiers, particularly the lower ranking personnel.
“Although we don’t have the money in full, a little over US$600,000 is now available and will be distributed among the soldiers so that they will be able to get some provisions for their families during the July 26 celebrations,” Ziahnkan told his radio host.
He said the amount was left in the army coffers by former Defense Minister Samukai who, at the time of his exit, faced a wave of protests from wives and relatives of some military personnel.
“We have also appealed to President Weah for some help, and we are certain that his office will make available US$400,000 for us to distribute among the solidiers. This means I will be the last to receive my portion of the money,” Ziahnkan said.
He said in case the sum available is not enough to cover all the soldiers, his option will be to let lower ranking officers receive their share of the money before all other officers. According to him, the total amount intended for the army that went into compulsory savings was US$1.4 million; but with the US$600,000 and the expected US$400,000 from the office of the President, the army will have US$2 million as their benefit.
Ziankahn said in consultation with Mr. Samukai, no payment will go on now until the Chief of Staff comes up with a comprehensive payment plan to avoid conflict of any kind when the distribution exercise begins.
“I am informed that the distribution plan is 98 percent complete, and as soon as the Chief of Staff returns to the country over the weekend, he shall submit same for review and payment in the soonest possible time before the Independence Day celebrations,” he said.
He denied plans to recruit a new batch of people into the military.
“We are waiting for the budget to be passed, and hopefully we will be promoting some of our soldiers based on achievements in service over the years. This will bring about increment in salaries and change of living quarters for the better than what it is now,” he said.
Mrs. Caroline Bryant, wife of wounded veteran John Bryant, said she and the rest of the wives of the soldiers as well as the women in uniform, are happy about the news but remain cautious until the money is disbursed.
“We are waiting to see that the money comes and reaches our hands before we can celebrate,” Mrs. Bryant told the Daily Observer.
“We all want a better life when our husbands shall have retired from the army one day, but you cannot take much of the money from the already very little salaries they are earning,” she said.
Mrs. Bryant was part of a protest that occurred on January 8 this year at the Edward Beyan Kessely Barracks in Schiefflin, demanding the Ministry of National Defense to restitute money deducted from army personnel for their future “pension”. She said her husband is still struggling with his wounds sustained from his peace keeping tour of duty in Mali and without needed support from authorities of the Ministry of Defense.
“Since my husband was discharged from the John F. Kennedy Hospital (JFK) upon his return from the peace keeping mission in Mali, he is yet to receive further support. Particles are still in his body,” she said.
Mrs. Bryant said she is struggling to upkeep her home, along with her three children.