-Finance Minister Tweah
Judges and Magistrates who were using the Constitution to challenge government’s harmonization exercise that greatly affected their salaries will now have to wait indefinitely to see if the country’s revenue generation capacity would improve to the point that the Weah Administration will see fit to restore their (judges) original salaries.
On Friday, January 31, Finance Minister Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. appeared before members of the National Association of Trial Judges of Liberia (NATJL) to discuss the mechanism used during the harmonization process that drastically reduced the salaries of the judges.
In his power point presentation, Tweah dramatically defended the harmonization exercise by saying that, “nothing can be done now, because the decision came from our international partners. But, you, whenever the revenue generation improves we will be looking back at your harmonized salaries.”
Upon hearing this, many of the judges expressed their annoyance with the Finance Minister by walking out of the conference hall in protest.
Another drama ensued when the President of the NATJL, Criminal Court ‘A” Resident Judge Roosevelt Willie, asked his members not to ask Minister Tweah any question following the minister’s power point presentation. This request, Judge Willie eventually withdrew, followed a silent interactions with Minister Tweah.
It was during the question and answer that the judges made Minister Tweah to understand from their perspective the disparity that was involved with the harmonization exercise.
Initially, Minister Tweah had said that there was no disparity within the harmonization exercise, because employees were placed into categories, of which the process placed judges and government ministers into what he considered as “Category C.”
To the astonishment and surprise of the judges, Minister Tweah said that those found in the same category will be earning the same salaries.
Shortly after, Minister Tweah’s disclosure, the judges informed the minister that there is disparity within those placed in Category C. According to them, the harmonization reduced government ministers’ salaries from that of US$7,000 to US$5,000, while judges were reduced from US$5,000 to US$3,000 and both are placed in the same Category C.
Before the harmonization process, Judges were making US$5,000 as monthly salaries; however, the harmonization exercise reduced that to US$3,000, which reduction necessitated the judges to communicate with Chief Justice Francis Korkpor to meet Minister Tweah face to face to discuss about the drastic reduction of their take-home pay, as well as the violation of Article 72 (a) of the 1986 Constitution, which has to do with judges’ salaries.
Article 72 (a) 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 shall not otherwise be diminished. Allowances and benefits paid to Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts may by law be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the Legislature; nor shall such allowance and benefits be subject to taxation.”
It was against this background that Minister Tweah appeared before the judges to address the issue relating to the government’s harmonization exercises, of which he said, “nothing can be done now, because the decision came from our international partners. But, you, whenever the revenue generation improved we will be looking back at your harmonized salaries.”
Minister Tweah also explained that the harmonization and standardization was backed by an act of the legislature, and thus, did not violate any portion of the Constitution, as claimed by the judges.
Tweah also informed the judges that they are very much important to the economic development of the country. As such, the government is going to look into their concern only if they (government) were to be successful to retire the over 4000 employees and reduce the over 1,000 ghost names that they have identified on the government payroll.
“Your salaries concern will be addressed if we are successful to retire the over 4000 employees who have reached the retirement age and those ghost names on the payroll, then we are going to improve on your salaries,” Tweah noted.
“You are our priority and once we identify the source to improve our revenue generation we are going to improve on your request. For now, we cannot say anything about your concern. We are going to struck a partnership only if the ghost names were to be cleared,” Minister Tweah did not promise the judges.