“HALT ILLEGAL SALARY CUTS” -Senate Instructs Finance Minister Tweah

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Amidst growing anger amongst civil servants across the country over reported illegal salary cuts by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), plenary of the Liberian Senate on Tuesday, August 28, 2019, instructed Finance and Development Planning Minister Samuel D. Tweah. Jr. to halt the harmonized salary payment scheme which has not been approved by law, with immediate effect, or be made to face the wrath of that August Body.

As anger and frustration deepen amongst thousands of civil servants across Liberia over reported salary cuts payment scheme initiated by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, which is said to be badly affecting their livelihoods, plenary of the Liberian Senate Tuesday ordered the  Finance Minister Samuel Tweah and the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning to halt such illegal salary payments as the continuation of such process violates both the Liberian constitution and the Public Financial Management (PFM) Law and amounts to the usurpation of the function of the Liberian legislature.

Article 34 (d) of the Liberian constitution gives the Legislature the exclusive power to make budgetary appropriations, while section 17 of the PFM law mandates that the Executive can expend 1/3 of the budget in the event where passage of the budget delays beyond its statutory period of two months-a window of opportunity which is still available to the legislature and has not elapsed. Hundreds of aggrieved civil servants and lawmakers are arguing that the Ministry of Finance is in serious violation of both laws.

Several Senators speaking on the issue in plenary on Tuesday, vehemently expressed their displeasure about the reported salary cuts which is now said to be negatively impacting thousands of civil servants in the country. Opinions on the Senate floor split during Tuesday’s debate. Some senators called for the citing of the Finance Minister, while others demanded that he immediately halts the salary cut payment.

A similar decision was taken last Thursday by the plenary of the House of Representatives in which it ordered the Ministry of Finance to abandon the salary cuts from government employees, as well as citing the Finance Minister Samuel Tweah to appear before that august body on Tuesday, August 27, 2019, according to our legislative reporter, Minister Tweah did not appear before the House on Tuesday but rather    However, in a communication dated August 27, 2019 and addressed to members of the House Plenary, the Minister begged the indulgent of the plenary to grant him excuse, because he (Minister Samuel Tweah) was on official duties and he was unable to appear on Tuesday as requested.

Signed by the Deputy Minister of Finance and Development Planning for Fiscal Affairs, Samura P. Wolokollie and read to Plenary by the Deputy Clerk of the House of Representatives, Sefur Geeply, Minister Tweah is further quoted as saying that he instead requests the lawmakers to allow him time so that he can appear on Thursday, August 29, 2019, that is today. Members of the House Plenary on Tuesday overwhelming voted and endorsed the excuse letter from Minister of Finance in order for him to make himself available before that August Body to answer to some questions regarding to salary payment to civil servants and the health workers.

“The Ministry of Finance is simply paying salaries from a harmonized payment scheme which has not been approved by this legislature. In my view, this action amounts to violation of the Liberian constitution and the PFM law,” Senator Nyonblee Karnga of Grand Bassa County expressed during Tuesday’s debate.

The debate in the controversial salary cuts from civil servants’ pay by the country’s Finance Ministry comes in the wake of increased economic hardship with the World Bank report in June projecting economic growth rate in the country at 1.2%.

Inflation in the country has also hit a skyrocketing proportion with exchange between Liberian and United States dollars standing at LD214-1USD. The measure, according to some financial analysts and experts who spoke to this paper on condition of anonymity is aimed at reducing the government’s huge wage bill which is believed to be over USD1billion.

The Analyst has also received cogent information that the latest scheme is part of President Weah administration’s broad approach to easing economic hardship in the country and making the economy to flow freely.

“For me, I think our constitution is clear. The Liberian constitution gave the authority to the Legislature to make budgetary appropriations. In my mind, I think we should invite the Minister here. I think we should made the Pro-Tempore to work with the Speaker for them to advise the Finance Minister to immediately halt what he’s doing or else, we could ask those who are affected by this salary cut to go to the Supreme Court to file a writ of prohibition against the Ministry of Finance for claiming onto itself power that does not belong it,” Senator Varney G. Sherman and Senate Committee Chairman on Judiciary advised fellow senators.

“For me, I think this is a national security threat because, never have we seen in this country for a Minister of Finance to make budgetary appropriation without the approval of the legislature. We cannot have a situation where people will just get up and start to expend monies in the absence of legislative approval, and I hope this senate will treat this matter with the utmost urgency that it deserves,” Montserrado Senator Darius Dillon pleaded fellow senators.

“I agree with Senator Varney Sherman that we should not waste our time inviting the Finance Minister here. I think plenary should instruct the Pro-Tempore and the Speaker to get seriously involved in this matter. They should also get the President to know about this because, I don’t think the Minister of Finance is acting without the knowledge of the President. This illegal salary payment must stop now,” Nimba County Senator Prince Y. Johnson avowed.

As the debate got tense on the floor, there were other senators who also demanded that Finance Minister Tweah and his team of technocrats appear before plenary to give reason for his decision to allegedly assume the function of the Liberian legislature, an action the senators described as disrespectful.

“The Minister of Finance must be made to come here and face this plenary. He needs to come here and explain why he has decided to violate the constitution and undermine the function of this legislature,” River Gee Senator Conmany Weeseh demanded.

After several hours of penetrating cross-examination of the issue, plenary finally took a decision by ordering the Finance Minister to immediately put a halt to the unapproved harmonized salary cut payment process which has angered thousands of civil servants including members of the Liberian legislature.

“Honorable Pro-Tempore, fellow senators, I move if I can get a second from you, fellow colleagues,  that a communication be written to the Minister of Finance Samuel Tweah ordering him to immediately and unconditionally halt the cutting of salaries. I move that the Minister be informed that the Senate has taken a firm decision on this matter, and that its decision must be heeded now,” Bong County Senator Henry Yallah filed.

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