The salaries for all categories of employees within the Liberian labor force are so low that rights organizations have, in recent years, come to describe the Liberian worker as underemployed and vulnerable to social risks and demands. In order to circumvent this dangerous labor trend, many had thought it would be appropriate were civil servants who received the lowest wages insured. Now it seems that these workers are faced with another challenge of deciding their insurers and ensuring that their bosses do not usurp that right and surreptitiously arrange bogus policies that will not meet their insurance needs. It however seems this is exactly what employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs are finding it difficult to achieve as those who want a share of the premiums they pay are just too powerful and overwhelming. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is currently attending a convention of the International Labor Organization where she promised to uphold the right of the Liberian worker; but back home, that right is seemingly being contested fiercely by some members of her cabinet. The Analyst Staff Writer has been looking at the findings of an investigation conducted by a team of journalists from The Labour Journal in Monrovia and the scandal it unearthed.
The SECURISK insurance company has illegally collected insurance premiums amounting to 1.2 million Liberian dollars from employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
According to information available to The Analyst, the company collected premiums for the months of January, February, March, and April 2006 with the help of some higher-ups of the ministries of Internal Affairs and Finance even though it has no standing contract with the employees of the former.
This transaction, the information insists, has led to a huge financial loss in the tune of over LD $1.2 m to the Management of the African insurance Corporation of Liberia (AICOL), which investigation says hold a 5-year-old insurance contract with more than 4,000 employees of the Internal Affairs Ministry. The Contract was reportedly signed with the employees in 2001.
But despite its existence, according to a Labour Journal finding quoting probes earlier conducted by an investigation panel, SECURISK proceeded to collect premiums intended for AICOL.
The premiums, the finding alleged, were diverted under dubious circumstances to the rival company SECURISK owned by Deputy Finance Minister for Administration, Francis Karpeh.
In 2001, according to the investigation, a 17-man committee was set up by the former Minister of Internal Affairs, Richard Flomo, to find an insurer for the employees of the Ministry of Infernal Affairs.
The committee endorsed the proposal of the African Insurance Corporation of Liberia, but instead of honoring the outcome of the investigation, Minister Flomo allegedly put aside the wishes of the employees and unilaterally recommended the SECURISK Insurance Company to insure the employees of the ministry.
"The minister's action didn't go down well with the employees, hence a major dispute broke out at the Ministry," the Labor Journal investigation said.
It said the matter didn't rest until the employees took their complaint to the Capitol Building and the Executive Mansion for redress.
In compliance with the demand of the employees of the Internal Affairs Ministry, it said, Minister Flomo begged them to allow the SECURISK Insurance Company to complete the one year it has started after which the coverage would be transferred to the legitimate insurers, AICOL.
But instead of the coverage reverting to AICOL as the minister promised, SECURISK Insurance Company allegedly took advantage of the change of guards at the Internal Affairs Ministry, with Minister H. Dan Morias replacing Minister Flomo, to challenge the insurance right of AICOL.
Minister Morias, concerned with putting the dispute to rest in the interest of the employees, set up another committee to identify the legitimate insurer of the employee of the ministry even though it is not clear why he decided to thrust aside earlier findings and conclusions.
"The finding of the new probe confirmed that AICOL was the insurer of the employees," information available to The Analyst said.
On January 8, 2004, Minister Morias, perhaps based on this finding, wrote a letter to then Finance Minister Lusinee Kamara stating the following: "Upon our ascendancy to authority at the Ministry of Internal Affairs, we inherited a problem in respect to its insurance company. I instructed Deputy Minister Lusinee Massalay to conduct an investigation into the merits and demerits, claims and allegations made by Securisk. His committee informed me that the Ministry inherited AICOL and not Securisk as per document researched. Further, he again conducted an investigation as to the position of employees with respect to AICOL and SECURISK." Minister Morias' letter further noted that the employees preferred AICOL and therefore noted that under all insurance policies, it is understood that the one who pays his premium 100% determines his insurance company.
"Since the employees have preferred AICOL," the then Minister of Internal Affairs noted, "I have no alternative but to accept their wishes to which I have informed SECURISK through a communication dated, December 17, 2003. I will therefore request that premium deducted from MIA employees for November and December in favor of AICOL be released to AICOL." It is not clear in what way Minister Kamara and the Management of SECURISK responded to the communication of Minister Morias, but available records show that the Bureau of Insurance under FINRE launched yet another probe on the insistence of SECURISK's boss, Francis Karpeh, who is now the Deputy Finance Minister for Administration after which it re-awarded the Internal Affairs Insurance Contract to AICOL.
"It is this final decision that the current Internal Affairs Minister, Ambullai Johnson, is yet to implement thereby enabling SECURISK to continue to receive the premiums that by the dictates of all findings available belong to AICOL," said the Labor Journal investigation report.
In compliance with Bureau's findings, the Labor Journal investigation discovered, a letter from former Internal Affairs Minister Morias addressed to former Finance Minister Lusinee Kamara on November 20, 2005, stating in part "the ruling in case between the African Insurance Corporation (company) of Liberia vs. SECURISK gives African Insurance Corporation of Liberia the right to all premium arrears deducted from salaries from June, 2002 to present that is being held up at the Ministry of Finance".
Even though this letter coming from the highest man at the Internal Ministry should have put the matter to rest, the case took a dramatic trend on January 13, 2006 when a contradictory communication from the very former Minister Morias shortly before leaving office, told the Chief Executive Officer/President of AICOL, Collins F. Siafa, that his company was now left to fight its own battle.
The communication said, "Meanwhile, I wish to advise that in keeping with the position taken by the Ministry of Internal Affairs the issue regarding the legitimate Group Life Policy provider for employees of the MIA We wish to advise that our decision cannot be extended to the incoming administration Against this background, I seize the opportunity to formally acknowledge the termination of the contract with option for renewal if the incoming administration deems it necessary." This opinion of the minister, available records revealed, was in spite of the unified resistance of more than 4,000 employees at the internal Affairs Ministry, and countless probes which have again and again given AICOL the right to the contract.
As the result of this, all premiums initially agreed to be remitted to AICOL were thence diverted to SECURISK through the influence of Minister Karpeh, according to the Labor Journal finding.
"Minister Karpeh has since December, 2005, colluded with current Internal Affairs Minister, Ambullai B. Johnson, and the personnel director at the Ministry of Internal Affairs to illegally divert all legitimately owed insurance premiums as of January 2006 to his own company thus causing serious financial loses to AICOL, the legitimate insurance provided for the MIA," the group alleged.
It said at the height of this apparent insurance scandal, Internal Affairs Minister Johnson, "as a cover up has written a letter to Finance Minister Antoinette Sayeh indicating in part 'We are in the final stage of determining insurance coverage for Ministry of Internal Affairs Staff, we would appreciate should you kindly put a "hold" on all premiums deducted from employees of the Ministry effective immediately until you hear from us'." The Labor Journal finding said the communication, though addressed to the Finance Minister since May 3, 2006, is still being held up by Deputy Minister Karpeh, head of SECURISK which is up till now illegally collecting the premiums.
It noted further even though the principal deputies of Minister Johnson conducted an investigation into the question of who really has the MIA insurance contract and concluded that AICOL is the true insurer, the minister has failed to endorse the recommendation of his principal lieutenants for reasons best known to himself.
"The weak handling of the MIA insurance saga is predicated upon a 'big hand twisting' by SECURISK senior executives, Gbarpolu County Senior Senator Daniel Nathen, and Deputy Minister of Finance for Administration, Mr. Francis Karpeh, which has led to the reversal of a legitimate insurance contract between AICOL and the Ministry of Internal Affairs, thus using their current positions in the government to corrupt the insurance industry through dubious means," said the Labor Journal investigation.
In the wake of the unending investigation and recommendation, the Labor Journal investigation quoted the Internal Affairs Ministry employees as calling on President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to swiftly intervene in order to peacefully bring this matter to a close and secure their future insurance interest through the genuine contract with AICOL which they described as "credible".
In another employee's reaction, the Workers Association at the MIA say they will resort to serious strike action unless nothing was done to stop the imposition of a "handpicked insurance company" on them by Minister Johnson and Deputy Minister Karpeh.