6 September 2012

Liberia: Foreign Workers At Electric Company Without Work Permits

An independent investigation conducted by The NEWS has revealed that many foreign nationals currently working with the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC) have not obtained their work and residence permits as required by Liberian laws. Work and residence permits are legal requirements for foreigners to obtain to live and work in the country.

According to the law, residence permit should be obtained within ninety (90) days followed by the work permit for employment eligibility in the country.

However, the investigation has established that more than 60 foreign nationals at the LEC, under a five-year World Bank and other donors funded projects, are not in possession of work permit from the Ministry of Labor as provided for by Liberia's labor laws.

These non-Liberians have reportedly been working in the country since the signing of the five-year contract between the Government of Liberia and Monitoba Hydro International (MHI) Limited in 2010.

The company reportedly won the bid to manage a US$50 million World Bank grant over a five-year period (2010 to 2015) to help overhaul electricity services in the Liberian capital of Monrovia and connect at least 30,000 new customers in the city.

Liberian Codes Revised Volume Four, Section 1507; Title 18 - Labor Law provides, among other things that, "No employer shall employ an employee not a Liberian citizen unless such alien or employee is in possession of a permit issued by the Ministry of Labor authorizing his or her employment in the capacity in which he or she is to be employed."

The law also indicates that, "Aliens who satisfied the Ministry of Labor requirements of possessing permits and Liberian employees shall be entitled, having due regard to efficiency and length of service, to equal treatment in respect of wages and conditions of employment."

The NEWS' investigation has also established that the Ministry of Labor is yet to issue permit to LEC's foreign contractors.

The Director of Alien Registration at the Ministry of Labor told The NEWS that he has not received any document nor issued permit for non-Liberian citizens at the LEC, even though the foreign contractors have allegedly been working in the city for almost three years.

"I saw people from LEC talking with someone in the Minister's office sometime ago, but I have not received any document to that effect..." the Director said.

The Alien Registration Director acknowledged the presence of some foreign nationals at the LEC, but he said they have not been issued permits, as far as his records could show.

According to him, the Labor Law also provides that, "permits should be issued only in cases in which the ministry is satisfied that suitably qualified Liberians are not available to meet labor requirements of the employer concerned and that the alien employee has satisfied alien residence requirements."

Under the laws of Liberia, the alien residence requirements or permits are to be issued by the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) within ninety (90) days.

But the Deputy Director for Press and Public Affairs at the Bureau of Immigration also said he was not aware of foreign nationals working with the LEC obtaining permits from the Immigration Bureau.

Mr. Ivan Lanptey, who was not willing to further verify the matter with the proper department or authority, said "If the LEC brought in foreign nationals to do a particular work, then the LEC might have gone through the process of obtaining permits..."

The immigration's Deputy Chief for Press and Public Affairs also asked The NEWS to provide names of aliens at the LEC who have not obtained permits for variation even though the Immigration Bureau should be custodian of information regarding aliens in the country.

Workers at the LEC have also complained of serious salary and other disparities between Liberian citizens and foreign nationals who are reportedly doing similar work.

The Monitoba Hydro International Ltd, is responsible under the five years contract to, among other things, develop business plan, electrical master plan, annual investment plan and capital budget as well as annual operating budget.

It is also responsible to produce organizational plan, human resource plan, training and development plan, utility service standards, and maintenance plan, among others.

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