16 January 2013

Liberia: Taylor Claims Benefits

Photo: Al Jazeera
Al Jazeera television news records the moment Charles Taylor was sentenced.

From his solitary confinement in The Hague, convicted former President Charles Taylor is reported to have written the legislators back home, claiming retirement benefits not less than US$25,000 per annum.

The question of how this letter slipped into Monrovia from The Hague prison remains unclear but there are speculations that the letter, which was read in the Senate yesterday to form part of agenda items slated for a debate next Tuesday, was presented before the senate through a woman believed to be one of Taylor's close relatives.

In the three-page letter dated September 12, 2012, former president Taylor, who gave up power and was flown to exile in Nigeria, having been militarily cornered in Monrovia by a rebel group, requested the intervention of the Senate to ensure the payment of retirement benefits and other amenities he claimed were reportedly legislated by law for a former President.

"The Liberian Legislature in accordance with article 34(iii) (k) and i) of the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia states that the Legislature shall have the power: to enact laws providing pension scheme for various categories of government officials and employees in accordance with age and tenure of service," his purported letter, read in the plenary yesterday, stated.

In furtherance of this constitutional provision, he said, an act was passed by the legislative assembly providing for a

retirement pension for the President and Vice President, Speaker and Deputy Speaker, Pro-Tempore and Chief Justice amongst other officials.

He also quoted part of the act in his letter as stating thus; "A former president of the Republic who has honourably retired to private life and who is not in any way gainfully employed by government shall receive from government a pension equal to fifty per cent of the salary of the incumbent president."

According to the letter, a former president shall be provided a personal staff and facilities for the remainder of his/her life.

The amount allowed for this shall not be less than US$25000 per annum, he claimed.

"Sadly, I am without notice as to why the Finance Ministers of the Republic of Liberia have failed and/or refused to comply with the law of the land as regards amenities...

In the letter, the detained former president whose tenure was marred by a reign of terror, bad governance, indiscriminate theft and massive plunder of state resources and lack of respect for the rule of law, humbly pleaded, "May I, with respect, request in this formal manner the intervention of this august body in bringing an end to this mammoth injustice, and cause my lawful amenities to be made available to me."

He also called for the observation of his rights to diplomatic services abroad, and "other privileges customarily given to former members of the first families such as diplomatic passports for the wife and children."

"This is a tradition reserved and respected over the years and I hope that it can be honoured without prejudice," he argued.

Taylor fled into exile in Nigeria in 2003 under military pressures from the LURD rebels. While trying to flee from his exile in Nigeria's provincial city of Calabar, he was arrested near the borders with neighbouring Cameroun and flown to the Monrovia airport under handcuff only to be served with war crime charges and then whisked off to Freetown via a UN helicopter to face justice for crimes related to his complicity in Sierra Leone's atrocious war. For reasons blamed on security, the long-drawn trial took place in The Hague and the accused has since been convicted awaiting prison sentences in the UK.

But in a letter written to the senate under his signature, former President Taylor said that almost a decade ago, he made a " historic selfless decision to resign the office of the presidency of the Republic of Liberia as the 21st President in order that our people would live and that the state would be saved."

At the senate's plenary, Senate Deputy Secretary, Genieve Massaquoi, probably feared by the content of the letter, could not read it as was expected. She immediately turned it over to Ndablor Sengbe, Secretary of Senate, for an onward reading before a debate.

After the letter was read, pandemonium suddenly broke out on the floor with many Senators who are still loyal to the former president raising a motion for immediate discussion and a decision to be taken.

"This letter must be read now. We want it to be discussed and a decision taken now," one of the senators shouted. A debate on the letter has been scheduled for next Tuesday following a motion by Sen. Mabutu Nyenpan of Sinoe County.

Nevertheless, after the session some senators H. Dan Morias and John Whitfield of the National Patriotic Party (NPP) supported the letter and vowed to ensure its fullest implementation.

"Mr. Taylor or any other person is entitled to his just benefits as a former president. It has nothing to do with whether or not he is broke since he left from here almost 10 years ago. He hasn't asked any person for money.

"It has nothing to do with whether he is broke or not but legitimacy. That is his legitimate benefit, and it must be given to him as our former President," Whitfield told journalists at his office.

He clarified that Mr. Taylor's case in The Hague has nothing to do with the issue of his just benefits. "Mr. Taylor is not undergoing trial for any crime committed in Liberia."

For his part, Sen. Dan Morias of Maryland County also emphasized that since the former president was being held under an international law, he must be given his just benefit as a former head of state.

Legislative analysts say the ensuing debate on Taylor's claims promises to be tense, painstaking and perhaps indecisive as many pro and anti-Taylor sentiments are expected to flare up during the debate.

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