25 April 2014

Liberia: Senate Staff Jeer Findley Over Stay Order On Salaries, Benefits

Monrovia — Staffers assigned in the offices of individual senators at the 53rd Liberian Legislature Thursday protested against a stay order placed on their salaries and other benefits for the month of April by the head of the Liberian Senate, Senate Pro-Temp Gbezhongar Findley.

The aggrieved staffers chanted anti pro-Temp slogans and booed him and went to the extent of shutting the gates of the Capitol Building, threatening that if Pro-temp Findley does not withdraw his letter sent to the bank instructing that the salaries and benefits of staffers should not be released, he will be held hostage.

Pro-temp Findley did not speak to the press officially on the matter, but in an attempt to provide understanding to the employees as to what prompted his action he explained, it was an agreement among senators that a stay order be placed on the disbursement of staffers salary to sort out what he termed as misunderstanding in the process. He further denied putting a halt to the disbursement of salary, but confirmed that he only ordered the disbursement of retroactive benefits for the staffers halted.

His defense of his decision was to allow the disbursement of retroactive benefits reach everyone who is involved, including past and current staffers because according to him there were some in the employ of the senate when the issue of the retroactive was raised and are no longer around and it would be unfair to not include them in the process.

The issues about retroactive benefits has been a long song sung by staffers of the Legislature and came as a result of a pronouncement made by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf during her 2013 State of the Nation Address where she announced increment in the salary of Civil Servants by US$25.00.

Though staffers of lawmakers did not fall in that category of civil servants, but the Legislature in its wisdom, decided to include their staffers by making an appropriation into subsequent budgets. Since then the issue about the delay in the payment of retroactive benefits has engulfed the Legislature with numerous accusations with the staffers accusing their bosses of receiving their money and diverting to personal use.

The situation resulted in several sit in actions and threats of boycott by staffers where the Vice President, Speaker and Pro-Temp got involved to calm the situation. Two days ago the Finance Ministry informed the staffers that their money was ready and deposited in a local bank.

Staffers of the House of Representatives started receiving their share of the money, but to their surprise the Bank could not disburse their money because an order from the Pro-Temp had placed a stay order on the process.

Communication from the Senate secretary

"I have been instructed by senator Sumo Kupee, chairman of the Senate's Committee on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget to inform you that due to the necessity to review the list of the Liberian Dollar Salary of staffers, a Temporary hold has been placed on all accounts until the review process is complete". The communication above written by Genève Massaquoi was sent to all senators and according to the information they all consented and agreed to the process to go on.

Turing point

After nearly two hours of protest and hostilities, Senator Findley called the aggrieved workers to inform them that the leadership of the senate has reversed their decision and that the ban has been lifted and staffers could now go to the bank to receive their retroactive. Pro-Temp Findley is seeking re-election in October of this year. He is participating in a crowded political field with several prominent citizens of Grand Bassa County seeking to unseat him.

To make matters worse, he has fallen out of favor with some members of the County Legislative Caucus and they are also ganging up against him to unseat him. With a heavy task ahead of him protest for salary by staffers could be the least he could allow to hinder his quest and create for himself more enemies.

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