12 June 2014

Liberia: Wrongful Dismissal? Finance Minister Appears in Court

Monrovia — The Minister of Finance Amara Konneh and his deputies, Assistant Ministers and comptroller have been summoned to appear before the sixth Judicial Circuit Court at the Temple of Justice.

His honor Yussif D. Kaba ordered that the Finance Minister and his team appear on June 16, 2014 to answer to the complaint filed by eight former employees of the Ministry, namely Henry Sele, Elder Jallah, Byron Trokon Geply, Duyan Pewee, Siafa Kemokai, and Benedict Browne.

The writ of summons states that failure on the part of the Finance Minister and his team to appear before the court will automatically lead toa judgment by default against them.

The dismissed employees in their complaint to the court are claiming US$ 175,520.00 and $L 1, 923,039.00 as damages for the press conference held by the Ministry announcing their dismissal without the due process of law. They are claiming that the allegations brought against them have no iota of truth and are therefore praying the court to ensure that their salaries for the period commencing from the date of their dismissal up to and including the 31th of May 2014 are paid in full.

The complaint furthered that the Minister of Finance should give the dismissed employees not less than US$ 8,000,000.00[United States Eight Million Dollars] as general damages as well as punitive damages in the discretion of the court to serve as a deterrent.

"Plaintiffs [eight dismissed employees] averred that as a consequence of first defendant's [Minister Konneh]'s action, plaintiffs suffered mental anguish, injuries to their reputation and physical injuries and therefore entitled to general damages," the complaint states.

According to the dismissed employees' complaint, the Finance Minister hosted a press conference stating that the plaintiffs made unauthorized payments in the tune of over US$11.2 million, which caused a deficit in the national Budget. The complaint states that the Ministry of Finance dismissed them as a result of allegations the employees argued are untrue.

The employees through the complaint filed by their legal counsel Nyenati Tuan said, on the 6th of December 2012, the Solicitor General Wilkins Wright wrote a letter to Hon. Angela Cassell Bush, Deputy Minister for Expenditure and Debt Management, returning the files to the effect that no criminal opinion was formulated due to the lack of cooperation from the task force.

Cllr. Tuan said based on the communication sent to deputy minister Bush by the solicitor General, he wrote to deputy minister for administration Jordan Sulunteh to reinstate the dismissed employees but the directive was not adhered to.

It can be recalled that on April 13, 2012 Finance Minister Konneh dismissed eight employees for single or collective negligence. The dismissal was a result of gross negligence in the management of the national payroll, which emerged out of an investigation by the Special Wage Bill Management Task Force according to the dismissal letter. The letter of dismissal stated: "The task force has discovered the unauthorized payment of over US$ 11.2 Million which have caused a deficit in the national budget."

According to the dismissed employees, the US$ 11.2 Million would-be deficit at the time was a projection done by Mr. Sele, former Deputy Comptroller & Accountant General for Payroll to the Department of Budget informing them that a potential deficit would have occurred at the close of FY 2011/2012 if the trend of payment in the Ministry of Education budget continued.

Speaking at a press conference held at the Ministry's edifice on Friday, April 13, 2012 the Finance Minister disclosed that there exists overspending of salaries across the government, but what was occurring at the ministry of education at the time was especially alarming.

"So therefore fellow Liberians, if you are presiding over a system with these known deficiencies and weaknesses that lend themselves to criminal exploitation with the potential to cause national upheaval and civil disturbance and you don't feel the urgency to act decisively, you leave room for unlimited questions," he said.

Quizzed by FrontPage Africa at the International Monetary Fund headquarters in Washington D. C. in 2012, Minister Konneh encouraged those who feel dissatisfied by his actions to go to court as the decision he took was endorsed by auxiliary government arms including the civil service and the ministry of justice.

"My actions will affect colleagues, families and friends, but my inaction will affect the entire nation and many poor people who place their trust and confidence in us to do the right thing no matter the personal cost," he stated.

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