28 June 2014

Liberia: Things Fall Apart At Finance

The Ministry of Finance is on the edge, enduring a situation symptomatic of "things falling apart" caused by employees' resistance to plans by authorities to redundant them with little or nothing.

The cataclysm, which led to the closure of offices yesterday, is a spillover of a merger arrangement reached by the Liberian government to amalgamate the Ministry of Finance and Planning and Economic Affairs, to form the Ministry of Finance & Economic Development.

There have been incessant grumblings amongst employees since it was emerged that authorities had hatched plans to get rid of employees in keeping with government's retirement and redundancy policies, coupled with the voluntary separation arrangement.

But "push came to shove" yesterday when employees decided to vent their disagreement and resistance to the plans after they were served letters and pension packages.

The matter was made worse when the affected employees, most of whom are from the Department of Revenue, resisted signing the instrument on grounds that the amount stipulated as benefit is too petite.

In protest of the decision, employees went on rampage to the extent of forcefully closing offices, leaving hundreds of others with no alternative but to vacate the building.

Galaxies of employees were seen outside of the main building, watching the action from distances, while bystanders filled the streets to get a glimpse of the unfolding event.

The affected employees threatened not to return to work for three days until authorities see reason to look into their grievances.

According to them, the decision was out of reasoning as they would not succumb to authorities to have their way in this matter.

"Some of us served this ministry for years and cannot be pushed out in this manner and fashion; we ensure that our rights are protected in this matter," an angry employee, who did not want to be named, said.

"We are not against being redundant, but the manner in which the Amara Konneh-led administration is attempting to proceed with this process is out of order and we will not allow it."

He accused Minister Konneh of attempting to get rid of some employees to replace them with his confidants and kinsmen.

Most of the affected employees are said to have come from Revenue Section of the Ministry which has already been detached following the creation of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).

The Finance Ministry has put into place a process that guarantees the interest and wellbeing of employees who may want to change from one place to another, as far as the formation of the LRA and MFDP (Ministry of Finance for Development Planning) is concerned.

According to transition information for staff of the ministries of finance and planning to the MFDP, staffs of MoF and MPEA who are non-bachelor degree holders currently enrolled in a local university or college will be given severance payment and tuition payment. As per the arrangement, employees with Bachelor's degree and above are eligible for the Voluntary Separation Package (VSP) based on tenure linked to compensation.

Those who served for the period of 1-10 years will be given US$ 5, 000, while those who served from 11-22 years will be given US$ 7, 000.

The Transition Information (TI) notes: "All employees in this category with more than 22 years of service but have not attained 25 years of service, nor 65 years of age, do not qualify for the VSP. Rather, they will be given Liberian dollar salary for the duration of service and honorably retired. "All staff in this category not seeking the VSP option will be required to apply and participate in a competitive recruitment process when the new positions are identified and advertised in the MFDP."

"Application submitted for the position in the MFDP when advertised and the benefit of the exercise is the person will become employee of the MFDP if recruited through the competitive process."

The Ministry's Media Services Director, Sidiki Trawally, who commented on the situation, said he sympathized with the aggrieved employees, but noted the ministry did not act unilaterally in the process.

By that, he meant the ministry was acting in consonance with the law, which the Civil Service Agency (CSA) of Liberia knows about.

However, officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP), particularly the Police Support Unit (PSU), were dispatched to the Ministry to bring the situation control, provide protection for the building and possibly arrest employees who may pose threats to the security of the building and other employees.

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