The Analyst (Monrovia)

Liberia: Rows Over MOF-MPEA Merger

When elections umpires in 2005 announced Unity Party's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf president-elect following a hotly contested—and in fact disputed—elections, the riotous jubilation that followed hardly gave the celebrators time to behold one of the most important messages of the winner as she took the mantle of power: that the Liberian bureaucracy was too bloated and that it needed, and would be, replaced with a “small and efficient government.” It was not long when Liberians began to get sober from the stupor of the celebration with the subsequent policy expression of that message: downsizing of the civil service, something to which most of the victims were the newly elected President's supporters. Technically two years left in her administration, the President's “small and efficiency government” message has reached new levels: the amalgamation of Government ministries and agencies. In the most recent move, hundreds of civil servants, admittedly erstwhile supporters of the President, are stunned and berserk. The Analyst reports.

The merger of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs into the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning has been meeting stiff resistance at it puts the jobs of thousands of Liberians on the line.

The amalgamation of the two ministries was recently formalized by Government pursuant to President Sirleaf's maiden presidential pledge to disembowel and compress government bureaucracy bloated by unnecessary partisan, tribal and factional employment over the years.

While the President and her Government may be pleased completing the marathon merger exercise, it is leaving behind trail of possible unemployment, as hundreds of current staff fear downsizing which they say is clearly imminent in wake of pronouncements that every employee should reapply.

The amalgamation also severs away the most populous Department of Revenue into an autonomous agency, the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), which is reportedly embarking upon new employment actions that threaten many other former Finance Ministry staff.

Angry employees of the former Ministries of Finance and Planning have been protesting what they consider complete dissolution of the Ministry of Finance, which had played host to perhaps that highest number of government employees in the country.

On request of the employees, the Montserrado County District # 4 Representative Henry Boimah Fahnbulleh has been calling for legislative intervention to avert a looming public disorder in the aftermath of the employees' agitation.

Fahnbulleh observed that there was a misinterpretation of the laws creating the institutions, as the laws only recognize the Acting Minister of the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning the only employees at that new ministry, while the Commissioner General of the LRA is the only employee at that agency as per the laws.

The Analyst has learned that authorities of the defunct Ministry of Finance have issued letters to former employees directing them to apply to the LRA for employment, and that anyone that may not be opportune to get employed should return to the Civil Service Authority (CSA) for reassignment.

The same letters terminating the services of the civil servants from the Ministry of Finance state that the employees are no longer considered service servants by virtue of the termination of their services as employees of the old Ministry of Finance.

Though in his official statement climaxing the merger of the two ministries, Finance Minister Amara Konneh assured that “no one would be thrown out just anyway”, hundreds or thousands of former employees of the defunct ministries say they smell a mischief. They promise to remain on a go slow until “some sense prevail here”, as one employee said.

A waste of public resources

An employee who requested anonymity said the letter was ambiguous in that they will not return to CSA they are no longer part of for reassignment if they were not employed at the LRA.

The employees wondered how the government of Liberia would waste so much money to train so many men and women of the ministries abroad and allow them get dumped on the way side as it is being done.

“This is complete dishonesty, a waste of public resources and a recipe for chaos,” an employee who got his Masters Degree in a financial management on support of Government.

Calling for legislative intervention, Representative H. Biomah Fahnbulleh in a letter read in plenary sought the indulgence of the House to intervene into Finance Ministry and LRA saga, which he said if not expeditiously addressed, could severely undermine national recovery efforts and plunge the nation in to further economic hardship.

In his communication dated June 27, Representative Fahnbulleh reminded his colleagues that employees at the Ministry of Finance are presently embarked upon a go-slow action on ground that there has been no of the civil servants at the Ministry classification by the CSA as per the Act and interpretation of the law by the Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority.

Noting that such was not the intent of the law creating the new Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Liberia revenue Authority, Representative Fahnbulleh said that the Civil Service Agency has failed in its fiduciary responsibility to the employees and has exhibited gross incompetence, while the Governance Commission seems to be sleeping at the switch.

The Montserrado County District # 4 legislator stated that the entire economy of Liberia with the prevailing state of affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning and the Liberia Revenue Authority is headed for an imminent collapse.

Call CSA boss, GC Chair for queries

Fahnbulleh said in consideration of the prevailing threat to the nation's economy and by extension of the House's national responsibility, “I crave the Indulgence of Plenary to take the following actions that the Director General of the Civil Service, the Chairman of the Governance Commission and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) be cited to appear before Plenary…”.

Representative implored his colleagues that they should keep in mind that a new Minister of Finance and Economic Planning has neither been named nor confirmed, and that plenary session before which these officials are to appear be entirely devoted to the functionaries appearances to find a lasting resolution of the crisis.

He recalled that a little over a year ago, the House Plenary constituted a joint committee comprising the committee on Judiciary, Ways, Means and Finance and Governance to consider two bills from the Executive Branch for the merger of the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs to create a new ministry called ‘'the Ministry of Finance and Economic Planning.''

According to the Representative, the committees were also mandates to consider the suggestion by the executive for creation of a semi-autonomous entity called the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), adding that one of the major issues which the Joint Committee considered uncompromising at the time was the welfare of the employees in those entities.

Workers' welfare in limbo

He said the Joint Committee painstakingly upheld the interest and general welfare of the employees whose relentless and dedicated services, he added, have brought remarkable progress in the country.

For example, he continues, portion of the bill provided that employees who will not be absorbed be considered redundant, but added that the committees had deleted that portion and provided for safeguards to protect the workforce from joblessness.

Fahnbulleh indicated to the House Plenary that a transitional period of one year for the implementation of the Act was proposed by the joint committees and endorsed, whereas the original text was read upon the passage into law.

He noted that the lawmakers will vividly recalled Representative Larry Younquoi of Lofa County alarmed at that strange things were happening at the Ministry of Finance when he noticed that the statuses of employees at the ministry were was in administrative limbo.

The Montserrado County District # 4 lawmaker added that Representative Younquoi in a communication caused the appearance of the Minister of Finance, while the CSA director general who too was invited was represented by a proxy, Puchue Bernard, his deputy, whose presentation was very poor.

The legislator remembered that plenary later discharged the witnesses with the mandate that the CSA director general proper and the chairman of the Governance Commission, who could not appear because their absence from the country, be made to appear at the House plenary for questioning upon their return in to the country.

The plenary that the Governance Commission Chairman and the Director General of CSA have long returned to the country and it has been over two months and still they have not made their appearances.

He reiterated the primordial factor triggering this chronology is to demonstrate that fact that legislative interest should not just be the passage of legislation but equally the application of legislations, meaning that legislative oversight is a core function of the job of lawmakers.

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