Liberia: 'Salary Harmonization' Dominates Supreme Court's Opening

Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor: " Judges should not be given the cause to be corrupted."

Chief Justice Francis Korkpor: "As priest of justice, a judge should not be given the cause to be corrupted in the performance of his/her judicial duties so as to be justified for any disciplinary action taken against him/her if found deficient in those qualities."

A decision by the legislature to create an Act to be named "An Act to Establish the National Remuneration Standardization of 2019", with the intent to give the government legal rights to institute its salary harmonization plan to cover all government workers was the biggest theme on Monday, October 14 during the opening of the October 2019 Term of the Supreme Court that was attended by hundreds of lawyers.

Recently, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Samuel Tweah, defended the salary harmonization policy, saying that it was the country's international partners and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that gave the advise requesting that the harmonization of pay salary should not exempt any of the three branches of government, including the legislators themselves. This in essence includes workers of the three branches of government and even public corporations.

However, addressing his audience, many of whom were lawyers at yesterday's ceremony, Chief Justice Francis Saye Korkpor, partly quoted Judicial Canon #6 under the caption: "Judges as Government Paid Officials," which he said, provides that "As priest of justice, a judge should not be given the cause to be corrupted in the performance of his judicial duties, so as to be justified for any disciplinary action taken against him/her if found deficient in those qualities."

The entire Cannon#6 also states: "The judge is a government paid official, and must be paid adequately, he/she holds an exalted position, which prevents him from engaging in any business pursuit, therefore, he must be provided with the necessities of life, and with every means by which he will be able to perform his judicial duties effectively, efficiently and speedily."

It continues: "The judge must be encouraged and given the incentive to live a decent and dignified life that would prevent financial and domestic worries, and enable him to repel temptation, which is susceptible to human life. As priest of justice, a judge should not be given the cause to be corrupted in the performance of his/her judicial duties so as to be justified for any disciplinary action taken against him/her if found deficient in those qualities."

Justice Korkpor said he has followed with keen interest national discussion on the issue of salary harmonization to the point that the legislature has promulgated an Act to "Establish the National Remuneration Standardization of 2019."

"Let me comment on the burning issue that has to do with the ongoing process of salary harmonization," Justice Korkpor said, asking his audience to carefully look at Article 72 of the 1986 Constitution.

Article 72 provides: "The Justices of the Supreme Court, and all other judges shall receive such salaries, allowances and benefits as shall be established by law. Such salaries shall be subject to taxes as defined by law, provided that they shall not otherwise be diminished. Allowances and benefits paid to Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts may by law, be increased but may not be diminished except under a national program enacted by the Legislature; nor shall such allowance and benefits be subject to taxation."

That provision, also states: "The Chief Justice and the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court and judges of subordinate courts of record shall be retired at the age 70; provided, however, that a justice of judge, who has attained that age may continue in office for as long as may be necessary to enable him/her to render judgment or perform any other judicial duty in regard to proceedings entertained by him/her before he/she attained that age."

In light of the foregoing, Korkpor added, "We urge that any process of harmonizing or standardizing salaries of government officials and senior civil servants take into consideration requisite provision of the law, especially when applying to the judiciary to ensure justice and equality."

As though he was thinking about the effect of the salary harmonization on the judiciary, Justice Korkpor also expressed interest to be a part of any processes in that direction, meaning his money should be cut by whatever percentage.

"We are prepared to work with, and engage the requisite government functionaries to provide necessary input(s) for proper application of the Act to the judiciary," Korkpor said.

In his intervention, the president of the Liberian National Bar Association (LNBA), Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, said that before the LNBA says anything on the matter, they would be happy if they were to know the salaries, allowances and benefits of the Chief Justice, the president, vice president, the speaker, the president pro-tempore, justices, ministers and judges.

"As this matter has now been introduced for public consideration, a full knowledge of the salaries and or allowances and benefits of the Chief Justice, the President, the Vice President, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the President Pro-Tempore, Justices, ministers and judges will be helpful for the LNBA participation in the emerging public discourse on the issue raised by Chief Justice Korkpor," Gongloe said.

He said that based on such vital information, the issue of disparities between the salaries, allowances and benefits for the senior government officials of the other two branches of government, and those of the judiciary can be fully discussed and resolved, "because we are aware of Article 72 of the Constitution."

The LNBA' president explained that the same article 72 provides that the allowances and benefits of justices and judges should not be subject to taxation.

"In any case, where it is determined that the act reduces the salaries of the chief justice, justices and judges or subject their allowances and benefits to taxation; this court has a remedy as it has done in an other matters through a 'Sua Sponte' consideration of the constitutionality of the act.

"While the current issue of fairness in the implementation of the law on salary harmonization is being considered, we call for the maintenance of zero tolerance of corruption in the judiciary under all circumstances," Gongloe advised the branches of government.

Gongloe told Korkpor and the gathering that as of his view, the issue is an administrative matter that should be taken up at the highest level of government as a coordinate branch of government.

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