Liberia: Sen. Saytumah Under Probe for U.S.$0.5 Million

The plenary of the Liberian Senate overwhelmingly voted here Wednesday, July 22, to probe Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah, for his role in the handling ofUS$557,000 or a little over half million United States Dollars allocated for senate staffers.

Staffers have been protesting for nearly two weeks in demand of Liberian Dollar component of their monthly salaries that have not been paid since July, 2019.

Aggrieved staffers of the Liberian Senate on Monday this week locked the Senate Finance office at the Capitol, demanding that their payroll be turned over to the Human Resource department.

Spokesperson Charles S. Brown said, in a meeting last week Thursday, they asked the finance department to turn the payroll over to the HR department, but this has not happened, so they decided to close the office until the payroll is turned over to the HR.

Brown disclosed that in the meeting, they were informed by human resource officer Alvin Yan that he has been asking for the payroll from the finance department, but the department is not responding, something that is creating dark cloud over their plight.

According to him, the Liberian Senate took the bullet for them because there was a national salary cut in the Liberian dollars component of their monthly salary, so the wage bill was increased by $557,000 to cover up for the Liberian dollars' component but no staffer has benefited.

But Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor, who heads the Liberian Senate, clarified that the budgetary allocation for the Liberian Legislature was never harmonized doing the salary harmonization exercise in government, contrary to assertion by the Senate leadership.

Ms. Taylor met with the protesting stafferswho had earlier locked entrance to the finance department of the Senate and the House of Representatives under heavy downpour Monday, demanding one year salary arrears.

She expressed shock over claims that staffers' Liberian dollars salary component has been cancelled when in fact, authorities of the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning did not at anytime bother with their [staffers'] salaries.

Members of the Liberian Senate debated Wednesday, 15 July during their regular session that if protests by staffers of the Capitol would be aborted, the Committee on Ways, Means and Finance should account for over US$500,000 allotted for staffers' salaries.

Maryland County Senator James Gble-bo Brown said when the Senate committee realized that the government had cancelled the Liberian dollars salary component of staffers at the Capitol as a result of the salary harmonization policy, the leadership went in the Senate's internal budget and allotted over US$500,000 to spread among staffers to ease their economic burden.

According to him, they agreed the allocation should be effected, but also expressed shock the amount has not been reflected in the take-home-pay of the staffers' something, he said, was addressed since July last year during the budget hearing and allocation.

However, Senate President Pro-Tempore Albert Chie noted that hiring auditors from outside to audit the staffers' payroll could waste a lot of time, so he has appointed a three-man committee headed by Grand Gedeh County Senator Alphonso Gaye to investigate the alleged missing US$.5million dollars. Members of the committee include Montserrado County Senator Abraham Darius Dillon and Bong County Senator Henrique Togba.

Pro-Tempore Chie instructed the Senate chairman on Ways, Means, Finance and Budget, Bomi County Senator Morris Saytumah to turn over the payroll and all other relevant documents in his possession to committee head Senator Gaye, to commence the probe and report to the leadership of plenary within five days, stressing that further delays in handling the matter could raise more doubts.

The Grand Kru Senator disclosed plan to distribute rice among staffers for the July 26 Independence festivities.

Meanwhile, the head of budget at the Liberian Senate Gble-bo Brown warned that issues of staffers' salaries are yet to be settled, as staffers complained of not receiving any increment in their salary from the US$557,000 allotted by Senators.

Senator Brown added that he had a meeting with the staffers to make them understand that the Liberian dollars component of their salaries were cut off completely.

At the same time, the head of Rules, Orders and Administration, Senator NyonbleeKangar Lawrence of Grand Bassa County said, she wasn't part of the process when the Ways, Means, Finance and Budget committee met with staffers but informed plenary that she had requested for the payroll from the Finance office on many occasions without a positive response.

She insisted that the payroll should be audited, as ghost names were noticed with some receiving gas coupons marred by wide discrepancies, and that even Directors are complaining about the situation.

For his part, Senator Abraham Darius Dillon of Montserrado emphasized the issue of staffers' salaries should be investigated quickly because senators are on the way for the '26' Independence break, adding that senators need to know what went wrong with the US$557, 000 deducted from their salaries for staffers.

By Ethel A Tweh-Editing by Jonathan Browne

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