Liberia: Another Presidential 'Salary Cut'?

Joseph Boakai.

The Executive Mansion has announced that President Joseph Nyuma Boakai has announced plans to cut his monthly salary by 40% in a move that fulfills his commitment to fiscal integrity and national financial security.

"President Joseph Nyuma Boakai, Sr. has announced a voluntary 40% reduction in his salary," the Executive Mansion said in a statement over the weekend. "This announcement reflects his determination to lead by example in strengthening government accountability and demonstrating solidarity with the people of the nation."

Presidential Press Secretary, Kula Fofana, said in a statement over the weekend that the move is aimed at setting a precedent for responsible governance and nation-building.

The substantial salaries of high-ranking government officials have been a subject of intense debate in recent years, with many members of the public urging for significant reductions in the pay received by lawmakers, and top officials in the Executive and Judicial branches.

The budget for the Office of the President, according to the 2024 fiscal budget, is US$3 million. This includes the personnel salaries, as well as supplies, logistics and other operating expenses.

President Boakai disclosed in February that his monthly salary was US$13,400, and he has now decided to reduce it to $8,000.

While some individuals have commended Boakai's decision, others have raised concerns about whether this reduction truly constitutes a sacrifice as the president still has access to other sources of funding, especially thousands of dollars in daily allowance and others, that could easily close up the gaps created by the deduction.

This action by Mr. Boakai mirrors that of his predecessor, George Weah, who previously took a 25% cut in his salary. In one of his first acts as President of Liberia, Weah announced a salary cut by 25% as part of an effort to confront the country's "broken economy."

"In view of the very rapidly deteriorating situation of the economy, I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25%," Weah said in his 2018 State of the nation address.

Whether that pronouncement was fulfilled by the Former President during his 6-year reign remains to be seen.

Pundits see the issue of Liberian Presidents declaring salary cuts as nothing more than a smokescreen. According to the 1986 Constitution of the Republic of Liberia, it is not up to the President to subtract or add to his salary. That function belongs to the Legislature.

Article 60 of the Constitution says: "The President and the Vice-President shall receive salaries which shall be determined by the Legislature and be paid by the Republic. Such salaries shall be subject to taxes as defined by law and shall neither be increased nor diminished during the period for which the President and the Vice-President shall have elected.

When a President declares that he or she will take a salary cut, it should be understood that the full salary of the President is already allocated in the national budget for that year. The question, then, is whether President Boakai will take the 40% and reinfuse it into Government coffers. As a matter of transparency, he would have to be invoiced by the Government of Liberia to pay back the said percentage of his salary.

Alternatively, the President, being in a perennial spirit of generosity, could simply give the 40% of his salary away to charity -- but that's his own prerogative, and cannot be considered a "salary cut".

Meanwhile, in addition to his purported salary reduction, President Boakai has pledged to empower the Civil Service Agency (CSA) to ensure that public servants' salaries are in line with the current state of the nation and that workers receive fair compensation for their contributions to the country.

The President pledged his commitment to financial responsibility and fair compensation for public servants from various sectors of society as a positive step towards fostering a culture of accountability and equity within the government.

Although many have praised the president's salary reduction as a positive step, there is lingering skepticism regarding how the saved funds will be allocated and for what specific purposes. It is hoped that the public will be provided with transparent information on how the deductions will be utilized to enhance the lives of the people.

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