Monrovia - Liberia’s financial hub, the Ministry of Finance responsible for all the transactions - revenue collection and disbursement Thursday stood still after employees staged a go-slow action against plans by the Ministry to redundant some employees in a bid to make way for the smooth merger of the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs and the Ministry of Finance to now become Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP).
Government operation was shut down with individuals who had gone to either process financial documents or receive checks were left stunned while employees roamed the building, expressing anger at the plan and refusing to work.
The shutdown comes during a critical month for the ministry, a busy period marred by long lines as ministries and agencies process payroll and payments for procurement of goods and services for their respective entities. Thursday’s go slow meant a lot in terms of drawback in revenue collection and overall financial operations of the Government.
“I'm one person who does not see the reason why we were laid off because the department and section we were in at the Ministry of Finance has not been closed or maybe its function has been changed, everything is the same. All I see happening is that the revenue section has been removed and that space will be filled by the ministry of planning”, Michael Harris.
As the go slow became chaotic with some employees chanting anti Finance Minister Amara Konneh and Deputy Jordan Sulunteh slogans, the Liberian National Police headed by the Deputy Police Director for Operations, Abraham Kromah moved and began requesting the protesting employees to leave the premises of the Ministry.
One of the employees, Randall Banks said he felt disappointed by the action of the Finance Minister who, according to him promised to create job adding that he is instead destroying jobs. Minister Konneh before the senate during his confirmation promised to create 20,000 jobs every year when confirmed as Finance Minister in contrast the Minister has begun laying people off thus increasing unemployment. Banks said the employees are down hearted because the decision taken by the ministry was not in their best interest.
Banks continued: "So we decided to carry out this go-slow until our leaders can go back to the drawing board to revisit the decision that was taken, that's the reason why we have assembled here and left our offices”.
According to Banks, the Minister and his Deputies should see reason to make changes in the amount allocated for them. Michael Harris, another Finance Ministry employee explained that the employees are not demonstrating, but carrying out a go- slow in a bid to express their dissatisfaction over the action by the Finance Minister.
“I'm one person who does not see the reason why we were laid off because the department and section we were in at the Ministry of Finance has not been closed or maybe its function has been changed, everything is the same all I see happening is that the revenue section has been removed and that space will be filled by the ministry of planning”, said Harris.
Harris continued: “You are putting us out of a job in a country where to find a job is difficult then the benefit allocated is nothing”. According to the employees, the decision to lay them off is for the merger because other people need to be accommodated but this is going to be the case.
“I can remember when President Sirleaf took over, she downsized people to have a smaller government but today? Tell whether the number of people working in her government is not more than what she met there. So all the ministry is doing is to lay people off to bring more people. Trust me, a few months from now, you will see people filling our positions”.
Another Finance Ministry employee who fears that the current plans will mean job loss said the Ministry had informed them to take advantage of a voluntary redundancy package wherein employees who have served from one to 11 years will be given a package of US$5,000 while those who have served 11 to 22 years will be given US$7,000.
The Ministry is said to have indicated that employees who fail to take advantage of the voluntary redundancy package will face the risk of getting dismissed when the new organizational structure of the new Ministry does not include their current positions. The employees are contending that the package is small given the duration of their service with the Ministry with some insisting that the Civil Service Agency (CSA) be allowed to handle the process.
CSA was established to handle issues relating to improving the human resources, service delivery, effectiveness and efficiency of the service, which entails planning, human capacity needs, recruitment and selection, training and development, performance management, and career development of civil servants. However, over the years, several ministries and agencies have carried out individual redundancy without the input of the CSA.
Some of the employees who have served up to 22 years and nearing retirement age believe that the US$7,000 is not a good package given that upon retirement, they will benefit more from the 25% payment by the National Social Security and Welfare Corporation of Liberia.
The NASSCOR scheme is designed to pay a monthly pension that amounts to at least 25% of what a retired person earned as a monthly average in their working life. To be entitled to the 25% pension, a person must be at least 60 years old, and contributions must have been paid by both parties for at least 100 months. For each 10 months' of additional contributions, the pension rises by 1 % of the average monthly income and amongst the employees to be affected by the restructuring, some may fall under the category where they are nearing retirement.
Liberia’s civil service has been political over the years as many are employed in public service without going through the CSA recruitment process. Political appointees carry out individual recruitments, employing relatives and other associates to positions in ministries and agencies they are appointed to head, outside the standard CSA process, creating legal complications whenever processes such as restructuring are to be effected.
In September 2013, members of the House of Representatives passed an act creating the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) merging the Ministry of Finance (MOF) with the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA). The law was passed amid criticisms and skepticisms by a large number of employees at the two ministries that the merger could have led to mass dismissal, but Representative Acarous Gray (Congress for Democratic Change, Montserrado County) at the time allayed fear that the merger would lead to unemployment for many.
The Governance Commission pushed for the merger along with the act creating a separate agency for revenue collection, the Liberia Revenue Authority is taking away the Revenue component currently under the control of the Ministry of Finance. The establishment of the LRA and the MFDP has been seen as part of the government’s efforts to bring cohesion to the operations of government by eliminating current duplications and gaps in the functions of the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Ministry of Planning and Economic Affairs (MPEA).
Restructuring is not new to Liberia as upon taking office in 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf promised a small, effective and efficient the government, which led to downsizing and rightsizing at various ministries and agencies of government. Thousands were made jobless in the name of reducing the size of government, but eight years on, more new agencies and other institutions have been created even though unemployment remains high. A meeting between the leadership of the protesting employees and Finance Ministry officials lasted for hours and upon return one of the employees told reporters that negotiations are ongoing.
Other employees vowed not to return to work today.