BUCHANAN, Grand Bassa – Liberty Party’s Charles Walker Brumskine has promised to cut government officials’ salaries, including that of legislators; however, he may face opposition from incoming lawmakers, including those members of his own party.
In Grand Bassa’s fourth electoral district, many candidates seem to be evasive and noncommittal when it comes to discussing lawmakers’ salaries reduction. The representative candidates include Unity Party’s Korkpah B. Wohwoh, independent candidate Vincent Willie, and Liberty Party’s incumbent Rep. Jeh Byron Browne.
All the candidates cited specific conditions under which they would agree to reduce their salaries if elected.
Browne told The Bush Chicken that a lawmaker’s monthly salary is a combination of L$14,000 (US$119.66) in addition to US$2,000, clarifying that salaries are quite different from benefits (government salaries are paid in two parts – a portion in Liberian dollars and the rest in U.S. dollars). Browne, however, failed to mention that benefits make up a significant portion of lawmakers’ compensation. It is now widely known that lawmakers make an average of US$15,000 monthly in salaries, allowances, and benefits.
Browne listed his conditions for agreeing to reduce his salary: ‘’Except where I can have a complete commitment for somebody to tell me if your salary is reduced we need US$1.5 million to build the road from here to Nyuenwein; if somebody will tell me if your salary is reduced, we will use US$1.5 million to put the chiefs, elders, and medical people and teachers on payroll; if we have US$3.5 million, it will help the market women to give them micro-loans; if y’all reduce their salaries, yes, we will give scholarship to the students from the areas.”
He continued, “But if these fundamental questions can’t be answered, then I consider that as a political joke and bluff.”
Browne added that what is important is not just reducing the salaries of lawmakers but the implementation of policies and laws of the country.
Browne explained that he is not convinced that Liberia has not developed because lawmakers are earning a high income. He said in 1997, his party’s standard bearer, Charles W. Brumskine (who served as Senate Pro-Temp), earned US$40 a month at the legislature. The figure mentioned as the salary of Cllr. Brumskine in 1997, has not been verified by The Bush Chicken, although it is likely a small part of the total compensation package.
Browne said if salaries are reduced, it will be a great relief for lawmakers who currently use their compensation for services that the executive branch should be providing including feeder road construction and rehabilitation, building schools, and also providing scholarships and microloans.
‘’I don’t think that the reduction of salary will help this country,” he said.
“For example, NOCAL has been bankrupt. Is it because lawmakers’ salaries are high? I will tell you no. The Executive Mansion has been under renovation for more than ten years, the [mansion] cannot be renovated. Is it because lawmakers’ salaries are high? I will say no. You have people who are corrupt and there are cases that are at the court of competent jurisdiction on corrupt charges. These people are corrupt because lawmakers salaries are high? I say no. People are not sincere to themselves; we need not talk about reduction of salaries,” Browne added.
He said a bigger concern should be monitoring county social development funds and money coming into the country from international donors.
For his part, an independent candidate and strong supporter of Brumskine, Vincent Willie, said a salary reduction or increment must follow market demand.
“You cannot have a cup of rice for L$300 (US$2.56) or a bag of rice for L$2000 (US$17.09) and then you say you want to cut someone salary,” he said. “If government can tackle most of the economic problems and those prices [begin] to fall, it means that the man can go on the market and purchase a bag of rice but once the prices on the market are higher, it means the demand for more income and incentives will be higher,” Willie told The Bush Chicken.
Willie said if the government cannot tackle economic factors that can cause an increase in salary, such as reduction of school fees and making government schools the best in the country, and reduction of prices of medical equipment and drugs, he cannot address salary reduction.
“If you don’t tackle those things, nobody will wish for salary decrease,” he added.
The Unity Party candidate, Korkpah Wohwoh, said he considers the issue to be a legal matter which requires comprehensive discussions. He suggested that if salaries and benefits are reduced for lawmakers, something must be done for the salaries of civil servants.
“I would like for my colleagues on the bench to do justice, for what I have seen, the salary of the Pro-Temp annually is over US$100,000 and benefits US$400,000. That US$400,000 can pay several civil servants, so I would like my colleagues to approach the issue comprehensively and be honest to ourselves not just by reducing lawmakers’ salaries,” Wohwoh said. “That is not just enough. If we reduce our salaries, what are we going to do for the common people?”
He said he is against lawmakers making more than civil servants but he believes the current salary was increased based on some indicators and because he does not know the basis on which they were increased, he cannot determine whether it makes sense to increase or decrease lawmakers’ salaries.
“No, I support reduction, but I want it to be done in a way that it will be acceptable,” he said, adding that there should be a reason to do so.
Salary reduction of government officials is one of the campaign promises of Brumskine. The Liberty Party leader has promised to cut down foreign travels of government officials if elected. He described the frequent foreign travels and increment of government officials’ salaries as wasteful spending. Brumskine also said if he wins, he will negotiate with the legislators to reduce their salaries.
However, the statements from the top candidates in the district are worrying, suggesting that he may not even get support from lawmakers who see Brumskine as their kinsman. Rep. Byron Browne and Vincent Willie are two top contenders in the district, followed closely by candidates Nicholas Barkon and Korkpah Wohwoh.
Excessively high salaries for lawmakers and other government officials has been a key concern of Liberians in recent months and many presidential candidates have pledged to reduce those salaries.
However, with Brumskine’s own supporters, in a district and county that is expected to go for Liberty Party, being hesitant to support his promise, it is unclear whether he will fulfill his pledge if elected.
Featured photo by Zeze Ballah