MONROVIA, Montserrado – Bong’s Sen. Jewel Howard Taylor has come under strong criticism from some citizens and members of the opposition community for advocating for an increase in the salaries of lawmakers.
Speaking at a Coalition for Democratic Change rally in the US, Taylor, who is also the party’s vice presidential candidate, said senators in Liberia were earning US$10,000 as salary and US$2,000 for fueling their vehicles.
She said the amount is not enough because lawmakers often take up paying school fees, hospital bills, house rent, and undertaking funeral rites for their constituents.
Taylor said the US$2,000 worth of fuel was not enough to support even three trips to her county.
“I come from Bong County; I’m struggling. I don’t know how the people of Grand Kru manage,” she said. “You got to pay people’s school fees, you got to bury people, you got to take people out of the hospital. And where is that money coming from? Our salary.”
Despite being prohibited by laws to get engage into extra business other profiteering initiatives, she said the members of the legislature receive the highest numbers of people visiting their offices for and requesting personal assistance.
“Can you enter the Ministry of Finance and go to the minister’s office when you don’t have an appointment? Try it,” she added.
Because of the extra burden from constituents, Taylor said she takes credits from banks to complete projects in her county in addition to catering to her personal and family needs.
The All Liberian Party political Leader, Benoni Urey, has disagreed with Taylor’s position and condemned her comments.
Urey posted on his facebook page urging the CDC and other opposition political parties to make bettering the lives of the masses the center of their policy decisions and not to seek more perks and benefits for senators and representatives who he said are already overpaid.
“The CDC and its leadership must be aware, I am sure, of the terrible state of our nation’s economy. Today, multinational companies are packing up and pulling out, leading to major job losses and increased hardships for our people,” he wrote.
He said it is morally unacceptable for the CDC to be calling for higher salaries and benefits whereby teachers, health workers, police officers, and other civil servants are making less than US$150 a month.
“With a heavily under-equipped and ineffective healthcare delivery system, run by underpaid doctors and nurses, how can we afford to be increasing salaries of a few? With a dysfunctional education system, how can we practically think about raising salaries of lawmakers?” he added.
Urey described as a shame to demand that a few government officials receive more than US$12,000 a month when average citizens are living on less than US$1.25 a day.
As a political institution seeking states power, Urey said an ALP administration would push for the exact opposite of what was being pushed by Taylor.
“An ALP government will seek to reduce the large salaries and incentives of a small group of government officials and divert such money to invest in better healthcare, schools, increments in the salaries and incentives for teachers, nurses, police officers, and all civil servants in order to improve their living conditions and give their best services to the Liberian people,” he said.
“Gone are the days that only a handful of people enjoy government coffers, while the masses are left with little or no benefits and gains. The time for change is now and it starts with us.”
At the same time, Liberty Party Vice Chairman for Political Affairs, Darius Dillon is requesting for a clearer explanation of Taylor’s comments.
Dillon asked whether it was the CDC’s plan to increase the monthly income of public officials such as Taylor and leave the majority of the citizens as beggars at the feet and mercy of lawmakers and other public officials.
Meanwhile, Taylor has clarified that she and the CDC’s position are that their administration would study the issue of salary discrepancies at all levels of the government and make amendments to ensure that those at the lower levels including teachers, nurses and security personnel will be upgraded while reducing those at the highest levels.
She said her comments were in response to a question about high salaries for lawmakers.
“In my comment, I tried to explain the financial demands on lawmakers from their constituents versus their salaries; which is being misunderstood as my demand for higher salaries for Lawmakers,” she clarified.
“This was not my intent and I sincerely apologize to Liberians for the misconception.”
Alfred Kandakai, a student of the University of Liberia expressed disappointment in Taylor’s comments.
“For me, such comments from someone who is seeking the second highest elected post in our country is scaring,” Kandakai said. He called on his fellow citizens to begin carefully examining the comments and activities of politicians who are running for election.
Featured photo courtesy of David Stanley