The Inquirer is a leading independent daily newspaper published in Liberia, based in Monrovia. It is privately owned with a "good reputation".

Why All This “NOISE” About Harmonization Or Salary Cut For Govt’s Employees?

By Atty Philip N. Wesseh (PNW)
I have said and continue to say that one of the problems this government is facing is its poor communication or information dissemination system. This does not mean that it does not have qualified or competent people in its information or communication sectors. Seemingly, the lack of coordination and strategies are principally responsible for this.

As a result, this usually results to misinformation or speculations in the greater society about what government is doing or it intends to do. Worst of all, at times there are too many spokespersons on an issue with contradicting comments, thereby confusing the public. Unsurprisingly, this always leads to “NOISE” in public discussion on issues.

Sometimes noise comes about based on what is known in communication as “FIELD OF EXPERIENCE”.” That is, people interpret or look at things based on experience or what they had experienced before. This may not be correct, but because of experience, they would consider it that way, as we say in Liberia that if one was once bitten by a snake, whenever that person sees a lizard, the person’s mind would think about the snake. This necessary does not mean that the lizard is a snake.

In the book, “COMMUNICATION WORKS,” it defines noise as “anything that interferes with or distorts our ability to send or receive messages,” stating further that, ” noise can also be created by, for example, physical discomfort, psychological makeup, intellectual ability, or the environment. Thus noise includes distractions such as a loud siren, a disturbing odor, and a hot room, as well as personal factors such as prejudices, daydreaming, and feelings of inadequacy.

In addition, another one is known as “semantic noise” where words communicated are not properly understood by the receiver, as those words may have different meaning to others. Even in our various vernaculars or dialects, a word used in one dialect could mean something different in another dialect.
For example when a group of Liberian journalists, including me visited Uganda, we were told that the word “FALAH” which is of the Kissi ethnic group in Lofa County, means something different in the local language in that country. As a result, our colleague, Augustine Fallah, could not be called properly by his surname. In the Kissi ethnic group, “Fallah” is the name given to the second boy child, but in Ugandan local language it means something I am not prepared to say for ethical reason.

Sometimes a particular word may mean similar thing. For example in Kpelleh, “Suah” means meat, while in Kru it means “fish.” Equally, there are words that spell differently, but mean the same. For example “labor”” and “labour.” Similarly in Kru, names- Wureh, Wleh and Wreh, though spelt differently, but mean longevity.

Today I am making reference to words we communicate because of what is obtaining on the political scene regarding “Harmonization’ and salary cut.’ Unarguably, for days now there have been controversy or noise over attempts by government in dealing with issue of payroll. The issue at bar is whether or not this is harmonization or salary cut.

This issue is so serious that it has claimed the attention of members of the National Legislature who have summoned Finance and Development Planning Minister, Samuel Tweah on the matter. At one point, he said this was not “salary cut.” but some government employees feel that this was just a cover up as this exercise is really about salary cut and not harmonization.

Just last week, employees of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) concertedly issued a statement, warning against any salary cut. Similarly, while listening to The Costa Show last Thursday, I gathered that Mr. Alex Cuffy, a precocious son of New Kru Town, who is head of the Finance Intelligence Unit, who is expected to step down next month is leaving because of cut in his salary from US$7,000.00 to less than US$3,000.00

The LRA employees in their 11-count petition presented to the LRA Commissioner General, the employees noted that the LRA is a semi-autonomous agency of government established by an Act of Legislature to transparently administer the Revenue Code for the assessment and collection of revenues in the country.

According to the employees in their counts, the LRA is a performance-based institution with huge responsibility of collecting over 90 percent of the country’s National budget each budget year, thus being achieved through quality services provided by its staff. They also mentioned in their counts that one of the LRA specific functions is to establish employment and remuneration policies independent of the Civil Service Act, provided that they are in compliance with the Labor Law of Liberia, emphasizing that the LRA employees are non-civil servants.
“We have been informed that the government of Liberia through the LRA will initiate a compulsory and substantial salary deductions/cuts (“Salary Harmonization”) for almost all LRA staff beginning July 1, 2019/2020 Annual Budget),” the employees alluded in their petition.

Similarly, in last Friday’s edition of this paper, it was reported that several Senators have frowned on the decision by the Executive Branch of government through the Finance Ministry to exclude the Judiciary Branch from the proposed salary harmonization or salary-cut scheme.

The Senators made the interrogations on Thursday during a public hearing of Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah, on the issue of ‘Salary Harmonization’ in the Chamber of the Liberian Senate. Sinoe County Senator, J. Milton Teahjay, leading the debate, sought clarity as to why the Finance Minister, did not include the Judiciary Branch of government.

Senator Teahjay stated that he and his colleagues observed that in the proposed harmonization document before the legislature, the Judiciary Branch which is part of the three branches of government was omitted from the proposed salary cut scheme when in fact the decision by the Executive is government’s fading economy.
The Sinoe county Senator asserted that officials of government including the President and Vice President are civil servants and as such, if there is an issue to be undertaken by the government with an intent to revive the economy, it must be inclusive because every one of them are all public servants.
In response, Minister Tweah said such decision was above his limit thereby citing Article 72(a&b) and stated that this Article of the 1986 Constitution which was enacted by the same Legislature excludes the Judiciary from paying taxes as well as its members salary being diminished by the Executive Branch; a situation, he said he is not willing to circumvent.

Literally, for me, my understanding of harmonization, as it relates to salary or income is to put or be on par, like on the issue of salary disparity. Harmonization is about equity. One definition of this says it is to “bring into consonance or accord. “
Another definition says, “”harmonization means to match the allowance of the person with kind of work and value addition the individual is doing to the organization. If there is a disparity between the works and take away salary given to the person, then there is chance of worsening of attrition rate in the company.

Additionally, it says, it is a broad term which means to get things in synchronization with one another. It means to have everything in coordination so as to attain better results. That is, all minsters, deputy ministers and assistant minsters ministers would all be treated the same way.

Salary cut, as the phrase suggests, is self-explanatory. Sometimes refers to as “pay cut’ simply means to reduce the salary or income of an employee However, it is said that, ”pay cuts are often made to reduce layoffs while saving the company money during a difficult economic period. A pay cut may be temporary or permanent, and may or may not come with a reduction in responsibilities.”

Considering the issue of harmonization or salary cut, and in view of the present NOISE, it is clear that the situation is still ambiguous and that the Liberian government MUST be clear and concise of that it intends to do.

Howbeit, in whatever to be done, whether it is salary cut or harmonization, care should be taken when it comes to the JUDICIARY because of the nature of the work.
My fear is based on the fact that some Senators want this exercise to be extended to “all branches.” The JUDICIARY is the fulcrum of our democracy, therefore, it should be handled with great care. This is why Article 72(a) protects the justices and judges.

I Rest My Case.

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