Monrovia — Members of the Liberian Senate have frowned on members of the House of Representatives for what they are terming as politicizing the current pension bill for some officials of the Legislature, Judiciary, and Executive.
The senators accused their colleagues in the legislature of rejecting the version that they had passed and sent to them for concurrence. The senators said the House rejected it “because they want to continue to benefit from the existing bill that is far worse than what they are criticizing.”
Nimba County Senator Jeremiah Koung, who co-chairs the Senate’s Ways, Means, Finance and Budget Committee said, members of the House are aware that the current government is in arrears of US$9 million in pension benefits to former lawmakers and they are threatening court action against the government if they cannot get their benefits.
According to him, as a result of a pension law passed in 2003, former lawmakers are entitled to receive US$4,000 as pension benefits. He stated that it is that law that the Senate seeks to amend to meet current day reality.
The current amended bill if passed will give lawmakers who retired honorably after a six-year tenure US$800.00 monthly and not US$4,000.00 as it is in the existing 2003 law.
The Senate amended bill prohibits lawmakers who contest for re-elections and are defeated from benefiting from the new pension law. It also defines what constitutes a retiring age of a lawmaker.
The 2003 law provides for spouses of former lawmakers to continue to receive the benefits of their husbands or wives in case of death. The amended Senate pension law prohibits that. The new pension law takes into consideration the age of a retiree from the legislature. It considers the recognized retirement age since in the constitution at age 25 one is eligible to contest for a seat in the House of Representatives.
Senator Koung: “The truth is that it is not that they are not aware of this amendment, or that they don’t know that there exists a pension bill. The real story is that all of them are going for re-election in 2023 and there is no guarantee that they will be re-elected so they want the law to remain as it is so they can continue to make US$4000.00 as former lawmakers.
“In fact, the current budget of our country has US$1 million in it as former lawmakers’ pension benefits. This amount is a result of negotiation between them and the government because the actual amount owed them is US$9 million.”
HOR was very discourteous to the senate
Senator Augustine Chie of Sinoe County, a member of the ruling establishment, too, accused Members of the House of Representatives of being very discourteous to them by the way they acted when the Senate sent them the pension law for concurrence. Further in his argument, Sen. Chief said there are lay down rules on how bills are concurred with or rejected by both the Senate and the House.
“They didn’t even open the bill to critique it but rather took to the airwaves to discredit us and began calling us names like ‘wicked and evil’. They were very discourteous to us. We have laydown rules but the way they proceeded on this matter was wrong and injurious to us. We need to send them a strong message that we don’t appreciate how they went about it.”
Like Senator Chie, Senator Milton Teahjay of Sinoe County also frowned on the manner and form the House of Representatives treated the bill and cautioned them not to use their hate for [Sen. Darius] Dillon to destroy the country. “We cannot afford to destroy this country because of the fear of a colleague in another branch of government. Traditionally, whether we like it or not Montserrado County has never been for the ruling party. So whether they like it or not Dillon is here for a while so we cannot destroy this country because of Dillon.”
Taking a second look
After a long debate, the Liberian Senate unanimously voted to take a second look at the proposed Integrated Pension and Benefits Scheme for certain categories of Government officials despite its rejection by the House of Representatives.
The Senate says it will also review the current Pension scheme for Civil Servants.
According to a Senate press release, the action of the Liberian Senate follows a heated debate by members of the Senate on the action of their colleagues at the House of Representatives.
Members of the Liberian Senate say, the Senate still believes that the proposed rejected bill crafted by the Senate has created the atmosphere to save more money for the Government in the provision of pension benefits for former lawmakers than the current existing Pension Law of 2003.
The existing law requires that retired lawmakers, whether or not they have served for a term to benefit 50% of the incumbent lawmaker’s salary.
The statement says, the proposed law, however, seeks to save more money for the government as retired lawmakers, who served two terms to benefit 30% of the salary of the incumbent lawmaker and 10% for one-term serving lawmakers.
The proposed legislation does not make provision for retired lawmakers who were defeated in elections as they were not honorably retired.
The senators argued that the purpose of the law was to harmonize the 2003 Law with the current proposal consistent with the fiscal space of the current day reality in the country.
The bill titled “An Act Adopting an Integrated Pensions and Benefits Scheme for Certain Categories of Officials of the Government of the Republic of Liberia and to Repeal and or Amend Certain Portions of Title 26, Legislative Act, Title 12, Executive Law and Title 17, Judiciary (1972) and the 2003 Act, which amends these laws”, for the three branches of government, seeks to allot 50% benefits to retired lawmakers, the President and Vice President, Justices as well as circuit courts judges.
It also indicates that the President will maintain 75% of his staff and assigned security detail following retirement.
In a heated debate on the floor of the House of Representatives in its Thursday extra sitting session, several members of the House frowned on the bill, terming it as draconian and only intended to suppress the already suffering masses.