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Liberia's Truth Commission Threatens Legal Action Over Wages

  • James Butty

TRC member Massa Washington says government's failure to pay salary arrears is politically motivated

The Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) has threatened to sue the government of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for what the TRC calls its failure to pay back salaries and other compensations.

The TRC was established in 2003 to look into the causes of Liberia’s civil conflict from 1979 to 2003, and to make recommendations on accountability for perpetrators of gross human rights violations.

Map of Liberia

Map of Liberia

A year ago, the commission submitted its final report recommending that President Sirleaf and other senior government and legislative officials be barred from holding political office for 30 years because of their roles in supporting the civil war.

Commissioner Massa Washington said is obligated to pay the arrears.

“Last year, before we handed in the unedited report of the commission on 30 June, we had allotment in the national budget for our wrap-up period of the commission’s work. That period was extending from July to August. The TRC mandate gives room for that. So, that money was due before the mandate was over. So, they need to pay not only the salaries of commissioners and staff, but they also need to pay vendors,” she said.

Washington said the commission needs the money to complete the body’s years of work. Not paying the back wages would put the commission’s work limbo.

She said the commission has exhausted every avenue to get the government to meet its obligation, including bringing the matter to the president’s attention, as well as the International Contact Group on Liberia, the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union.

“If you look at the release that actually went out this evening, it actually gave a chronology of the steps that had been taken to address this issue. We even met with the president in November of last year and she assured us that everything was going to be done to resolve the matter,” Washington said.

She reiterated that the government’s failure to meet its financial obligation to the commissioners and their staff is politically-motivated.

Washington cited public comments by Finance Minister Ngafuan criticizing the commission’s final report and the commissioners who signed the report.

“We know the government has spent a lot of time and resources trying to disparage the report. Of course, at this point in time, when we have exhausted all other means of trying to get our money out of there, it is only natural that one would believe that this is political. Or else, what would be the reason? Almost one year (later), they are finding the money for things that they want to do, but apparently the TRC is not a priority,” she said.

But, Acting Information Minister Norris Tweah told VOA the government does not owe the TRC back salaries because the mandate of the commission ended as of 30 June, 2009.

“There’s absolutely no political motivation. Why would the government refuse to pay former commissioners of the TRC? We paid them; we don’t owe them. If you add the three extra months that they took for severance pay then, technically, we overpaid them,” he said.

Tweah said, if the former TRC commissioners feel that the Liberian government owes them salary arrears, then they should bring the claims to the government.

But, in its statement released Wednesday night, the TRC said it had done everything possible, including a meeting with President Sirleaf, to get the government to pay the compensation.

The Commission called on President Sirleaf to make good on her promise by paying the salaries arrears.

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