AUSTERITY

George Weah is trying to kick-start a pay-cut revolution for Liberia’s highly-paid political class

Quartz africa
Quartz africa

Even though it is one of Africa’s poorest countries, being a highly placed Liberian lawmaker or cabinet members is a lucrative gig. But that could soon change. New president George Weah may have set the ball rolling for reduction in government salaries by taking a 25% pay-cut himself.

Weah says he’s taking the pay-cut due to the “rapidly deteriorating situation of the economy” and the savings will go to a national development fund. The proactive move is part of Weah’s quick start in office after also quickly appointing a cabinet following his inauguration two weeks ago. The former soccer star Weah pulled off a resounding victory in run-off elections in December and succeeded Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as Liberia saw its first democratic transfer of power in 44 years.

Weah’s decision to take a pay-cut goes against the grain in a country where lawmakers earn obscene wages in comparison to regular citizens. While a majority of Liberians live on less than $2 per day, Liberian lawmakers earn a $12,000 monthly salary according to some estimates. At that rate, Liberian lawmakers earn more than British members of parliament and almost as much as Nigeria’s highly-paid lawmakers.

Some independent reports have claimed that each Liberian lawmaker can earn up to $200,000 a year (pdf), once you include bonuses for extras like power generators, phone bills and internet.

The generous compensation is in stark contrast to the reality for a majority of Liberians given the country’s 54.1% poverty rate. As the country still recovers from a long civil war period and the impact of a short, but devastating, Ebola outbreak in 2014, youth unemployment has persisted while corruption in the public sector remains rampant despite the efforts of Weah’s predecessor.

Weah’s pay-cut is in line with his campaign rhetoric as an outsider of Liberia’s political establishment but despite that stance, there’s no guarantee that the lawmakers will be as willing to be austere as the new president. Indeed, just last year, a proposal to reduce senators’ salaries by 25% was met with opposition from several lawmakers. Weah might even face some opposition within his cabinet. Last year while serving as a senator, Weah’s new vice-president Jewel Taylor advocated for a salary increase for lawmakers.

Correction: This story erroneously stated that a majority of Liberians live on less than $2 annually instead of per day. That has been corrected.

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