The Gongloe That I Know! By: J. Kortu Nyandibo/nyandibojoseph@gmail.com/0777024553/0888135310

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I have had the opportunity to serve under several distinguished sons and daughters of Liberia as Minister of Labour for the Republic of Liberia from 2001 to 2023 in the Division of Communications and Public Affairs of the Ministry.

Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe was one of those distinguished sons.

Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe served as one of the shortest-serving Labour Ministers during the two terms (12 years) of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s government, from 2009 to 2010. He took over from his friend and colleague, Human Rights Advocate Atty. Samuel Kofi Woods II, and continued with the reform process of the labor sector in Liberia, as initiated by Minister Woods.

Key among those initiatives were the drafting of a new Labor Law for Liberia, known as the Decent Work Act of Liberia, reviewing the Minimum Wage, and drafting an Employment Policy for Liberia. These initiatives were essential in restoring dignity and humanizing the Labor Sector in Liberia.

The old Labor Law of Liberia crafted in the 1960s, was estimated to be older than 60% of the working population at the time and did not conformed to several International Labor Standards and Human Rights Protocols. The Minimum Wage, which stood at US$0.25 per hour or US$2.00 per day, had outlived its usefulness and no longer conformed to the realities of the day, especially living conditions. Therefore, it required a review. The Country Employment Policy also needed a serious review to ensure that Liberians were provided with employment opportunities in their respective counties.

In 2010, under Minister Gongloe’s leadership, the Ministry of Labour submitted the current Labor Law of Liberia/Decent Work Act to the Legislature and made several appearances before that body to provide justification for the provisions of the law and the need for a new labor law in Liberia. Minister Gongloe and other officials of the Ministry also attended several Public Hearings and outreach programs on the then draft law.

However, the Legislature did not pass the Decent Work Act until June 2015, during the second term of President Sirleaf.

During as Director of Communications and Public Affairs, I had the opportunity to accompany Minister Gongloe to public functions, travels both in Montserrado County and other parts of the Country, inspections of workplaces, and meetings, among others. My roles as a media person on these functions were primarily to summarize and take notes of key points for the Minister’s report and for the purpose of issuing press releases and documentations.

My Experience Working with Minister Gongloe.

Internally: Minister Gongloe inherited three (3) senior vacant positions at the Ministry of Labour (Comptroller, Assistant Comptroller, and the Director of Procurement) as a result of those former senior officials’ crossing over to the Ministry of Public Works along with former Minister Woods.

He filled two of the positions (Comptroller and Director of Procurement) and asked the new Comptroller to search and identify someone he would be confident to work with as his Assistant, but warned that person must not be someone from Nimba County, as he the Comptroller was a Nimbaian.

Unlike other Ministers who normally effect a lot of changes, transfers, suspensions, and sometimes dismissals, Minister Gongloe once said, “We are all Liberians and have the right to work in the Country, especially with our Government. So, I don’t believe in pushing Liberians around in the workplace because everyone has a family to take care of, except for serious causes such as corruption and indiscipline behavior.”

True to his words, only one employee was dismissed during his tenure at the Ministry because of misrepresentation of the Ministry at the Exclusive Supermarket on Center Street.

Cllr. Gongloe proposed and defended before the legislature the 2010 Budget Hearing that Hearing Officers and Labor Commissioners, who were some of the least-paid employees at the Ministry, be paid at the level of Magistrates, as they were all involved in the litigation of cases. He argued that to ensure the proper handling of labor cases, Hearing Officers and Labor Commissioners must be well paid like Magistrates of the Judiciary.

Preference for Liberians in the Workplace:

During his administration, Minister Gongloe advocated for Tellers in Supermarkets, Sales Managers, Accountants, and Administrative Managers at business institutions must all be Liberians. As a means of enforcing his mandate, the Minister led a series of Labor Inspections across the Country and sometimes recommended the immediate replacement of foreigners found in those positions with Liberians.

In support of his quest to ensure that more Liberians are placed in jobs, Minister Gongloe issued a new Regulation known as “Regulation #17 of the Labor Law of Liberia,” increasing the annual fees for Alien Work Permits from US$450.00 to US$1000. This Regulation, intended to discourage business owners from hiring non-Liberians over Liberians, faced opposition from foreign business owners, especially the Indian and Lebanese communities.

It is believed that due to this new Regulation promulgated by Minister Gongloe and pressure from foreign business owners and their representatives, President Sirleaf transferred Minister Gongloe from the Ministry of Labour to the Ministry of Poster Affairs. No reasons were provided by the President for his removal from the Ministry of Labour and his transfer.

As a result of this Regulation, which increased annual Alien Work Permit fees, the Ministry of Labour has become a major revenue-generating entity for the government, contributing millions of dollars to Liberia’s National Budget annually.

Ensuring Discipline and Integrity in Labour Administration:

Additionally, Cllr. Gongloe, as Labour Minister, also fought to reduce corruption and promote discipline and integrity in labor administration in Liberia. These were some admirable actions put in place by Cllr. Gongloe as Labour Minister:

  1. He prohibited and discouraged employees of the Ministry from fronting for businesses and employment institutions, such as processing alien documents, among others. He attached penalties for employees caught engaging in such practices.
  2. He discouraged authorities and employees of the Ministry from sleeping or staying over in management facilities whenever they were visiting workplaces on Ministry assignments. He ensured that members of a Ministry delegation received their full allowances before departure to prevent the need to eat or sleep at management facilities.
  3. On several occasions, Cllr. Gongloe refused to have breakfast or lunch with management without representatives of workers’ presence when visiting workplaces or concession areas.
  4. He threatened to arrest and ensure the prosecution of anyone or management who attempted to offer him money for any reason. He even rejected seasonal gifts from businesses and ensured they were returned.
  5. He returned unused travel allowances and per-dimes.
  6. He rejected the listing of rice distribution presented for approval for the Christmas celebration by the Administration, on the grounds that he and other senior members of the management team were allotted more bags than lower-ranking employees. Instead, he recommended that all employees receive the same number of bags, stating that they were all employees and had families to take care of, and therefore should be treated equally.

Frustratingly, since the departure of Cllr. Gongloe from the Ministry of Labour, I can attest for free that all of these measures put in place by him have been abandoned and are no longer institutionalized at all levels. Fronting on behalf of foreign business owners is a common practice by some employees, from the janitors to some of the highest-ranking officials. Many senior staff members are found to be in bed with foreign business institutions. The rights of workers/complainants are not being protected and guaranteed with commitments and pronouncements by Ministers, because, after making sweet promises, Ministers are found to be acting otherwise.

In conclusion, despite the huge challenges faced by our Country in identifying credible and sincere public servants, especially those charged with the responsibilities to administer key functions of the government, there are still a few Liberians whom we can witness being by far better, clean and cleared of corruption, and committed to seeing that Liberia is viewed differently, both locally and internationally. Cllr. Tiawan Saye Gongloe, outside of politics, from my own experience of working with him, is a true son of Liberia. If provided the opportunity to occupy any positions of trust, he can institute discipline and integrity in the discharge of his mandate.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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