Africa-Press – Liberia. The National Housing Authority (NHA), through its Managing Director Madam Celia Cuffy Brown appears to be defiant over the reinstatement of 118 employees whose employment contracts were illegally suspended, and the payment of their 11-months salary arrears owed by the entity, in keeping with a mandate from the Ministry of Labour.
It can be recalled that on December 18, 2019, the management of the NHA suspended the permanent employment contracts of about 118 employees for time indefinite without salary, on grounds that the entity was faced with financial constraints and consequently unable to maintain the workers for now.
But on April 13, 2021, the aggrieved employees, through the Weah and Associate Law Offices filed a formal complaint against the NHA to the Ministry of Labour seeking its intervention.
In their complaint filed, the aggrieved workers claimed that the NHA illegally suspended their employment, depriving them of their just monthly salaries. They termed the management’s alleged action not to pay their over 11-months each salary arrears as “gross abuse of power and bad labour practice”.
They pointed out that the alleged decision taken by the authorities of the NHA has left them and their respective families “destitute as every effort by them to return to work, as well as to receive their salary arrears has proven futile and their plights continue to be ignored by the management”.
FrontPage Africa managed to obtain a copy of the investigative report from the Ministry of Labour on the claims raised by the aggrieved NHA workers. The report was signed by the Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs and Social Dialogue, Hon. Gonsan-Zeo Mensah and Deputy Labour Minister for Man Power and Planning, Hon. Hannah M. Karbo.
The report disclosed that the aggrieved workers of the NHA produced evidence copies of the letters suspending their employment contracts under the signatures of one Mr. Kofa Konworo, Human Resource Manager, and Celia Cuffy Brown, Managing Director.
It pointed out that following the presentation of the complaint filed by the aggrieved workers, Madam Brown was invited for a conference on at least four occasions.
According to the report, Madam Brown never attended any of the meetings or provided an excuse although the letters sent from the Ministry of Labour were duly served and received by her entity.
“On May 10, 2021, the third letter was sent from the office of the Assistant Minister for Trade Union Affairs and Social Dialogue, Hon. Gonsan-Zeo Mensah, following the transfer of the case to his office, with a warning that should NHA fails to attend the conference, the ministry will proceed with the matter, take evidence from the aggrieved workers and make determination of the case in management’s absent”, the report maintained.
The report emphasized that though the fourth and final letter was sent from the same Assistant Minister to Madam Brown on July 19, 2021, she failed to attend again.
It noted that following her repeated failure to attend to the called and scheduled meetings, the “in-house Legal Counsel of the NHA, Attorney Varfee Siryon, came to the ministry on August 17, 2021, and conceded that the entity did suspended the employment contracts of the complainants and was also indebted to them for 11 months each.
The report quoted Atty. Siryon as saying that the “NHA is willing to negotiate an installment plan to settle the salary arrears owed to the aggrieved workers”.
In its findings, the Ministry of Labour pointed out that there is no provision in the Decent Work Act of 2015 which provides for suspension of employment contracts of any class (definite or indefinite.
Instead, when an entity faced with financial difficulties or a company or entity is restructuring, closing down among others, its management may terminate employment via redundancy and accordingly pay the affected employees severance pay at four weeks for each completed year of service in keeping with Chapter 14, Section 14.5 of the Decent Work Act, the report maintained.
It indicated that the letters from the NHA suspending the employment contracts of the aggrieved workers cite financial constraints as the reason for the suspensions, but in such a case, the proper cause of action is to take recourse to the provisions of Section 14.5 of the Decent Work Act cited above and not to suspend the employment of the workers.
“Wherefore, and in view of the facts, evidence and circumstance of this case, and above all, the controlling statute, it is the informed and carefully considered determination of this Ministry (of Labour) that the suspension of the employment contracts of the 118 employees of the National Housing Authority (NHA) by the management is flawed, wrongful and illegal, and same is hereby so declared”.
The Ministry mandates authorities of the NHA to reinstate the 118 employees whose employment contracts were illegally suspended. It orders the NHA to also pay the affected employees for the number of months their employments were illegally suspended no later than November 30, 2021, and pay their 11 months salary arrears no later than September 30, 2021.
Already the September 30 deadline given by the ministry has since elapsed, with no real interest being shown by Madam Cuffy Brown to ensure that the arrears are settled.
Speaking in an interview with FrontPage Africa in Monrovia recently, the Spokesperson of the aggrieved workers, Mr. Joseph Kai claimed that life has become very unbearable for them since the management of the NHA downsized them.
According to him, few of his colleagues have died as a result of frustration, while others are suffering from different illnesses, including pressure since the pronouncement of the suspension of their employment contracts was made by the NHA. Mr. Kai noted that though the date given for their reinstatement has elapsed, Madam Brown remains adamant towards the mandate from the ministry.
He added that in the wake of severe hardship as a result of the harsh economic constraints, the delay or failure of the NHA authorities to pay them their just benefits and have them reinstated is creating serious embarrassment to them and their respective family members.
He said as the commencement of the next academic year draws nearer, the aggrieved NHA workers have no hope of sending their children to school due to the lack of finances and job opportunities. Mr. Kai pointed out that most of his colleagues have turned to beggars in their respective communities due to the current situation.
“Though Labour Ministry rules in favor of us, Madam Celia Cuffy Brown is yet to honor that ruling. If they do not want us, they should pay us off so we can go. But they can’t say they are suspending our employments. They have not called us up to present since the ruling from the ministry”.
“We have been faced with lot of difficulties and we are not even sure that our children will be in school this year; they will be looking at their friends going to school while they are sitting home. Sometimes to even get food to eat or pay rent-it’s very hard. We are begging people now to help us and four of our friends have died in this process”.
He claimed that relatives and other closed associates of Madam Cuffy-Brown have already been hired to occupy similar positions they were holding at the NHA.
Mr. Kai, however, vowed to rally his colleagues and others to stage a peaceful demonstration before the offices of President George Manneh Weah if the NHA fails to pay their arrears and guarantee their reinstatement.
Laying Blame on MFFP In a chat with FrontPage Africa via whatsapp, Madam Cuffy-Brown blamed the situation on the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning.
She bragged of making strides at the entity in the wake of numerous challenges. She accused FPA of launching a smear campaign to tarnish her reputation.
“How do we pay them? They are not on Ministry of Finance Payroll. They were never on payroll. So, from where do I get funding to pay them? God knows the truth, so you are welcome to write whatsoever you want to write. Instead of asking Ministry of Finance to pay those employees as NHA payroll is funded by Ministry of Finance, you target to tarnish the reputation of people like us who continue to make head ways despite challenges. If you decide to continue your smear campaign, please continue”.
In an apparent warning to this writer, Madam Brown further bragged of not being an ordinary woman. “Some of us are not ordinary people. Be careful what you put in the public sphere concerning us. You better be careful”.
“I met this situation at NHA. If you are interested in the truth of the matter, than come help me so you know the truth. NHA does not have her own payroll, so there are no way my friends and family can be hired by me. CSA does all hiring. And even if I employed my friends and family, are they not Liberians? Don’t waste your time on me. There is no meat on any of your stories on me”, she among other things stated.
Government officials disrespecting mandates from their colleagues assigned at various ministries, agencies and other autonomous entities is becoming common in present day Liberia.
Most government officials downplay mandates or violate rules, regulations and laws and go with impunity due to their proximity to the presidency or other high-ups in government. Controversies Since she came into prominence in 2018, Madam Cuffy Brown has been involved into series of controversies.
In February 2018, while serving as Acting Managing Director of the National Port Authority following the inception of the CDC led-government, Madam Brown claimed to have found a voodoo which contained a “bag of dust (whether dead human dust, remains to be said) with gamble seed [cowry], tied with red thread and porcupine pail [porcupine quill], and was left in my office!”
She claimed that said voodoo may have been left in the office by her predecessor. In March 2018, she again justified her decision taken to employ three brothers of President George Manneh Weah as Consultants at the gateway to the country’s economic.
They all bear the last name Weah and were hired to positions inside the scope of existing jobs already occupied at the NPA. They were also paid lucrative salaries at the time over qualified and competent Liberians at similar level.
“When I dedicated the place to the Lord, He revealed that what was not of Him was in the office. I prayed, asking the Lord to reveal it. The Lord did!”
Cuffy-Brown crossed carpet to the leading opposition political party at the latter stage of the 2017 elections campaign as the Coalition for Democratic Change crusaded against nepotism, waste, and abuse of power amongst several other missteps by its predecessor.
It remains unclear whether or not Madam Cuffy-Brown, who is considered as one of the top bras in the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) led-government, will adhere to the mandate from Ministry of Labour on the matter involving the aggrieved workers who employment contracts, she “illegally” suspended.