Helping Chairman Gyude Bryant With His New Year’s Resolution: Disclose Monthly Salaries and Allowances of Government Officials

By William E. Allen, Ph.D.



The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia

December 28, 2004

Chairman Gyude Bryant
Customarily during the first days of the New Year, people tend to make resolutions about turning over a new leaf, doing away with improper behavior. It is in light of this thinking, that a story I read while conducting my dissertation research a few years ago seems suddenly relevant. The article, entitled What People Earn and Eat in Liberia, was published in 1878 and included the annual salaries of a number of government officials. For instance, the annual salary of President Anthony W. Gardner was $2,500; the Secretary of State’s annual salary was $1,000, the Secretary of the Treasury’s $1,000, the Attorney-General’s $750, and the Postmaster-General’s $750 (The African Repository, Vol. LIV, January 1878, No.1, page 14). What rekindled this more-than-century-old story in my mind was the upsurge in the news about Liberian officials stealing public funds. (See November and December stories in and It was the acknowledgment, however, by Liberian Interim Chairman Gyude Bryant that actually prompted me to muse about the connection between the 1878 article and the consistent reports of the embezzlement of public funds: the Chairman acquiesced to increasing international scrutiny and admitted (somewhat remorsefully) that his government cannot account for millions of dollars placed in its trust by the international community (, Dec. 14, 2004). Consistent with the spirit of contrition at the beginning of each year, the following is my proposal for a New Year’s Resolution for Chairman Bryant.

Apparently there was a hint of regret in the tone of Chairman Bryant’s confession, especially his reported pledge to immediately institute “prudent fiscal management.” If the Chairman truly regrets the misappropriation of public money and would like to put an end to this unconscionable pilfering, he can begin by disclosing his monthly salary - and allowances - along with those of the senior and junior members in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government. In other words, the Bryant Government should make a full disclosure to the public of how much salary each government official earns. This should be his New Year’s Resolution to the Liberian people, whom are the victims of this massive fraud. The 1878 story suggests that the public announcement of government employees’ salaries was a common practice. However, this custom seems to have become rarer during the William Tubman presidency (1944-1971). By the time of the administrations of Samuel Doe (1980-1991) and Charles Taylor (1998-2003), the public could barely distinguish between an official’s salary and funds entrusted to his or her care. These two presidents further blurred the line by escalating a previous corrupt practice, whereby officials would use public funds to make “personal donations” of thousands of dollars to their supporters.

The practice of siphoning public money into private accounts is deeply entrenched in Liberia’s political culture, a fraud that seems to rise exponentially with each successive presidency. Thus, access to information about how much money the president or a cabinet minister takes home will not end the embezzlement of public funds per se. Nonetheless, this kind of openness will embolden Liberians to be more vigilant. While the declaration of public officials’ incomes did not eliminate their proclivity to steal government money in the past, restoring this custom this time around will contribute to the transparency that Chairman Bryant has promised. This is so primarily because the extant political environment is more likely to tolerate the new found freedom that an intrusive Liberian press and a nosy populace are savoring; in the past, the Liberian press and the government basically spoke with one and the same voice. Therefore, if Chairman Bryant is sincere about halting the unbridled theft of public money (and it sounds like he wants to) then let him take this small (but necessary) step, and tell Liberians how much he and other public servants earn or are allowed to use each month. This will empower Liberians to probe into what appears to be the iffy sources of income that have allowed officials to live far beyond their legitimate means.

The public is bound to become suspicious, when government officials are capable of maintaining a lavish lifestyle at a time when the infrastructure (e.g., schools and hospitals) cannot be restored, at least, to its prewar capacity due to the lack of money. One must wonder how, for instance, a number of officials can construct new homes and comfortably support two households on both sides of the Atlantic. What is even more intriguing is that prior to employment in the government, many of these officials were literally paupers, scurrying to make ends meet at home and abroad. Declaring their salaries will greatly enhance the transparency that Chairman Bryant has pledged and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan urged a few days ago (UN News Service, December 23, 2004).

Public access to information about the incomes or the allowances of public servants was evidently commonplace in the past, as demonstrated in the 1878 publication. But lately this information has been shrouded in secrecy. It is this secrecy that is, in turn, contributing to the misuse of public money. Under growing pressure from the UN, Chairman Gyude Bryant capitulated and conceded that his administration misapplied millions of dollars of the public money. Now the Chairman must demonstrate that he is genuinely conscience-stricken about the embezzlement of public funds and is sincere about instituting “prudent fiscal management.” A good beginning is for him to disclose how much salary and allowances he and other officials take home each month. This should be the New Year’s Resolution of his government to a very skeptical Liberian population.

About the author: Dr. William E. Allen teaches history at Georgia Perimeter College in Atlanta, Georgia.