Dr. William Allen
It has been nearly two weeks since I read the story about the bonus that the Board of Directors of the Liberian Petroleum Refining Corporation awarded Managing Director Harry Greaves and itself (FrontPageAfrica, 07/11/07). My immediate reaction was to write this article. However, I decided to wait: In the past, Mr. Greaves has accused the news media of printing untrue stories about him. As of the time of this writing, the Managing Director has not challenged the story. I am therefore writing this article under the assumption that the story about the bonus is accurate. In my opinion the LPRC bonus is an outrage: the Board gave $10,000 to Mr. Greaves, $5,000 to the Chair, and $4,000 to each of its members. (All the amounts mentioned in the article are in United States Dollars.) The additional amount of $10,000 income raises Mr. Greaves’s reported monthly salary of $1,600 to about $2,433 (excluding free gasoline and any other unmentioned benefits).
Here is the outrage. The bonus, which increases Mr. Greaves’s monthly income by an astonishing 52 percent or $833, comes at a time when the vast majority in Monrovia and the rest of the country is struggling to live on just $2 to $3 a day, that is, less than $100 a month. Mr. Greaves is also enjoying this hefty 52 percent raise at a time when the government cannot find the money to provide essential services like healthcare and clean drinking water to the vast majority. Moreover, Mr. Greaves’s $833 monthly windfall comes at a time when the average monthly income of civil servants, teachers, nurses, and the police is barely $200, an income that cannot cover essential living cost like buying food and clothes and paying rent and children tuition. Finally, Mr. Greaves’s 52 percent bonus comes at a time when the crumbling infrastructure that the government inherited (e.g., roads, bridges, hospitals, and schools) remains in serious disrepair due to scarcity of funds. It is against this background that I consider the bonus an absolute outrage, an unconscionable selfish act.
As shown above, no matter what national socioeconomic index (es) one uses, the bonus is inconsistent with Liberia’s economic reality of chronic scarcity and crumbling infrastructure. Two recent stories in the Daily Observer are further evidence of the absurdity of giving bonus to a select few (even if it includes the entire workforce of LPRC) at a time of national economic austerity. According to the Daily Observer, Phebe Hospital located outside of Gbarnga, which probably treats the largest number of patients except for JFK in Monrovia, might be forced to close or reduce its services and workforce by half: the House of Representatives pruned Phebe's budget from $600,000 to $300,000 (liberianobserver.com; July 20, 07). In the second story (July 23), students at the government-owned A. M. Dogliotti Medical School are experiencing what the paper calls “shameful neglect,” as they are without basic essentials like instructional supplies and electricity.
Both stories have important ramifications for Liberia’s economic future. The reduction of services by half at a major healthcare delivery center like Phebe Hospital means that fewer patients will receive treatment. One can expect the already alarmingly high national mortality rate stemming from childhood killer diseases such as malaria, neonatal tetanus, and acute respiratory infection to rise significantly. Also, the “shameful neglect” at Dogliotti Medical School will, among other things, discourage students from pursuing a career in medicine. Consequently, it is unlikely that the number of doctors in Liberia, reported at twenty-five in 2001, has seen any noteworthy increase as a result of new graduates from Dogliotti entering the profession. This means that with twenty-five or so doctors and most concentrated in Monrovia and other urban centers, the mass of the population in the rural area is less likely to have access to professional medical care.
All together, the downsizing of the budget at Phebe and the continual shortage of medical doctors, point to one crucial economic statistics: life expectancy, a key index of a nation’s economic progress (or lack thereof). Life expectancy is the average number of years that people are likely to live. The healthier people are, the longer they tend to live and work, and as a result, contribute to the gross national product and to economic growth. Therefore, it is no coincidence that nations enjoying economic prosperity have very high life expectancies than those with poor economies: the average Liberian is projected to live for only 35 years (down from 55 years in 1980) compared to, say, an American who will reach the ripe old age of approximately 77 years.
This dismal healthcare situation is just one reason why the LPRC bonus is an absolute outrage. With such critical financial shortage at public service institutes like Phebe Hospital and the Dogliotti Medical School, how can a public corporation justify doling out extra cash to itself to the tune of at least $25,000 annually? Managing Director Harry Greaves, who received the lion’s share of the bonus, provided this explanation: because under his leadership LPRC earned a profit of $4.5 million dollars, he is entitled to the extra $10,000. Mr. Greaves’s explanation raises a number of very important questions. Let us assume that the turnaround at LPRC was indeed exceptional, that is, it could not have occurred under a mediocre manager like Edwin Snowe. Did President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf not hire Mr. Greaves because she was convinced he was the most efficient person to turn LPRC around? Under our merit system, if Mr. Greaves fails to make LPRC profitable he would simply be replaced with someone more capable. Essentially then, when Mr. Greaves made LPRC productive (i.e., the $4.5 million profit) he was just doing the job the president (along with the Liberian people) expects him to do: nothing more, nothing less. Furthermore, he is already being handsomely paid to perform this job, that is, to make LPRC profitable. According to Liberian standard, Mr. Greaves’s annual official salary of $19,200 (not including the dubious bonus) puts him in the privileged company of a very select few: the ordinary Liberian will never earn $19,200 throughout his or her entire life.
Another question that comes to mind when Mr. Greaves justifies his bonus on the grounds that he generated profits, concerns the age-old debate about whether services that produce cash (such as Mr. Greaves’s $4.5 million profit) have greater value than those that provide social benefits (e.g., nurse saving patients). Mr. Greaves’s response suggests that his profit is more valuable to society than the social benefit that accrued from other services such as those provided by nurses or teachers. Can one assign a monetary value to the successful jobs that ordinary Liberians such as nurses and teachers are constantly doing? Every day nurses and teachers are doing just what Mr. Greaves accomplished at LPRC: doing the job they were hired to do. Would it not be almost silly, for example, if nurses demanded a salary increase of 52 percent every time they cure a child stricken with deadly malaria or if teachers requested similar raise because they graduated more students in one school year?
Mr. Greaves put a monetary value on his accomplishment, but can he quantify the accomplishment of that nurse (making barely $200), whose training and care saved the dying child? Or can he place a dollar value on the service of that elementary school teacher in rural Liberia earning less than $100, whose students are now attending college or have become engineers? No he cannot because the success of the nurse and the teacher is invaluable, priceless, that is, no amount of money can adequately measure its worth. In my view, the service of nurses (saving lives) and teachers (training the leaders of tomorrow) is a far more meaningful investment in Liberia’s socioeconomic future than the millions Mr. Greaves generated. Remember, history shows that Mr. Greaves’s $4.5 million profit at LPRC might contribute absolutely nothing to Liberia’s poor masses: that money could very well end up in some private account in a foreign bank, as so much of Liberia’s funds have done in the past.
Besides nurses and teachers, many other Liberians make essential contributions and do not receive bonus for doing so. So, the LPRC bonus is an absolute outrage. What is even more outrageous is Mr. Greaves’s suggestion that he deserves it more than any other government employee. Civil servants keep the massive government bureaucracy functioning; without them government employees, including Mr. Greaves, would not receive their monthly checks. Imagine the consequences: massive demonstrations for pay that would close government offices, hospitals, and police stations, etc. Therefore, ordinary Liberians are just as resourceful as Mr. Greaves in performing their duties. Hence, the so-called bonus is a serious misappropriation of public money at a time of grave financial crisis. In fact, the extra income that the LPRC Board meted out to itself and to Mr. Greaves is not a “bonus.” Usually employees received bonus only when they performed “above and beyond” their normal assigned duties. Making corporations productive is the normal and obvious duty of all managing directors. This is why those who failed to make their corporations productive are quickly fired and replaced. (Accordingly, I expect Mr. Greaves to be promptly dismissed if LPRC is unproductive.) Finally, Mr. Greaves is right in that corporations tend to award “bonus” to successful CEO’s in the developed world. What he forgot to mention, however, is that this practice is common in private enterprises, not public corporations. Moreover in recent times, awarding bonus to CEO’s in private corporations has come under heated criticism from the American public, with some CEO’s hefty “bonus” being drastically reduced by federal regulators.
The government must put and end to this outrage that is being erroneously called “bonus.” It is unclear how widespread the “bonus” is among the twenty-two public corporations. If this “bonus” or rather misappropriation is common, then an enormous amount of public money is being misused under the guise of rewarding competency. For example, if one uses the base figure of $25,000, the minimum annual “bonus” at LPRC as a standard, then a grand total of $550,000 is being drained from the public coffers yearly. That is over half-a-million-dollars, an amount that could be applied immediately to improve healthcare, education, and roads, among other pressing national priorities. Hopefully, the other public corporations are not awarding themselves dubious “bonus” as LPRC. I certainly expect the government to abolish the outrage, the so-called “bonus” that awarded $833 (a salary increase of 52 percent) to Mr. Harry Greaves; for this “bonus” suggests a serious lack of concern on the part of the government for the struggling majority, including civil servants, nurses, and teachers, whose monthly income is barely $200.
About the author:
William E. Allen, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of History, Department of History & Philosophy at Kennesaw State University. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
2007 by The Perspective
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