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War wounded decry ‘low pension’

By Fasalie Sulaiman Kamara

A rift has emerged within the ranks of retired soldiers classified as Wounded In Action (WIA) over payment of their monthly pension.

The ex-soldiers who got injured in action during the civil war and were forcefully retired, claimed that the pension they received, which was between Le50, 000 and Le150, 000 monthly, was not sufficient. And they had accused their elected leader of conniving with the Defence Ministry whom they suspected wasn’t inclined to address their plight.

On Monday the Office of National Security (ONS) aborted a planned protest by some of these men who had intended to assemble at the Defence Ministry. The ONS, in a statement over the week end, warned against any protest by the men and called for a meeting with their leaders.

According to the aggrieved former soldiers, the 1965 Military Act made no provision for addressing the issues of soldiers wounded in war. But in 2009 the Defence Ministry worked out a formula known as Enhanced Pension Scheme through which war wounded soldiers were supposed to be compensated. But they alleged that very few WIAs personnel had actually benefitted from that, which led them embarking on a media campaign.

Rtd Corporal Farma Jalloh, who was chairman of the WIA, said he championed that campaign. But along the way, Jalloh was himself accused by his men of conniving with Defence ministry officials. Because of this he was replaced with an interim leader, although he still claims to be the leader.

Thanks to their media campaign, parliament in 2010 ratified a law known as the ‘Enhanced Pension Act 2010’. Key highlights in that law include enhanced sustainability for WIAs and their families. It also includes scholarship for children, as well as medical allowances for the WIAs.

Rtd Corporal Mohamed Musa, the interim chairman, said they only learned about this from other sources because Jalloh didn’t want them to know.

“The ratification of the enhanced pension scheme was done in 2010, but we only came to know about it in 2014. The former chairman is no longer working in our interest,” Musa said, accusing Jalloh of serving as spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.

“Farma Jalloh has been speaking in public that government has paid all benefits to the War Wounded,” Musa lamented, adding that they had to undertake a vote of no-confidence against him which led to his selection as interim chairman.

But Jalloh insisted in an interview with Politico that he was still the chairman of the WIA.

“There is disagreement among us,” he admitted, but he said the problem was with the other faction of his group.

Jalloh said had it not been for his intervention the government would have paid the WIAs only the Le2 million as retirement benefit, without benefit.

“I am not working for the Defense Ministry, nor is it my fault that the Enhanced Pension Scheme has not been implemented”, he said.

In December 2015, the WIAs met with President Ernest Bai Koroma, according to Musa. He said the President assured them that he would look into their concerns.

Monday’s aborted demo, although they insisted it wasn’t supposed to be a demo, was meant as a reminder to the public and government of their continued sufferings.

At the meeting with the ONS they were advised to remain patient while their concerns were being looked into, Musa said.

“We were called this morning by the Office of National Security following leaked information that we wanted to strike. ONS has warned us against any strike action,” he said, adding that they were also assured of getting their pension benefit increased. Musa said they expected to return to the Defence Ministry today [Wednesday March 16] for verification.

Colonel Usman Turay, Director of Public Relations and Information at the Ministry of Defence, confirmed the enactment of the ‘Enhanced Pension Act’.  He said it doesn’t cover soldiers who retired before 2010, like those currently protesting.

The Defence Ministry spokesman however added that with the intervention of President Koroma, their complaints had been looked into for possible harmonisation. The President had sent the document to the ministry of Finance, he said.

Col Turay however warned that the Accountant General’s office might reject the resulting document because it was not statutory.

(C) Politico 17/03/16