Commercial drivers in Bong County on Monday, November 26, staged an early hour strike action, demanding the “reduction in vehicle registration fees and the illegal removal of check points by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) on major highways, especially at night hours.”
A spokesperson for the commercial drivers’ union, Philip Kwenah, told a community radio station that during the administration of the past government, drivers used to pay US$150 for vehicle registration for commercial taxi and US$30 for driver’s license with a three- year expiration date; but at present, drivers pay US$190 as registration for commercial taxi and US$45 for license with only a two-year expiration date.
“We are hearing that the government is contemplating stepping up vehicle registration fees for a commercial taxi to US$240 which, we feel, will be detrimental to the survival of the drivers,” Mr. Kwenah said.
“Before, vehicle registration inspection was carried out once in a year, but from nearly every two months we have encountered inspection of vehicle registration every two weeks, something which the police are using as a cover up to harass tax paying drivers,” Kwenah said.
“The police usually collect our car documents from us under the pretext of inspecting our car documents, and the police will keep them until we give them money before they will release our vehicle documents to us,” some of the drivers alleged.
Drivers set roadblocks in an attempt to prevent commercial vehicles from leaving and coming to Gbarnga.
“Our strike will continue until the central government sees reason to reduce the vehicle registration fees, the drivers’ license registration and insurance fees and to also remove all illegal check points by police officers,” he said.
As a result of the strike action, commercial motorcyclists have hiked their fares and weekly markets around the highway have been suspended due to the strike action.
Investigations conducted by the Daily Observer established that the Jennepleeta and Gbonota weekly markets were not attended on Monday because of the situation, while travelers were stranded and motorcyclists, taking advantage of the situation, overcharged passengers from one point to another.
It was established by this newspaper that from Gbarnga to Phebe, which usually costs about L$150, was on Monday doubled to L$300 by motorcyclists and other private drivers.
Should the strike action persist, marketeers who have gone in the bush to buy pepper and bitter balls will have to contract private vehicles to bring them to the city.
The Regional Commander of the Liberia National Police for Bong, Nimba and Lofa counties Morris Teamah, who spoke on a radio station in Gbarnga, warned commercial drivers not to set roadblocks or they will face the full weight of the law, adding, “If you want to go on strike, it is your right to do so, but remember not to infringe on the rights of others. You want to strike, park your car at your house, but do not disturb other people’s free movement,” Commander Teamah warned.
Regarding constant harassment by police that use vehicle inspection as a cover-up to erect checkpoints on major highways, Teamah said the checkpoints were placed to deter criminals who are bent on terrorizing peaceful citizens at night.
But observers here, citing the armed robbery of a bank in Bopolu sited right next to a Police station whose officers did nothing to deter the robbers, have dismissed suggestions that the checkpoints serve to deter criminals who Police say are bent on terrorizing peaceful citizens at night. Were this the case, observers noted, the robbery of the bank would have been averted.