Commercial drivers and others traveling along the Red-Light-Ganta Highway have begun complaining again about extortion by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) assigned with the Highway Patrol team.
It may be recalled that at the end of 2016, there were reports of an increase of LNP checkpoints along the highway and officers were reported to be harassing commercial drivers. The report, published in this newspaper, led the government at the time to dismantle those illegal checkpoints, thereby leaving travelers passing through the Salala, Gbarnga and Ganta gates free of harassment by LNP officers.
The Daily Observer last week and also early this week, observed that commercial vehicles from Kakata and Monrovia were ordered parked, with drivers requested to walk along with LNP officers and out of hearing of passengers, to pay bribe to police.
During a vehicle trip by a Daily Observer staff last week, a commercial driver explained that, “sometimes, there can be no reason for parking our cars, but just to pay what those officers will charge. I just paid L$75 to get out of the officers’ sight.”
LNP highway patrol vehicles were seen parked between 15-Gate and Kakata, where about five police officers stood directing traffic and speaking to drivers in separate locations.
While en route to Monrovia yesterday, April 9, the Land Cruiser Jeep that brought our staff was ordered parked, with the driver asked to disembark. However, the driver was later allowed to go because of the presence of an officer of the Police Support Unit (PSU) on board the vehicle.
“These men [LNP police officers] are just here exploiting us on this road. People will have every document for their cars, but they will have us parked just to collect money from us,” the driver complained.
The PSU officer (not named), who boarded the vehicle in Kakata, said, “those guys leave their duties at the central office to come along the highway just to extort money from drivers. They come here from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every day and when they are leaving, they take with them two to three plastic bags full of money.”
Passengers on board the vehicle could not also hesitate to react as any expense incurred by a driver has an adverse consequence on them.
A male passenger said, “Those men will surely make George Weah to appear bad to the people. When they continue this act, more young people will join the police to assign themselves in the public to steal, while others will go in the army to retaliate on police officers who will inflict pains on them and their relatives.”
The passenger went on to say that a similar lawless behavior was what happened during Charles Taylor’s regime and that nothing would change.
The transport fare from Red Light to Ganta is L$800 on a taxi cab, while L$600 is paid on mini and large buses. The fares were previously determined by prices of petroleum products in line with the exchange rate between the United States and Liberian dollars.
According to a taxi cab operator popularly known as “Least Polo,” drivers also include in fares expenses they pay to police and immigration officers, which determines what passengers pay at the end of the day.
When police spokesperson Moses Carter was contacted yesterday afternoon, he said checkpoints along the highway are legitimate and in accordance with the LNP’s own strategy.
Carter however said the issue of harassment and extortion has not come to the attention of the LNP authority, and therefore he cannot comment on it. He however promised that police would conduct their own investigation to ascertain the truth as to how officers assigned on the Highway Patrol Team are engaged in harassment or extortion of money from commercial drivers.