Recent developments in Liberia suggest that the decision of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) to officially bring a close to its security mandate in the country was based on the resolve of the citizenry to cleave to peace and stability against all odds, rather than on what appears to be a “doubtful assurance” that the Liberian government is prepared to take charge.
Less than two weeks after UNMIL officially transferred security responsibility to the Liberian government at a grand ceremony in Monrovia where the preparedness of the government resonated from both UNMIL and government officials, the entire national security sector went into disarray over salary arrears of law enforcement officers.
Officers from the Liberia National Police (LNP), Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) and others had not taken pay for three months, this going on even during the last days of the UNMIL mandate, even though the UN Mission insisted that the government was prepared.
Disenchanted officers of these security agencies began plans to take to the streets if their salaries were forth coming. Officers of the Armed Forces of Liberia (AFL) were partly affected though they are now being paid.
At the UNMIL turning over ceremony held at the Monrovia City Hall on July 1, UNMIL head Farid Zarif told the gathering that Liberia is now prepared to handle its security responsibilities. This was also echoed by the Liberian authorities in the hearing of top government officials from the three branches of government, members of the diplomatic and consular corps, and the UN family.
President Sirleaf described the ceremony as an acknowledgement of the work and progress made by her government since 2006 to ensure a stable and peaceful country.
“We have waited for this day for a long time and we knew that it would come. This is why we have been working along with our international partners to ensure that we prepared ourselves for this day.”
With the many problems that beset the security sector, President Sirleaf cleverly posited to the country that the security of the Liberian state rests with Liberians themselves. “Only we can protect this peace that UNMIL has given us,” she admonished as she called on Liberians to work together to ensure that the peace is protected by all. “We should not only rely on the security (agencies), but each and every one of us has our inputs and we must be committed to this cause,” she added, although this cannot be the case when government seems to not be fulfilling its side of the bargain.
Amid the much heralded preparedness, GOL and UNMIL are aware of the severe budgetary constraints. While UNMIL has a $344 million annual budget with manpower of just 3745 uniformed personnel and a few civilian staff, Liberia’s draft national budget 2016/2017 aims at $90 million for the entire security sector — if the powers that be approve. The LNP, which is the largest state security group in terms of personnel, may only see US$15 million.
Of this amount, 90 percent is for personnel salaries leaving roughly US$1.5 million from the LNP’s total allotment for police operations. Meanwhile the LNP has been left to fill the lion’s share of the void left by UNMIL.
Liberia’s armed forces stand at 2,050 personnel, along with 5,170 police, according to a UN report released in March 2016. A Senior UNMIL in the country recently admitted at a media conference that the international community has invested a lot in the country, especially in the security sector, but tangible results are yet to be realized.
By contrast, UNMIL had 3,745 uniformed personnel as at March 2016, comprising 2,592 troops, 71 military observers and 1,082 police, although this entire number would drop below 2,000 at the end of the mission, the UN also said.
The same UN report even described the precarious LNP financial situation as “exceptionally constrained,” especially at a time when “the country faces critical security and democratic transitions,” even when in the same breath UNMIL was saying that the government is prepared.
“There is no money in the budget for operations and other programs that are supposed to enable us to adequately carry out our functions in the absence of UNMIL. How are we expected to secure the state,” a ranking police officer confided to the Daily Observer. The logistical constraints of the police are even severe as there are no vehicles for patrols in the various communities to prevent crime.
“One million for operations nationwide is too small and the LNP does not even have vehicles for patrols and this is disturbing. How do they expect us to get to the crime scenes?” the officer asked.
Many of the LNP depots across the country are dilapidated and not even equipped. Many of them are in darkness at night with officers using candle light to register cases. Officers even ask complainants to facilitate the transport of suspects to depots or courts.
Although faced with huge logistical deprivations, Liberian security forces, especially the LNP, still have a less-than-impressive reputation among a public that believes the police gives priority to those who can provide them with money to facilitate interventions.
They are also hampered by very low salaries and a majority of them are not armed, even rendering officers vulnerable to armed attacks. Another uphill task is for Liberia to ensure security along its porous borders with Ivory Coast, Guinea and Sierra Leone, which are also emerging from years of civil conflicts. Liberians are yet to know how these situations would be resolved.
With these latest developments within the security sector, Liberians have begun to wonder whether UNMIL turned over security responsibilities because the government is actually ready or the mission’s operational funds are exhausted and they have to leave.
The ranking police officer even told the Daily Observer that since 2006, GOL hasn’t provided a single uniform for the LNP. This brings about the question as to how could the police be respected by the citizenry when they are so shabbily dressed? “Why would President Sirleaf not give the
LNP uniforms in ten years?” It is understood that uniforms have been provided to the LNP over the years by various partners. The Sirleaf Administration’s failure to provide LNP officers, which seems to be the least of the many tasks, since its inception, however proves how unprepared the government is to handle national security.