As the Christmas and New Year seasons approach, commercial drivers have complained about increasing extortion by police officers who have set up two checkpoints at the entrance to the city of Kakata.
During investigations, Daily Observer reporters witnessed police officers from the Kakata Police Detachment assigned at the checkpoints, without fear seizing documents and licenses from commercial drivers under the pretext of carrying out vehicle inspection. And once the drivers had ‘greased their palms’ (paid bribes) with their demands, their documents and licenses were readily returned to them and they were allowed to continue with their journeys.
Dasco Mantian, a passenger, told this newspaper that their vehicle was detained and it was later released when the driver paid some cash to the officers at the checkpoint.
“We spent two hours at the checkpoint, though the vehicle’s documents, including the driver’s license had no problem,” he said.
The Daily Observer reporter also saw several cars ordered to park off the road to go through what a driver said was a process of extortion.
“They will deliberately ask for the vehicle’s documents and then a driver’s license. Once they are in the hands of a police officer, the next is paying them to get your legal documents back,” he said.
There are four police checkpoints from Kakata to the Bong Mines and Firestone Roads. Two additional checkpoints are located on the main highway to BWI or Gbarnga.
Immigration officers are also working alongside the police officers during their inspections.
“We don’t grant interviews to press,” an officer, who did not want to be identified, said. “We make sure that there are not two passengers at the front of these vehicles.” He did not comment on allegations of officers extorting money from drivers.
But not aware of a journalist on a vehicle, an officer who had insisted that there should not be two persons on the passenger side of the driver, later, after his palms were greased with money, allowed the two passengers to return to their previous position and the driver drove away.
Owing to such a practice, drivers have increased transportation fares to be able to cover their losses, a driver told the Daily Observer.
One of the drivers told this newspaper that the fare has to be increased, because of the increased number of checkpoints and the demand from police officers for money.
The pavement of the Monrovia – Ganta highway brought the cost of transportation down from L$1000 to L$600 in taxis, which has now increased to L$700.
Buses were taking passengers for L$350, but now L$500; and passengers who travel on the National Transport Authority (NTA) bus pay L$400.
“Are we still fighting war?” a lady traveler who appeared tired asked. “Why are all these checkpoints on the roads? What are they looking for?”
Despite these checkpoints, another group of police officers in a vehicle patrolling the highway deliberately created mobile checkpoints targeting commercial drivers.
Interestingly, the police don’t target private vehicles and vehicles owned by international NGOs.
Meanwhile, an official at the Liberia National Police (LNP) in Monrovia said while the LNP is not aware of the report, it will carry out investigations to ascertain the veracity of the claims by commercial drivers.