Drivers of commercial vehicles have begun complaining again, about security personnel assigned along the Monrovia –Ganta Highway, about what they called “constant harassment.”
During a trip to Ganta over the weekend, commercial vehicles were seen parked along the roadside at a newly- created checkpoint after 15th Gate, and each driver asked to pay money in the range of L$50 and above before receiving permission to depart.
The driver of the vehicle in which a Daily Observer reporter was traveling en route to Ganta said the highway patrol police officers that installed the checkpoint expected to receive about L$100 from him, but he dropped L$50, quickly returned to his car and took off.
“I thought that the highway patrol was intended to control the speed of drivers while driving along the highway; but now our highway patrol team has installed a checkpoint in this place, only to be collecting money from us commercial drivers. Even though the price of gasoline is up, as the US dollar-rate climbs, the fact that security officers are also on the highway collecting money from us contributes to the skyrocketing fares commuters must pay,” the driver explained.
As commercial vehicles move along the road, drivers are compelled to drop money into the hands of security personnel of various security sectors, including Immigration, Police, and Drug Enforcement.
As was also witnessed at the Salala and Ganta checkpoints, officers were seen converging near commercial vehicles that were just arriving.
This was done under the pretext that they were inspecting, but as the driver puts money into each of their hands, the recipient turns around as others receive theirs. After all of them receive their toll, the gate is ordered opened for the drivers who have complied.
This practice on the part of security personnel assigned along the highway seems to have created a lucrative avenue, leading to more checkpoints being erected.
Currently there are seven checkpoints on the highway: three stable and four unstable ones. The stable ones include Salala Checkpoint, Gbarnga Iron Gate and the Ganta Checkpoint.
The unrecognized checkpoints complementing the stable ones include Mount Barclay checkpoint (Police control), Careysburg checkpoint (Police control), 15th Gate Highway Patrol checkpoint, and the Gbarnga Police Station checkpoint, erected from 7p.m. up to the rest of the night hours.
As drivers move to each of these checkpoints, they have a certain amount of money allotted for a security of each sector with the exception of the Armed Forces of Liberia that has no member assigned at any checkpoint in Liberia.
The condition of the road is relatively good now as intensive construction work is going on; however, passengers are charged L$1,000 from Monrovia to Ganta, and one of the conditions associated with the overcharging is the extortion of money from drivers.
What remains interesting is that inspection by security officers is restricted to commercial drivers and not extended to those vehicles that are bearing private or business plate.
As a vehicle with PC, NG, or BC appears, the gate is quickly opened without checking in to find out what is on the inside, or who is/are on board.
Drivers observe that more private vehicles do not carry license plates and are not bothered when they reach the checkpoint; but only commercial drivers undergo the stress associated with the inspection of documents and plates.
When one of the security sectors, the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) was contacted, the Press and Public Affairs Director Abraham Dorley acknowledged that extorting money from drivers is a violation under the Standard Operation procedure (SOP).
He said if such act is done as alleged, drivers and those concerned should contact the regional commander of Immigration or the county commander by writing a formal complaint, indicating the badge number of the officer involved.
According to him the institution will be able to take appropriate action, on the basis of the complaint and evidence provided. The necessary punishment under the law will be applied.
Police spokesperson Sam Collins, said he was going to seek information from the hierarchy of the Liberian National Police, (LNP) regarding the number of checkpoints that should be on the road.
While it is clearly evident that security personnel extort money from drivers along the highway and in the streets of Monrovia, drivers themselves contribute to the extortion this time by compromising with Traffic Police to bypass revenue structures.
Most of them overload their vehicles and some (vehicles) do not have view mirror and other basic parts for safety in the traffic.
Considered a violation under the Traffic Law, such drivers should be given tickets with a specific amount to pay as fine into government’s revenue. Instead, drivers pay a minimum to the police officer in charge, while the violation is ignored.
Meanwhile, the ongoing harassment and complaints are likely to spark up strike action like the one staged by drivers, two years ago.
It may be recalled that in 2012, commercial drivers in Liberia staged a nationwide strike that stalled the movement of people—especially those in the leeward counties.
The strike came as a result of harassment of commercial drivers because of too many checkpoints along the highways where drivers were compelled to pay money before crossing.
The strike also led to the dissolution of unrecognized and illegal checkpoints, but the checkpoints have resurfaced and the same activities that led to the strike have resumed.