National security proved to be one of many concerns that divided the four presidential candidates in yesterday’s debate at the Paynesville Town Hall, outside Monrovia.
Mr. Alexander Cummings of the Alternative National Congress, Ambassador Joseph Boakai of Unity Party, Mr. Benoni Urey of the All Liberian Party, and Cllr. Charles Walker Brumskine of the Liberty Party highlighted opposing views on handling national security. Each of the candidates gave their views on what specific plans they have to strengthen the justice sector so that it can adequately respond to the high crime rate and the backlog of pretrial detentions, which has led to the overcrowding of prisons across the country.
Cummings emphasized on the unemployment and underemployment rate and said it is one of the biggest national security risks responsible for the overcrowding of the prison population. He argued that unless the economy is improved to provide job opportunities for every Liberian, the problem of national security will not be solved. Cummings along with other candidates agreed that there is a need to strengthen the capacity of national security personnel (the Armed Force of Liberia, Liberia National Police, and Liberia Immigration Service). “Unless we address the underlining human insecurity in our country, fix the economy of our country and provide jobs for the young people, because if they don’t have anything to look up to, they become vulnerable to internal influence, then we will have more people going to jail,” Cummings stated.
Urey said, “This is not just a challenge for the President of Liberia, but for every Liberian. My government will opt for a Ministry of National Security. We don’t want the Executive Branch of government to be too involved in security matters. NSA, LNP, Immigration, all report to the president.” According to Urey, the need for the president to be informed on the security sector was carried out under the late President William Richard Tolbert’s government, adding that the need ensures that security agencies report truthfully to the president. “Our security sector needs a lot of improvement and we need to tap into the resources of security experts and maybe to bring them in to help build the security sector,” Urey noted.
“Our government will re-introduce the Ministry of National Security, because we do want the Executive Branch headed by the president to actually be involved in security matters by reporting directly to him or her,” Urey argued. He said most of the information provided directly to the president “is untrue.” He argued that many times “We are angry with her, but we have to realize that it is mixed information, and there is a lack of trained security personnel to evaluate these reports that come out from the security sector. This is why we are going to ensure that those officers do not go around lying to people and creating a scene to generate money to put in their pockets.”
Boakai believes that the issue of security is both internal and external. “We have done well training our security. For me, security is a holistic concept: Access to food, safety, etc. Security issues are a result of unresolved crime. If we improve the quality of education of the people, we improve the lives of the people.” He said unresolved crime is “one of the major problems of our security. Every time a crime is committed you will never find the criminal and there is no way we can track down those who committed the crime, as opposed to others countries where they are able to arrest criminals.” According to Boakai, “Putting rules together is good, but making sure to enforce them to make them work is what I believe in; and nobody must be excluded, no matter who you are, the rule must be able to protect society, and must be able to protect everybody. What I believe in is to have a security system that protects all and helps to hunt down criminals and make sure they are arrested.”
Brumskine believes that the most important issue is to be able to ensure the independence of the Ministry of Justice. “This ministry does not have to call the Executive Mansion to get approval as to whether or not a matter should be prosecuted. Not every probable cause should give rise to a jail sentence,” he explained. “I agree with Cummings that the underlying problem is the economy. The Sirleaf economic policy has been based on the Tubman economic policy. We will not rely on only our natural resources,” Brumskine said in support of Mr. Cummings’ position on the economy. He said another serious issue is to pass a law that will prevent the ministry from contacting the Executive Mansion, “because a president should be free of that responsibility of interfering into prosecutorial matters,” adding: “I would like to wake-up one morning to hear that my party chairman has been arrested without any input from me that would help to move the justice system forward.”