— GC Political and Legal Reforms Commissioner, George Howe, proposes
It is yet unclear how Liberia stands among other countries in the world in the fight against drug trafficking, but as evidence can show, a lot of youths of the country are addicted to drugs to the extent that they have taken the name “Zogos” to properly identify them as drug users and thieves.
Although Liberia appears to be fighting drugs through the establishment of the Liberia Drug Enforcement Agency (LDEA), there appears to be no strong law to aid this fight. From available media reports, besides arresting drug traffickers along with the fruits of their crimes, the LDEA is most commonly seen burning the addictive contraband substances. In fact, there are hardly any reports on the prosecution or convictions of drug traffickers or users.
As part of efforts to prevent the importation of harmful substances, the Political and Legal Reforms Commissioner at the Governance Commission (GC), George W. Howe, Jr., is suggesting to the national government to treat drug offenders as suspected sex offenders — by legislating their crimes as non-bailable. He believes that substance use among Liberian youths is a significant problem globally and Liberia is no exception.
At a one-day Governance Commission’s Policy Dialogue on “The Emerging Substance Abuse Crisis and its Effect on the Liberian Economy”, held in Monrovia on October 7, the GC Commissioner said given the importance of grade school and tertiary education in the country, the constant abuse of drugs by young people could undermine progress made in Liberia.
Commissioner Howe made this suggestion in the presence of members of the 54th National Legislature, including the Senate Committee Chairman on Internal Affairs, Good Governance and Reconciliation, J. Gbleh-bo Brown of Maryland County; Senate Committee Chairman on Gender, Health and Social Welfare, Women and Children’s affairs, Peter Coleman of Grand Kru County; and Representative Larry P. Younquoi of Nimba County, amongst others.
The dialogue was also attended by key stakeholders from the Government of Liberia including the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Liberia National Police, the Ministries of Justice and of Health, as well as non-state actors and international partners.
The aim of the dialogue was to advance a national collective response to the substance abuse crisis and the resulting effect on the social, economic, and political dynamics of Liberia.
He added, “As we find ourselves at this point in our country’s path to continue growth, peace and sustainable development, we are faced with a very controversial issue of substance abuse which, if not corrected, could lead to a growing substance abuse crisis. In my mind, we should treat drug carriers as rape so that traffickers will have life imprisonment,” Howe said.
“We as a nation and people must fight this growing cancer with everything that we have,” he continued. “The next victim of substance abuse just might be someone dear to you. No one is immune, as we are all affected directly or indirectly. It continues to proliferate through our social and economic structures.”
Commissioner Howe told the participants that all the social centers, supermarkets, and in and around central towns and street corners, “we see the manifestation of this disease through our youth and other Liberians who have fallen victim. This needs to change.”
At the Governance Commission, Mr. Howe said, “Our mandate compels us to raise such issues and bring stakeholders to the table to dialogue a way forward.”
“Today’s policy dialogue came about as a result of many consultations both at the GC and with relevant stakeholders on the need to bring to the public forum, this slowly creeping poison that stands as the greatest threat to the longevity of Liberia’s human and economic resources,” he said.
All the dialogues, according to him, are meant to be interactive, where stakeholders will have an honest and open discussion on policy issues and the challenges Liberia faces, such as the country’s struggle with the prohibition of illicit drugs, and the trafficking of narcotic substances, which is slowly killing Liberian youth.
“As we are ready and prepared to kickstart today’s presentations and discussions, our rapporteurs are ready to fully capture your points, and recommendations will be consolidated into a policy paper that we will then forward to our President, George M. Weah, as well as other key stakeholders and civil society,” he explained.
Commissioner Howe stated that the ultimate goal for deriving better policies at the end of the dialogue is to understand the nuisance of the drug problem in the country in terms of the social, health, economic and political impact on future generations.
Earlier, Elizabeth Dorkin, Officer-In-Charge at Governance Commission, said it is no secret that Liberia has a major substance abuse crisis, and has been struggling with such a crisis for decades-particularly among Liberian youth.
This growing problem, which she considers as the white elephant in the room, is one cannot be escaped as it is gradually stealing future leaders away.
Mrs. Dorkin asserted that not only does the sale and abuse of illicit narcotic substances pose serious health and security risk to our nation and its people. If not controlled, she added, it could also overwhelm Liberia’s already strained institutional structures, and could derail years of hard-earned economic growth and development.
She however disclosed that Liberia is now an attractive hub for the illicit trans-regional drug trade.
At the same time, Mrs. Dorkin has stressed the need for government to strengthen policy and law-enforcement regimes so that illicit traders do not take advantage any longer.
She said that Liberia’s public health law should criminalize the trade of illicit drugs. However, “We must have a more coherent policy on how we handle abusers of our laws.”
Moreover, while there are more rehabilitation programs launched by non-state actors for convicts to deter the repeat of such actions beyond prison time, she said, the government must now lead this fight, working closely with these non-state actors and our international partners.
“It is against that backdrop that the Commission sent out this urgent cry to you, our stakeholders, that we must all act and act now. We are glad that you have responded.” Mrs. Dorkin said.
The illicit drug trade, she said, if not addressed will become a major public health and economic crisis in the coming decades and threat to Liberia’s peace and stability.
According to her, illicit drugs and drug trade is gradually stealing “our much-needed workforce away, and depleting Liberia of young human capital who could otherwise contribute to our economic breadbasket.”
She said the Commission hopes that the outcome from the dialogue will lead to the formulation of a national policy on curbing illicit drug trade, as it is critical to the improvement in the social, economic, and political dynamics of the country. She added that the illicit drug trade in Liberia has deprived the government of millions of dollars in revenue as monies generally end up on the black market.
According to her, the lack of a national policy on drug enforcement could be one of the major reasons why such ills have persisted, largely undetected for so long.