Police Harassment Again: What Is the Real Problem?

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Police Commissioner Chris Massaquoi, like many government officials, especially those often in the critical media spotlight, may not read the newspapers.  Yes, many of them often dismiss newspapers as “tabloids” they “don’t read anymore.”

But we surely hope Commissioner Massaquoi and all his men and women have read our Tuesday, February 17 editorial which was entitled “Preparing for UNMIL’s Departure.”

In that editorial, we quoted two officials, first, Madam Karen Landgren, the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, who urged Liberia to be ready to reassume full responsibility for national security when UNMIL pulls out in June 2016.    Madam Landgren specifically mentioned the Liberia National Police (LNP) and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN) as the key institutions responsible to ensure Liberia’s security.

The second quoted official was Deputy Justice Minister Wheatonia Dixon Barnes, who last Friday urged the LNP and BIN to be accountable and transparent in doing their work.

We submitted that accountability and transparency in the LNP and BIN were critical, if they were ever to be ready to take over national security.  Can any security organization, whether public or private, be effective if it is not run in an accountable or transparent manner?  Which security agency is it that demeans itself by accepting bribes from motor vehicle operators—or anyone else—and expects to be effective in its operations?  To secure anyone or any nation effectively, a security agency must be highly responsible and practice the highest standard of ethics in the execution of its duties.

If, on the other hand, a security agency is susceptible to bribery, that agency cannot be trusted to secure anyone!  For all an intruder needs to do is to pass some change around, and that intruder has complete access to anywhere. 

Why do we revisit this matter?  It is because in yesterday’s newspaper, we carried a story of the constant complaint of police harassment of bus and taxi drivers.  In the story yesterday, bus drivers who transport commuters to Monrovia from Duala complained bitterly that police at the Slipway checkpoint consistently harass them and demand that they pay L$250 or more each time they cross the Gabriel Johnson Tucker Bridge.  For this reason, the bus drivers say they no longer cross that bridge, but turn right at the bridge leading to Waterside.  This forces the passengers to climb the steep Mechlin and Randall Street hills to enter central Monrovia, instead of being landed at Johnson and Broad Streets, which gives commuters easier passage to their workplaces.

Did Commissioner Massaquoi read that front page story yesterday?  What was his reaction?  Did he dismiss it as another “tabloid” interference in his work?  Or did he call in the commander at the Slipway checkpoint to investigate the bus drivers’ complaint?

We have never heard Police Commissioner Massaquoi ask why his men in buttons are often accused of bribery and harassment.  But that question is the theme of this editorial.  What is the problem? 

Is it innate (inborn) in the Liberian character for people to be corrupt, unjust and mean-spirited?  If not, what gives our police the urge, the propensity (inclination) to take bribes and to harass the very citizens they are sworn to befriend and protect?  Surely, it cannot be the low salaries the police make—or is it that?

And yet, some of the highest paid people in the world, including many of them in Liberia, take bribes.  A former Chair of the Liberia Telecommunications Authority, making US$10,500 per month, was found stealing and had to spend time in jail.

Yet, the issue of salaries and benefits for our security forces—the Army, the Police, the Immigration, etc., is one the Liberian government MUST address.  We think this is critical if ever we are to depend on these institutions to protect us after UNMIL’s departure.

Be that as it may, however, the question of professional integrity goes far beyond money and benefits.  The first thing that matters is CHARACTER—what is the character of Liberians?  Are we an honest people?  Do we love one another? Do we love our country?  Are we patriotic? How many of us put Liberia first before ourselves?

These are fundamental to our security—they are ingredients that money cannot buy.

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