UNMIL Drawdown: Bassa Residents, Police Sweat Over Low Support
Buchanan, Grand Bassa County – United Nations (UNMIL) officers in Grand Bassa County are pulling out leaving behind hesitations and concerns in the minds of people of the county about the state of the county security.
It is inevitable that Liberians in this part of the country – like elsewhere – are committed to keeping the over 10-years of peace and stability but looming concerns including maintaining the rule of law and curbing crime in the entire county are worrisome.
FrontPageAfrica investigation in September 2015 established that there was one Police officer assigned in the provisional town of Compound Four located just couple of miles away from two of the country’s concession companies – The Equatorial Palm Oil (EPO) and Liberian Agricultural Company (LAC) plantations.
The lack of manpower in all the five districts in Grand Bassa County will obviously be a challenge for Liberia’s security when they take over fully from UNMIL any time soon. Opinion poll conducted in District One, Grand Bassa County gathered that most people don’t trust that Liberia is ready to take over from UNMIL.
Anonymous source inside the Grand Bassa detachment of the Liberian National Police says there were constraints even during the large presence of UNMIL and it could worsen once they leave.
However, Grand Bassa Superintendent Levi Demmah recently expressed confident in the capability of the country’s security apparatus. While referencing a recent meeting with UNMIL Deputy SRSG for Rule of Law and Political Affairs, Demmah that inferred the government is ready to take over from UNMIL.
“I trust the ability of our local security because the government of Liberia put in place mechanism to trained Police officers, Immigration, DEA etc…; and they are well equipped,” the Grand Bassa Superintendent said.
But responding to Supt. Demmah’s comment in a FrontPage Africa interview, the head of a local advocacy group based in Buchanan, Duben Cleon described the statement as a ‘bluff’.
“Government is not prepared to take over from UNMIL; everything they are saying is just proposal that they will do this, and do that but we can’t see anything,” Cleon said, warning that there will be a total security gap in the county once UNMIL leaves.
“I think it should be about putting into place relevant actions instead of just always talking about the plans,” added the Secretary General of Liberia Civil Society Council, Grand Bassa Chapter – Victor Flomo.
Flomo was speaking after a recent peace caravan held in the port city of Buchanan. “Almost everything that was mentioned as it relates to the government taking over security from UMNIL was like presentation of plans instead of putting into place the necessary system into action.”
In early 2015, the Liberian government disclosed a transition plan for UNMIL draw down. The implementation of the Plan was set at US$104.848 million and most of this amount was expected to be raised by the government which captured nearly US$96 million for security in the 2015/2016 budget and mentioned that the largest share of additional support will go towards UNMIL drawdown.
With the logistical support and supervisory role UNMIL played, a source say, the Police could sometimes expediently investigate or respond to crime.
“It will not be easily possible when UNMIL leaves,’’ the Grand Bassa Police source who asked not to be named predicted. “The constraints will be heavier because the Police will not be able to respond to crime rapidly.”
There’s only one vehicle assigned to the entire Grand Bassa Police detachment while details and depots across the county are without motorbikes, thereby making it impossible for officers to attend to crime incidents occurring faraway.
Multiple Concerns within LNP
In October 2015, Japan through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) donated 16 Toyota Land Cruiser Jeeps to the force and the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (BIN).
Additionally, the Chinese Embassy donated a consignment of equipment, including 30 Police motorbikes, 2 jeeps amongst other items to the LNP. Although the Japanese gesture aimed at strengthening the country’s border security, these vehicles are most time seen plying the streets of Monrovia.
There are also concerns over the delays of salary payments, low manpower in rural areas as well as the lack of merit system within the force. Some Police officers who spoke to FPA asserted that some individuals pay bribe for high rank while others are promoted out of cronyism and nepotism.
Police-Community Relation Vital
Back in Grand Bassa County there are glaring problems: low salary and delays, low manpower in rural areas, lack of transportation and poor community-Police relationship. And with UNMIL almost totally out of the county, there are calls for the consolidation of the community-Police relationship with some saying is a vibrant way of sustaining security.
Superintendent Demmah may be a financier-cum-politician, but he’s quite cognizant of the imminent challenge after UNMIL and he reckons that it is the community along with the foreign peacekeepers that are keeping the peace. “… If it was not for the acceptance and tolerance of our people for peace to be in Liberia (or) in Grand Bassa (it) was impossible,” he said while calling for local leaders in the county cooperation.
“Most of you that are leaders, chiefs, the elders, zonal heads for example, you are charged with the responsibility to be able to work with the security to keep the peace so that sustainable development cam come to our country.”
On the other hand, the Secretary General of Grand Bassa Civil Society Council is worried that mistrust remains an impediment for the relationship between the community and the Police. Flomo asserted that a lot of people in the county don’t trust the Police because they have not been able to respond effectively to incidents affecting these people.
“When people house are being burglarized the Police do nothing, because they say they are not equipped or they don’t have gun so people don’t have confidence in them.”
“The confidence and trust and the interaction between the Police and the community will not be right after UNMIL leaves,” averred another anonymous Police source.
“There was still corruption even when UNMIL was here, so if we (Police) don’t do things right the public will never trust us.”
Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]