Monrovia – At a program marking the turning over of security to the Liberia apparatus by the United Nations Mission in Liberia last Friday, the Inspector General of the Liberia National Police, Col. Chris Massaquoi, while professing LNP readiness to pick up the slack, acknowledged some lapses which could make life after UNMIL a bit uneasy for post-war Liberia’s quest to complete its transition from war to peace.
The Police Chief averred that in order for the Police to achieve its strategic objectives, in professionalizing the service, it is crucial that the LNP and other security sectors be provided adequate/appropriate budgetary allocation from Central Government and support from Local and International Partners to realistically address the current challenges to ensure the best service delivery to the people of Liberia, which will include: To fully equip the LNP, Infrastructure & accommodation & Improve condition of service, including salaries and incentives.
Concerns Over US$104 Million Budget
Currently, Liberia has a Security Transition plan estimated at US$104 million just up to 2018 when the new government will be inaugurated into office.
This is crucial as Liberia heads into what is inarguably one of the most crucial elections in modern history for Africa’s oldest republic.
UNMIL has been working with the administration in recent past to break the figure down to be more specific about what those costs represent in a bid to get donor support.
But as the former Special Representative of the Secretary General (SRSG) and Coordinator of United Nations Operations in Liberia, Karin Landgren pointed out during a 2015 UN Security Council’s discussion on Liberia and the resumption of the UNMIL drawdown -
“What is more important though is the understanding that for Liberia to move forward in growth, in human development, in all sectors, security and justice are vital.”
Landgren added: “They are not just vital because UNMIL is drawing down. They are vital to Liberia’s economy. They are vital to all Liberia’s institutions. People need to have confidence in justice.”
But in making his pitch last Friday, the Inspector General reassured international partners that the Police are up to the task.
“We are ready, capable and committed for the official turning over today to assume full security responsibility, as have already been demonstrated by the LNP and the security sector, professional handling of riots, public safety and other civil disturbances, border and drugs related problems. We therefore appeal and rely on all Liberians to support this national ownership.”
Biting Realities for LNP
While the Police chief appear reassuring to stakeholders, the realities on the streets and behind the confines of the post-UNMIL discussion paint a rather bleak picture.
From faded uniforms and low morale, the officers on the streets demand very little respect from even those sitting in top government positions.
In the past ten years, there have been numerous reports of assaults on Police by senior government officials who have very little regards for the low-paying officers directing traffic or trying to enforce the law.
Last October, Director Massaquoi struggled to enforce a regulation instructing traffic officers to arrest, and impound the vehicles of anyone including officials of government caught using the opposite lane of the Tubman Boulevard road during the rush hours.
Despite the attempt to regulate, officers of the LNP have found their orders regularly going unheeded by speeding officials unwilling to abide.
Officers lacking equipment such as motor bikes and hand-held walkie-talkies to chase after violators of the law is compounding an already existing dilemma for the Police.
All this in a nation where traffic laws do not permit the usage of the opposite lane but one that repeatedly find officials of government bending the law to have it their way.
Until now, UNMIL had extensively supported Liberia since the signing of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in Accra, Ghana, and has maintained a strong presence in the country.
UNMIL are expected to provide some small-scale assistance at least leading into or probably after the 2017 presidential and legislative elections.
The atmosphere around those elections will likely test Liberia’s resolve and readiness for post-UNMIL.
Looming Expectations vs. Challenges
Director Massaquoi recalled the years of anarchy leading up to the current peaceful environment Liberia enjoys thanks to the CPA pact which changed the political environment and brought to an end the many years of violence and destruction.
But even against the backdrop of what is at stake, Director Massaquoi did not shy away from the looming expectations and challenges.
“We are here to celebrate our country’s ability to assume full national security responsibility, whilst cautiously being aware of the many challenges that lay ahead. Let me take this opportunity also to reassure the Liberian people, that in the midst of the reality, with support from the Government and our international partners, our security institutions are very prepared to provide the security as needed and are keen on building on the level of work we have started in securing the peace we all enjoy today.” Long before UNMIL’s turning over last Friday, Police reform was pursued and implemented in Liberia within a convoluted legal framework, the IG noted.
“The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) of 2003, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1509 (2003), and the 1986 constitution of Liberia together provide the contextual and legal basis for the implementation of Police reform in Liberia.
The CPA constituted a major legal reference for the reform process in Liberia. The conditions for implementing the reform program are captured in Article VIII, Section I, which stipulates that “there shall be an immediate restructuring of the National Police Force”.
In 2004, after the Disarmament, Demobilization, Rehabilitation and Reintegration (DDRR) of former combatants, as part of the reform and restructuring program, the training of the first class of Basic Recruits of the Liberia National Police began.
From the inception of that training till now, the Liberia National Police, in collaboration with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL), continues to train and deploy in all Counties and districts.
The Police has so far, according to Director Massaquoi, formulated a three-years (2012-2015/16) UNMIL drawdown plan which provided the framework by which continuing development and support of the LNP and the security sector will ensure a professional and sustainable National Service, ready and capable to serve and protect all citizens and foreign residents with pride; as the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) turns over full national security responsibility to the Government of Liberia.
The plan, according to the Police Chief was structured into three components: Drawdown gaps, leeward counties deployment and regular Police operations.
“In keeping with the Security Council transition plan for the United Nations Mission in Liberia, the Police and military components of UNMIL have withdrawn from various strategic locations, including the National Correction Palace in Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County, the Military deployment sites in Sinji, Barclayville.”
Eclipsed by Time, Violence
Director Massaquoi explained that at the moment, the LNP has deployed in ten formerly occupied UNMIL camps, thereby assuming full national security responsibilities; same with the other security sector/BIN, DEA, NSA and others.
“Moreover, in responding to threats of global terrorism, the LNP has trained and deployed tactical (ERU & PSU) and other operational units (Patrol, CSD, etc) at Residents of the President, Vice President and other VIPs, the Roberts International Airport, the Central Bank of Liberia, Embassies, and strategic hotels for static guide and or escort services, respectively; Same with the other security sectors whom have taken positions at the borders and other areas.”
As UNMIL’s time elapsed, the Police and security operators endured some turbulent tests.
In June 2015, logistical issues caused Police to take some time in arriving on the scene of a plantation riot on the Golden Veroleum plant which led to the arrest of some 23 rioters, including two females.
The charges include criminal mischief to commit murder, rioting, armed robbery and aggravated assault, among others in connection to the recent mayhem at the Golden Veroleum Liberia’s facilities specifically in Butaw, Sinoe County. That riot caused the concessionaire more than a million dollars in damages.
A year earlier in July 2014, several protestors from the Mining town of Zolowee, Nimba County clashed with riot Police officers after the Police fired live bullets in the air to disburse them.
The rioters were protesting against Arcelor Mittla's operation which they said had failed to address some key issues such as unpaid wages and crop compensation.
Additionally, sporadic cases of students’ unrests in the capital Monrovia also tested the Police resolve to deal with skirmishes of upheavals.
But Massaquoi quickly admits and acknowledges the current challenges of the LNP significantly revolve around severe capacity deficits. “The severe capacity gaps as a result of Government competing financial challenges are further perceived by the public as not trained and ready but that is not the case.”
With limited resources, the Police chief say, the LNP’s Professional Standards Division has been decentralized and officers’ misconducts no longer go with impunity.
Director Massaquoi explains that the LNP has trained and continue to deploy and augment the strength in the fifteen (15) Counties and districts.
“We have increased the number of college graduates (Bachelors, Post Graduate Certificates and Diplomas, Law Degrees and Masters); additionally, three hundred college graduates were recruited, trained and deployed- first in LNP’s history Formulated several strategic policies (Recruitment and Training, Gender, Community Policing, Use of Force, Firearm, Small Arm, etc); five-year Strategic Plan. Formulation of the first Police Act which has been passed by the legislature; Decentralization of major sections and Units (ERU, PSU, PSD, WACPS, etc.) of the LNP 64% deployment (ERU & PSU) at UNMIL Drawdown sites; Full training responsibilities have since been assumed by the National Police Training Academy.”
Intricately Guarded Expectations
Looking ahead the upcoming presidential and legislative elections next year, the Inspector General is hoping that the LNP can achieve by 2017, the provision of safety and security for all citizens through an organized crime prevention and community policing strategy; Timely response to all incidents; Coordinate and collaborate with the Judiciary and other partners within the Criminal Justice Sector to ensure conviction, transparency of justice and sustain public trust;
Manage logistical resources with efficiency and proficiency through the adoption of standardized, professional and international best practices.
More importantly, Liberians will be hoping that other security apparatus including the Bureau of Immigration, the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Executive Protective Services, the National Security Agency and the Fire Service will be armed with the right tools and resources to keep the peace going.
For the foreseeable future, Liberia appears intricately guarded about its readiness to maintain the peace. And while logistical demands and expectations will play a major role in deciphering how prepared the post-war nation is for life after UNMIL, the truncated bottlenecks that usually accompany budgetary allotments; and the willingness of donors to measure up to the burning realities of a nation on the verge of an important transition, could make the ultimate difference between success or failure. For Liberia’s immediate future, the latter is not an option.