Liberia – A Tragedy Waiting To Happen
IN 2018, elected lawmakers from Montserrado County serving in the national legislature, proposed a bill to amend the Vehicle and Traffic Law to exclude themselves and other government officials from some of the major provisions of the law.
UNDER THE CLOAK of darkness, when no one was paying attention, the lawmakers passed the bill into law.
TO DATE, IT has not been printed into handbills neither has it been distributed in the public domain for the rest of Liberians who ply the streets of the city each and every day.
UNDER THE SECRET LAW, lawmakers are not legally required to abide by rules against reckless driving, operating a vehicle in an unsafe condition, or speeding. The senior government officials would also not have to adhere to traffic signals or be banned from driving under the influence of drugs and alcohol.
THIS MEANS, if any mother, father, friend, loved one or relative loses a relative, involved in a fatal accident involving a member of the national legislature, or the judiciary, nothing will come out of it.
THIS IS CURRENTLY the case of a three-year-old girl, who may never walk again. The Deputy Minister of Justice, Cllr. Nyenati, Tuan, while driving excessively, hit the little girl on March 1, 2020.
ANOTHER CLOSE CAME CALLING on Wednesday when the motorcade of the Speaker of the House of Representative, Bophal Chambers was involved in a near-fatal accident that left several injured and other vehicles damaged.
MR. GEORGE WATKINS, the speaker’s Press Secretary claimed in a Facebook Post that the “Pilot Car” which escorts the speaker and not the Speaker, was directly responsible for the accident.
IN A FACEBOOK POST, Mr. Watkins, pointing out “half-truth”, accompanied by a photograph of the speaker’s vehicle which was not impacted by the accident, suggesting that the speaker car was not involved in a multi-car accident that near killed pedestrians and commuters on their way to work.
THE ACCIDENT INVOLVING the Speaker’s motorcade took place around 9:30a am, during the busy early morning traffic, when the Speaker, escorted by several vehicles, including his assigned REP 1 vehicle, driving in the opposite lane hit several vehicles and injuring a few people.
EYEWITNESSES SAY, the speaker and his motorcade were on excessive speed although many cars en route to Monrovia were also trying to get to work and their daily affairs.
THE ACCIDENT TOOK place right on front of Whiteflower, the home of former President Charles Taylor in Congotown near the Palm Springs Hotel.
THE ACCIDENT COMES amid mount criticisms of wanton abuse of traffic laws by both elected and appointed officials of government.
WE AGREE with Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence(Liberty Party, Grand Bassa) that such a law passed under the cloak of darkness gives lawmakers an easy pass to commit crimes likely to end in tragedy. “I spoke against the law and didn’t’ vote for it. I have mentioned several times that it was very selfish. You can navigate your way in traffic but you can’t make a law that will set you free when you injure or kill people in the process. Why make a law to do wrong. The law is bad.”
THE LAW PASSED by lawmakers applies to vehicles owned or operated by the convoy of the president, the convoy of the president’s spouse, the convoy of the vice president, the convoy of a [former] president, the convoy of a [former] vice president, the minister of justice, the minister of defense, the minister of state, the minister of finance, the minister of foreign affairs, the chief of staff and deputy chief of staff, the convoy of the speaker of the House of Representatives, the convoy of the president pro tempore of the Senate, the members of the legislature, the convoy of the chief justice, the associate justice[s] of the Supreme Court, the Liberia National Police, and other agencies of the national security apparatus of the government as maybe [sic] designated by the president of Liberia.”
UNDER THE ORIGINAL LAW, written in 1972, only the President, Vice President, police in emergency situations and medical emergency were exempted.
THERE ARE 73 seats in the lower house of the national legislators and 30 seats in the upper house of the legislature, bringing the total number of lawmakers to 103. An Associate Justice and four justices make up the high court.
IMAGINE ON ANY given day, all of these people – the Vice President, the Minister of Justice, the Minister of Defense, the Minister of State, the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Chief of Staff and Deputy Chief of Staff, the convoy of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the convoy of the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, all the members of the legislature, the convoy of the Chief Justice, the Associate Justices of the Supreme Court, the Liberia National Police, and other agencies of the national security apparatus of the government as maybe [sic] designated by the president of Liberia – all happen to be in traffic on very high speed.
THE ONLY EXCLUSIONS are provided for persons with motor vehicles, and other equipment engaged at work improving or maintaining a highway and vehicles operated by public service corporations while actually engaged in work on the installation or maintenance of public service facilities on or adjacent to a highway.
THIS LAW is not only selfish but seriously flawed and no Liberian in their right mind feels that a law that grants elected officials the right to bulldoze their way through traffic and kill innocent bystanders is in their interests.
MANY LIBERIANS have been expressing dissatisfaction about the abuse of power by the lawmakers and government officials, who can be seen on many days flaunting their power and disrespecting officers of the Liberia National Police carrying out their duties in the traffic.
SADLY, THE AMENDED law says nothing about traffic commuters who are not in government, but follow those who are whenever they embark on driving recklessly in opposing lanes and incoming traffic.
POLICE DIRECTORS, Transport ministers have all been summoned for either trying to enforce commercial and traffic laws broken by officials flaunting their powers or simply trying to put them in check.
WHAT THESE ELECTED and appointed officials fail to understand is that power is not permanent, but only temporary.
ONE DAY SOON, they will all find themselves out of power – or out of their government jobs and right back among the rest of the ordinary folks, forced to abide the traffic rules.
REP. RUSTONLYN SUACOCO DENNIS(District No. 4, Montserrado) is wrong when she asserted on a Facebook post Wednesday: “I have disagreed with the Speaker on many national issues, but in this case when traffic is blocked, where do you want the speaker to pass? Apparently, when we suggest it, we can work toward the change. In my honest opinion, speed should be limited on 3rd lanes to avoid casualties. My regret to those affected but the speaker in 3rd lane is no violation as of now, until we amend the law.”
NO COUNTRY IN THE WORLD, in any world perhaps allows any official of government to drive into incoming traffic to the detriment of its citizens.
LAWMAKERS PASSING A law under the cloak of darkness and in the absence of a public debate without giving those who elected them the chance to weigh in, does not make it right. It is also not right to pass a law that makes it legal to kill a citizen in cold blood in traffic because you happen to be in a government job.