Liberia: 2018 Incident Involving Lawmakers Shows Flaws in Controversial Amendment to Traffic Law
Monrovia – Tuesday’s standoff between Rep. Yekeh Korlubah(ANC, District No. 10, Montserrado County) and Col. Marvin Sackor, Deputy Inspector General of Police for Operation, has been in the making for quite some time. A FrontPageAfrica investigation has found that in June 2018 when Mr. Oliver Dillon, an Inspector at the Ministry of Transport attempted to impound the vehicles assigned to Rep. Kolubah and Rep. Francis Dopoh (UP, District No. 3, River Gee) after a routine traffic stop for using old license plates, the Plenary of the lower House, the highest decision making body of the House of Representatives, summoned Mr. Dillon along with Transport Minister Samuel Wlue, for simply carrying out the Transport Inspector’s Term of Reference.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
MOT Inspector Held in Contempt
At the time, the House Plenary demanded the appearance under the doctrine of contempt for what it termed as the alleged arrest, gross disrespect, humiliation, and delaying of one of their colleagues while on his way to session. The MOT pair was summoned to explain the reasons why Rep. Dopoh’s official vehicle was allegedly parked for half an hour and disrespected by the transport inspector.
In his written complaint to plenary, Representative Dopoh stated that while on his way to attend session, his assigned vehicle with plate number “REP 72” was stopped by Dillon who said he was acting under the instruction of Transport Minister Samuel Wlue and Inspector General of Police Patrick Sudue to inspect all vehicles plying the streets.
MOT inspectors told legislators at the time that Rep. Korlubah’s vehicle was not registered and his driver did not have a license when he was stopped at the 540 Junction in Congo Town. Dillon testified that the impounded vehicle contained plates used by lawmakers from earlier years, as opposed to the plates used when the lawmaker’s vehicle was stopped.
The June 2018 traffic incident also raised a lingering issue involving lawmakers using one plate at the front of their vehicle and no plate at the backend. Most lawmakers use the plates on two or more vehicles at a time, most times with friends or closed relatives driving and taking advantage of a controversial amendment to the Vehicle and Traffic Law of 1972.
Lawmakers Using Illegal Plates
Transport officials, queried by FrontPageAfrica Wednesday explained that members of the legislature are currently are using two license plates because nearly all of them have refused to turn in their old plates.
A senior official speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of being summoned, explained: “The reason being, the white-colored license plate, for example, that has the number before the letter, 23 R, similar to the Rep. Kolubah’s vehicle which is currently at the center of the controversy was originally sent to the legislators, but they rejected them. When these plates came into the country and we decided to decommission all of the plates, it is those white plates we wanted to give them but they said they did not want those plates, they wanted instead the black REP, their traditional plates, and the ministry agreed.”
The official continued: “The ministry sent the REP plates to the lawmakers with the LB in a circle on the left of the plate and REP tag. They should have returned the white-colored plates, but they did not and they still have them in use. So, right now they have three plates, the white plates which they refused to send back to the ministry, their traditional black REP plates and the HOR plates they requested for Utility purposes.”
The HOR plates were a special request from lawmakers to go along with their traditional black REP license plates.
Some former lawmakers are reportedly also using the old REP plates without the LB inserted in the circle on the left of the plates.
While some lawmakers use those plates for staffers, others use in addition to the traditional REP plates. Senators use SEN plates.
The official further explained that some lawmakers are still using the older plates processed under the previous company contracted, Modern Development & Management Corporation(MDMC) and not the new plates processed by Union Strong. Those plates, FPA has been informed do not have the LB on them and should not be on any vehicle in the traffic.
Ironically, according to the Vehicle and Traffic Laws, elected and appointed officials are only entitled to one license plates for their official vehicles but most use their two plates on various vehicles outside their official cars.
Vague Amendment: What the Law Says
Weeks after the June 2018 incident, members of the national legislature, under the cloak of darkness amended the vehicle and traffic law of 1972 to give themselves the freedom to drive in opposite lanes.
The law which was never introduced to the public or debated in the halls of the national legislature, says that vehicles owned or operated by the the following officials are exempt from traffic stops:
Those include: 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.
The controversial law excludes lawmakers from confining to the rules of the road, meaning they 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.
Govt: Lawmaker Not in Car when Stopped
“Who determines what I wear to Capitol building? Are the police enforcing what I wear on capitol building? We have our own rules. I have three cardinal functions, lawmaker, oversight and representation. It is left with the rules and other committees to say Hon. Korlubah is not properly dressed, not the Liberian National Police, that’s not their job to determine where I was going. My job is not to wear coat suit, my job is to advocate for my people. So, whether I wear slippers or anything, that’s what the Liberian people in District No. 10 saw me in when they voted for me, they didn’t see me in suit. So, whether I was going to Capitol Building in slippers, it’s none of their business.”– Representative Yekeh Kolubah (ANC, Montserrado, District 10)
In fact, in the case of Rep. Korlubah, only one plate was on the vehicle in the 2018 incident as it was on Tuesday. Additionally, the lawmaker, as was the case in 2018, was not in the vehicle on Tuesday, according to the Executive Branch, with whom the lawmaker has been involved in verbal spat, since it came to power in January 2018.
Appearing on the OK FM afternoon show Tuesday, the government’s chief spokesman, Information Minister Lenn Eugene Nagbe said the lawmaker was not in the vehicle at the time of the incident.
Said the Minister: “Do you know that the vehicle in question, Mr. Yekeh Korlubah was not in the vehicle? The vehicle is not his official vehicle, the driver was on the third lane without plates and without a license and the police deputy police director arrested him and impounded the vehicle. The impoundment happened at 20th Street – and they were on their way to Monrovia at 13th street. Twenty minutes later, Mr. Yekeh came and obstructed the police operation.”
The minister said as a legislator, Rep. Korlubah was wrong to get involved in the violation of the law and the government stands with the deputy police chief. “It is unfair, it is unfortunate. I think the deputy director of police was courteous. Actually, he should have arrested the lawmaker who interrupted the performance of his duties, stopping a lawful arrest,” the minister said.
Minister Nagbe added: “Are we saying that any vehicle that is owned by a lawmaker should violate the law – because there’s something that says when you are on your way to session you should not be impeded. It is unfortunate and I want to use this opportunity to say that we as a government are one hundred percent behind the action of the deputy director of police – and that we urge all lawmakers, including Mr. Yekeh to abide by the law. As a former police officer, he should know better and that resistance, had it been anybody other than the deputy director of police, he could have been arrested. There’s history in this country where lawmakers have been arrested. Acarous Gray and others were arrested, they did not resist, they did not fight. They used the ruld of law, they used the courts. So, those who are supporting this action, to be rowdy, to resist the police are being unfair to the rule of law.”
Defiant Lawmaker Laments Disrespect
Rep. Korlubah, countering the minister’s assertions, during an appearance on the 50-50 Morning Talk Show with T. Max Jlateh Wednesday, lamented that he has been disrespected too many times by the George Weah-led government. “Since I became a lawmaker, I have been witch hunted on so many occasions. Regarding yesterday, I travel with two cars. I’m entitled to two license plates, one white plate and one black plate. So, my escort car was ahead of me. While at the back, I received a call from my driver that my car had been arrested by 102 for using the opposite lane. I asked my driver, can I please talk to 102, 102 said he did not want to talk to me.”
The lawmaker said, Col. Sackor had no right arresting him because traffic is out of his jurisdiction. “Instead of 107 being in the traffic, it was 102. So, I ask to talk to him, and he said no.”
Rep. Korlubah recalled an incident in January when his vehicles were seized by the LNP and guns allegedly planted in his car. “It can be recalled that my cars were arrested and taken from me and taken to Central on January 6, 2020. Up to now, my cars are still there. So, yesterday, 102 ordered that they take my keys from my driver. When I got there, I asked there I said who has my car keys? 102 responded that he had them. I asked 102 could he please give me my car keys, the first thing he said was, ‘I have been looking for you’.
Rep. Korlubah said Col Sackor told him. “I am going to deal with you because you always insult the president.”
The lawmaker said, being critical is not an insult. “We saw people insulting Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf here.”
Rep. Korlubah said Col. Sackor then told him that he would take his vehicle to central which was when, everything broke loose. “I said to him, my car is not going to central because the last time my car went to central you people planted gun in my car. The whole country is aware that you people put gun in my car. The case went to the court, the partisan judge ruled that he didn’t see any law to release my car. My lawyer argued, what’s the law you see to hold the car, the judge could not find any law. We have taken him up to his bosses, the Supreme Court and we are trying to get the paper ready so we can go there and up to now my cars are still there.”
The lawmaker said it is unfortunate that the Speaker of the House Bophal Chambers, is in bed with the Executive Branch to ruin him. “Everything that is happening to me, the speaker is aware, he endorsed everything that is happening to me. He was a part of it. With this attitude of the national police being compromise, the national police being partisan police; the country is going nowhere. So, I was physically assaulted by 102 because he wanted to arrest me.”
Defending his dress code when the incident took place, Rep. Korlubah asked: “Who determines what I wear to Capitol building? Are the police enforcing what I wear on capitol building? We have our own rules. I have three cardinal functions, lawmaker, oversight and representation. It is left with the rules and other committees to say Hon. Korlubah is not properly dressed, not the Liberian National Police, that’s not their job to determine where I was going. My job is not to wear coat suit, my job is to advocate for my people. So, whether I wear slippers or anything, that’s what the Liberian people in District No. 10 saw me in when they voted for me, they didn’t see me in suit. So, whether I was going to capitol building in slippers, it’s none of their business.”
“Are we saying that any vehicle that is owned by a lawmaker should violate the law – because there’s something that says when you are on your way to session you should not be impeded. It is unfortunate and I want to use this opportunity to say that we as a government are one hundred percent behind the action of the deputy director of police – and that we urge all lawmakers, including Mr. Yekeh to abide by the law. As a former police officer, he should know better and that resistance, had it been anybody other than the deputy director of police, he could have been arrested. There’s history in this country where lawmakers have been arrested. Acarous Gray and others were arrested, they did not resist, they did not fight. They used the rule of law, they used the courts. So, those who are supporting this action, to be rowdy, to resist the police are being unfair to the rule of law.”– Lenn Eugene Nagbe, Minister of Information
Lots of Similarities From 2018 to 2020
The incident Wednesday drew stark comparison to the 2018 traffic stop.
During the June 2018 saga, the House Plenary argued that the MOT inspector Dillon’s action was in violation of Article 42 of the Constitution, which states “no member of the Senate or House of Representatives shall be arrested, detained, prosecuted or tried as a result of opinions expressed or votes cast in the exercise of the functions of his office. Members shall be privileged from arrest while attending, going to or returning from sessions of the Legislature, except for treason, felony or breach of the peace. All official acts done or performed and all statement made in the chambers of the Legislature shall be privileged and no Legislator shall be held accountable or punished therefor.”
Minister Wlue was then forced to apologized on behalf of his staff and promised specified managerial actions to be taken against him to avoid recurrence.
The motion raised by Montserrado County District #16 Lawmaker Dixon Seeboe received an overwhelming “yea” to summon under contempt charge Transport Minister and his Lawyers as well as Oliver Dillon.
Two years later, FrontPageAfrica has gathered that the issue regarding the use of old plates by members of the national legislature and even some members of the Executive and Judicial branches of government is still continuing.
On Wednesday, FrontPageAfrica spotted the vehicle of Rep. Alex Grant(CDC, District No. 2, Grand Gedeh County without a sticker on his plate, parading in the opposite and incoming traffic in the Congotown belt.
Legal experts say the law is problematic at best.
Renowned lawyer, Cllr. Tiawon Gongloe, Cllr. Tiawan Gongloe, recently declared that the amendment to the vehicle and traffic law which gave elected and appointed officials of government the right to use the third lane needs to be looked into as it may create more chaos in the traffic. “I don’t like it but I’m not a legislator but I believe that it has the tendency to create a situation where more Liberian citizens would be considered first-class citizens and will create more chaos in the traffic,” said Cllr. Gongloe, who is also the president of the Liberia National Bar Association.
Adding to the confusion relating the term “vehicles owned or operated” those exempted from the traffic rules, is the fact that the amendment does not break down the terms and conditions and members of both houses and government never fully explained the amendment to the public.
The law also does not say anything about regular commuters who follow exempted officials in traffic in view of traffic officers.
Tuesday’s chaotic end to yet another traffic-related incident involving a member of the national legislature is renewing calls for lawmakers to revisit the controversial law and gauge the views of their constituents and hopeful prevent future incidents from happening. More importantly, some say, had the proper regulations been put in place after the 2018 incident – and those white-colored license plates recalled with the backing of the legislature, the fracas Tuesday may not have been necessary.