In the wake of recent revelations from absconded former passport director Andrew Wonplo that the government of Liberia is illegally selling diplomatic passports to criminals and awarding foreigners honorary consul generalship in lieu of cash payment, a former official of the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia in the United States has called on ECOWAS, as well as the United States and other international partners concerned, to prevail upon the Liberian government to commission an independent investigation, considering that the missing passports in question are ECOWAS passports issued by the Government of Liberia.
According to the former Minister Consul at the Liberian Embassy near Washington, in a letter addressed to President George M. Weah on October 4, 2020 titled: “A Call for Independent Investigation into the Major Passport Scandal at Liberia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs”, Mr. Gabriel I.H. Williams also called on the Government of the Republic of Liberia to immediately set up an independent commission to investigate the major scandal that broke out recently at the Foreign Ministry regarding the sale of more than 4,000 Liberian ECOWAS passports through alleged criminal means.
“Because of the scandal surrounding the criminalization of the Liberian ECOWAS passports, the United States government recently imposed sanctions on former Liberian passport director Andrew Wonplo and his family. This is an indication that the passport scandal could taint the international image of Liberia and ECOWAS in general. The scandal also has the potential to create serious problems for Liberian and ECOWAS citizens traveling to other parts of the world,” Mr. Williams stated.
Recalling the genesis of the passport scandal, Mr. Williams said, following the announcement of the U.S. sanctions, former passport director Wonplo implicated former Liberian Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley and the Office of the President in the illegal sale of the Liberian ECOWAS passports, including diplomatic passports.
“The former passport director also alleged that former Foreign Minister Findley and other senior officials in your office were involved in the illegal sale of diplomatic passports and the posts of Honorary Consul of Liberia to non-Liberians, including a Nigerian, who is reported to be a drug dealer based in Mexico as Liberian Honorary Consul. A source, who is a former official of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told me that there has been a complete breakdown in the system regarding the issuance of passports and how honorary consuls are appointed. The former official said that he strongly believes, based on experience that many Liberian passports have illegally ended up especially in the hands of Nigerians during the course of the scandal. In view of the foregoing, it is incumbent upon the Liberian government to take this passport scandal seriously and conduct itself in a credible manner to uncover the facts. To leave the scandal hanging could have untold negative consequences for Liberia at the international level,” the former Liberian diplomat averred.
Mr. Williams furthered that this is why he seriously objects to the Liberian government’s response to the passport scandal, as articulated by acting Foreign Minister Henry Fahnbulleh, that the government does not intend to conduct any investigation.
“It is unacceptable to dismiss these allegations without an investigation. If Liberia is to be a part of international arrangements like the Liberian ECOWAS Passports, the government is obligated to ensure that Liberian institutions that represent the country function effectively to meet the required standards of security and credibility,” Williams pointed out.
It may be recalled that in 2007 Liberia adopted the ECOWAS Passport, which is a common format passport that ECOWAS member states have gradually been introducing since 2000. In 2009, Liberia adopted the Liberian Biometric ECOWAS Passport that is currently in use, thus bringing the country into compliance with international aviation regulations.
Mr. Williams believes that the passport scandal could also potentially affect the African Union (AU) passport, the continental travel document that would allow visa-free travel between AU member countries, which was scheduled to roll out before the end of 2020.
“While commending the AU for the launch of a continental passport to boost intra-African travel and business, it should be noted that the major passport scandal that has unfolded in Liberia has the potential to undermine international confidence in the integrity and security of a sub-regional or a continental travel document if not addressed promptly. The illegal sale of the Liberian ECOWAS passports presents a threat to international security. At a time of growing drug, human, and sex trafficking, during which terrorists are also desperately seeking to travel abroad to unleash acts of terror, the Liberian ECOWAS passports that have been allegedly sold could well serve the interests of such criminal masterminds,” Mr. Williams further averred.
He also noted that his letter to the Liberian leader is in no way intended to impugn the integrity of those who have been implicated in the passport scandal by the former Liberian passport director. Williams stressed that former Foreign Minister Findley has expressed that he is willing to submit to any investigation to prove that the former passport director is a liar. “Hence, the call for an independent probe is in the interest of transparency to ensure international confidence in the security of the Liberian ECOWAS passport. Failure to do so, Liberia risks being perceived as a country degenerating into a criminal state, as was the case under imprisoned former Liberian President Charles Taylor, who was convicted for war crimes.”
“Finally, the need for an independent investigation into the passport scandal cannot be overemphasized. Hope that you are mindful of the dire international consequences if a Liberian passport is found in the possession of a notorious drug dealer or a terrorist. Equally important, Liberians or ECOWAS citizens do not deserve to be pulled from the line and interrogated at airports around the world because they are bearing passports that are internationally stigmatized. This is a very serious problem, Mr. President, do something to address it before it is too late,” Williams stated, while disclosing that he has already sent ECOWAS, the U.S. Department of State, and the African Union copies of the letter to President Weah.
Meanwhile, Mr. Williams has also alarmed over the growing tension in the country on the eve of the December 8, 2020 midterm senatorial elections.
“Similar to what happened during the respective regimes of Mr. Taylor and military ruler Samuel Doe, the country is also experiencing growing politically-motivated violence, as Liberians prepare to vote in midterm senatorial elections in December. Your government has an obligation to ensure the safety and security of every Liberian, and to sustain the peace in the country. Let Liberia’s recent evil past serve as an example that Liberians will not accept the result of a fraudulent election, no matter how much violence is perpetrated to instill public fear,” the former Liberian diplomat cautioned.
Mr. Gabriel Williams is a former Liberian diplomat, who served from 2010 to 2019 as Minister Counselor for Press and Public Affairs at the Embassy of the Republic of Liberia in the United States. Prior to his diplomatic posting, he served as Deputy Minister for Public Affairs, Ministry of Information, Culture Affairs and Tourism during the first term of President Ellen Johnson Sirlreaf. A career journalist and an author, Williams also served as head of the Press Union of Liberia, a leading civil society organization in the country.