EDITORIAL : Disagreeing with Calls for Arbitrary Travel Ban on Outgoing Officials

RECENT PUBLIC PRONOUNCEMENTS by a number of Liberians, including media personnel, calling for a travel ban on officials of the George Manneh Weah administration on alleged corruption claims are unfortunate as they are unconstitutional and ill-conceived. The zest for political reset and fight to end Liberia’s “number one enemy—corruption” should not be powered by chronic political bitterness and desperation to settle scores. It should rather be underpinned by the rule of law and clear conscience to end impunity, graft and corruption.

WE SAY THIS because the other day, a media outlet, specifically the Daily Observer, ran news story quoting two former officials of the Press Union of Liberia residing in the United States, as calling on the Government-elect headed by former Vice President Joseph to issue an Executive Order immediately after inauguration to forestall or ban some outgoing officials of the Weah administration from leaving Liberia.

ACCORDING TO THE Daily Observer, the former PUL officials have asked the Boakai administration to “institute swift legal actions that would bar the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Mr. Samuel Tweah, along with other senior officials of the Finance Ministry, as well as some senior officials of the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) from leaving the country. The men, according to the newspaper, further said: “This initial phase of the corruption investigation should also cover the Foreign Ministry, where several thousands of Liberian ECOWAS passports have allegedly been criminally sold. Similarly, we called for Foreign Minister Dee-Maxwell Kemayah and Deputy Foreign Minister Thelma Duncan Sawyer, also known as Mrs. Comfort Sawyer, to be barred from foreign travel pending investigations regarding the passport scandals and other allegations of major malpractices that have occurred at the Foreign Ministry during the tenure of the Weah administration.”

THOUGH THE TWO men, in their statement, pontificated that such actions they request of the incoming Boakai administration should not be understood as a political witch-hunt of their proposed culprits, we wonder what a “political witch-hunt” can be than this.   We wonder if the former Liberian media leaders are aware that it would be a gross violation of the Constitution of Liberia and an infringement of the rights of the target officials – and therefore a political witch-hunt – when their calls for travel ban were heeded and enforced as requested by them. The last time we checked, we found clearly unambiguously stated in the 1986 Constitution, our Organic Law, multiple provisions that prevent arbitrary actions against citizens, including inhibiting the rights to freedom of movement in and out of Liberia.

CHAPTER III OF the Constitution guarantees a horde of rights for the people of Liberia, including the right to free movement. Specifically, Article 13 (a) and (b) are copiously clear to the effect that no Liberian can be barred arbitrarily from leaving and entering the country. “Every person lawfully within the Republic shall have the right to move freely throughout Liberia, to reside in any part thereof and to leave therefrom subject however to the safeguarding of public security, public order, public health or morals or the rights and freedoms of others,” states Article 13 (a). Supporting the same stance, Article 13 (b) also states: “Every Liberian Citizen shall have the right to leave and to enter Liberia at any time. Liberian citizens and non-Liberian residents may be extradited to foreign country for prosecution of a criminal offense in accordance with the provisions of an extradition treaty or other reciprocal international agreements in force. Non-Liberian residents may be expelled from the Republic of Liberia for cause.”

IF THE INCOMING Boakai administration is not a military regime operating outside of the Constitution of the country, and it is truly a civilian democratic government and in a ‘country of law and not of men’, then why should a few officials of Government be handpicked for the estrangement of their right to travel in the absence of due process, when they are not indictees whatsoever? What is then more a witch-hunt than this suggestion by the two former officials of the PUL, one of Liberia’s remnant bastions for freedom, liberty, democracy and rule of law?

Lest we are misunderstood, let’s state quickly that we vehemently detest corruption and graft, and impunity for those who perpetrate it. Our editorial policy and records are clear on our ceaseless and unpromising crusade for transparency and accountability and against corruption in this country. We therefore wholeheartedly support all calls, including the newly hyped posturing by the incoming government, to combat all forms of corruption. But what we desist, and will continue to desist to the last drop of the ink of our pens is selective justice, settling political scores, political witch-hunt, breach of our Organic Law in the name of fighting corruption.

FROM INDICATIONS, WE note that craving for the imposition of travel ban on officials of the outgoing administration in the absence of legal basis, or in the absence of due process consistent with law, is jungle justice, travesty of justice, huge witch-hunt and an appeal to return to Liberia’s dark days.

WHILE WE ALL support a vigorous fight against corruption, which is a longtime national menace, let our actions be devoid of ingrained political hate and bitterness for each other. Let’s allow the provisions of the Constitution to be the overarching guard, and let the sense of fairness and level-headedness control our thoughts and actions. Anything short of this can only be considered a recipe for political witch-hunt, something that could derail our forward march to greater democracy and freedom that we so jealously espouse as a people; something that was set into motion by President Weah and those who came before him.

WE LIBERIANS, PARTICULARLY those claiming to be crusaders of change and transformation, must eschewing such statements made by the referenced PUL officials—statements that clearly could embolden the return to autocracy and national disorder.

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