3 April 2013

Liberia: Another Passport Snafu in Liberia - Security Officer Sells Passport Form to Journalist

Men shout at each other in the office of Deputy Director of Security Richmond Tolbert at the Ministry Foreign Affairs on Capitol Hill.

"If you publish my picture you will die and get rotten in jail!" George Mcgee screams at UNMIL Radio reporter Matthew B. Deljay as he walks about pointing his fingers angrily.

"I am not afraid of dying"! Daljay yells back, and I will inform my relatives and friends that you have threatened my life in the presence of your boss.

It all started on the 11th of March at which time Deljay went to get an ordinary ECOWAS passport. After presenting his birth certificate and filling in the form as is required by the process. He walks down the hall where about seventy persons waited in vain for passport forms that were said to be finished.

"While walking I met this guy (Mcgee) who asked me if I wanted passport form. I said yes and he took me to a money changer under the tree, where he had a bag filled with the passport forms. He asked me for money and I gave him five dollars US."

Soon other colleagues in the office began to draw nearer. " What is happening here?", Deputy Director Tolbert asks.

"This man just behind me for passport business o... I gave his money back. Nyamah brought him to me so I can help him. After I help him, he gave me the money I did not eat it self... I kept it." Mcgee says.

As he explains, the tension seem to be increasing between the two men as the investigation in to the mater turns into a roar. The passport of Deljay is taken by another officer. Deljay requests his passport but the other officer refuses to hand it over. After a while the officer hands over the passport.

"I notice that you were already in the process so why you went to Mcgee for passport form?", he asks.

"I wanted to know if what we were hearing outside about the process was true. All the people waiting for forms and they can't get it. This man is one of those who is polluting the process ",Deljay answers.

The process of getting passport from the Ministry in the past was very difficult. It took months to get the Liberians Passport at that time.

People were paying more money than the required fees to foreign ministry employees who had access to the system. Many lost their money to unknown persons. In 2010 President Sirleaf appointed Mary Broh as Passport Director who set up the current system. Now it takes about two weeks to get the passport after applying. But it seems the system is gradually going back to where it came from.

The latest development follows a major passport scandal in 2012 when a Danish journalist Mads Brugger disguised as a Mr. Cortzen, produced a documentary, The Ambassador detailing his surreal adventures posing as a corrupt Liberian diplomat in the Central African Republic who purchased an Honorary Consul position for $US185,000, facilitated Mr Brügger's appointment as Liberian Honorary Consul and Ambassador-at-Large. His credentials were signed by President Johnson Sirleaf herself, drawing the government into a major international embarrassment.

Deljay explained: "After he gave me the form under the tree he asked me for a copy of birth certificate and passport size photo. I started to conclude that he was spoiling the process. But my camera was out of current to capture him in order to get more evidence, so I told him I will bring the photo the next day." Deljay explains, the next time I saw him was Tuesday. I shouted his name and took his photo from a distance. He and his friends surrounded me and threatened me."

"I did not threaten him. Mcgee replies ,he said he was vex because he call me I did not answer and I did and he came here but I did not come to work on Thursday. So I gave him the form and the money back. I

didn't know what I do to him o."

Looking back, Deljay wonders how those many forms got in the hands of Mcgee who is just a security. Even more disturbing, what a money changer has to do with the process? "This is damaging the country, shouts Deljay."My man you guys are all young people. Your can handle this thing, you don't know where you will meet this man tomorrow, one of Mcgee's colleagues says to Deljay.

"I don't care where I will meet him. But this has to stop, otherwise this country will not move ahead," Deljay says.

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