Liberia: A Wake-Up Call From Uncle Sam - Blacklisting Ex-Passport Director Puts Judicial Branch On Notice

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editorial

ANDREW WONPLO Bragged about his freedom after the Criminal Court 'C' presided over by Judge Yarmie Quiqui Gbeisay dismissed charges against him in June.

INSISTING THAT he did nothing wrong, Mr. Wonplo declared: "Liberia is a country of laws."

Even though the case was between him and the Republic of Liberia, Wonplo said he had no intentions of taking issue with the government for tarnishing his character because he is a strong CDCIAN and also said "these are things that happen in life for which one must expect."

MR. WONPLO, the disgraced former Passport Director of Liberia, was arrested in August 2019, along with a Nigerian national identified as Adedoyin E. Atiro, and accused of selling Liberian Passports to foreign nationals.

ON THURSDAY, the United States Department of State designated Wonplo and his entire family

blacklisted from entering the US.

IF EVER THERE WAS a case of a major stakeholder sending a direct message that it is unhappy with the turn of events of the justice system, this is it.

THE ACTION FROM THE US comes in the backdrop of Judge Gbeisay's decision to declare Wonplo free.

OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, the judicial branch of government turned a blind eye to multiple reports detailing allegations of bribery and corruption in the judicial system.

FOR EXAMPLE, the 2019 US State Department Human Rights Report noted that judicial officials and prosecutors appeared subject to pressure, and the outcomes of some trials appeared to be predetermined.

THE REPORT WAS CLEAR that while the Supreme Court has made provision through the establishment of the Grievance and Ethics Committee for the review of unethical conduct of lawyers and has suspended some lawyers from legal practice for up to five years, the public has brought few cases. "Complaints of corruption and malpractice involving judges' conduct may be brought to the Judicial Inquiry Commission. Both the Grievance and Ethics Committee and the Judicial Inquiry Commission lacked appropriate guidelines to deliver their mandates effectively and were perceived as nontransparent and subject to influence."

THE JUDICIAL BRANCH has found creative ways to let bad people off the hook to the detriment of Liberia's post-war revival.

IN THE CASE of Wonplo, it turned to a familiar trick, one that has seen prosecutors go AWOL in crucial cases.

ON TUESDAY, JULY 14, a motion filed to by to dismiss charges against Wonplo by his lawyer due to failure by the prosecution team at the Justice Ministry to prosecute the matter. The dismissal of charges against the former passport direction by the court was in line with Chapter 18 section 18.2 of the Criminal procedure law which states that dismissal by court or failure to proceed with prosecution after two successive terms of the court.

MR. WONPLO'S release fits the profile of recent controversial court actions that has left many bewildered about the lack of political will on the part of judges and court system in Liberia today.

QUITE RECENTLY, the Anti-Robbery Unit of the Liberia National Police arrested an alleged notorious armed robber identified as Kesseley Mulbah, Alias Kezo for his alleged involvement in an armed robbery incident in the Diggsville Community. Mulbah and his accomplices knocked down and killed a member of the Diggsville community watch team, Vafoday Kamara, with a silver RAV4 jeep while attempting to flee the crime scene.

THE SAD REALITY is that Kesselley was actually arrested a year earlier for armed robbery and jailed at the Monrovia Central Prison. Mysteriously, he happened to have escaped, paving the way for him to commit yet another act of armed robbery, and murder.

AFTER 173 as an independent nation, Liberia continues to ride an ageing circle of impunity while thousands of its people live in abject poverty.

THE CANCER of Corruption remains endemic at every level of Liberian society. Both leaders and rulers have taken turns an ending the cancer with limited or no results at all. When President Sirleaf took office in 2006, she announced that corruption was "the major public enemy."

HER SUCCESSOR, President Weah trumpeted that his election meant that he had received an overwhelming mandate from the Liberian people to end corruption in public service. "I promise to deliver on this mandate," he said on inauguration day.

DESPITE THE PLEDGE, Mr. Weah's first years in office has been hampered by limited resources and controversies over missing money.

THIS IS WHY WE welcome the decision by the US government through Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, to designate Mr. Wonplo as blacklisted due to his involvement in significant corruption. "In his official capacity at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from 2018 to 2019, Mr. Wonplo was involved in passport fraud that undermined the rule of law, reduced the Liberian public's faith in their government's management of identification and travel documents, and compromised the integrity and security of immigration processes," the Secretary of State said.

ACCORDING TO THE US Secretary of State, the designation is made under Section 7031(c) of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Act, 2020 (Div. G, P.L. 116-94). "Under Section 7031(c), once the Secretary of State designates officials of foreign governments for their involvement, directly or indirectly, in significant corruption, those individuals and their immediate family members are ineligible for entry into the United States. The law also requires the Secretary of STATE TO EITHER publicly or privately designate such officials and their immediate family members. In addition to Mr. Wonplo, I am announcing the public designation of his spouse, Dennice Wonplo, and their minor children. This designation reaffirms U.S. commitment to standing with the people and government of Liberia in their fight against corruption. The Department will continue to use these authorities to promote accountability for corrupt actors in this region and globally."

WHILE WE welcome the decision of the United States, we urge the Trump Administration and the State Department to go a step further by beginning to deny visas to judges and officials of government involved in corruption - or similar acts of Mr. Andrew Wonplo. At a time when medical tourism is at an all-time high for Liberian officials, this would send a clear message to enablers corruption, bad governance and injustice that turning a blind eye to good governance comes with significant risks, enormous consequences and implications.

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