Obtaining a Police Clearance in Liberia

To get anything done efficiently in this country, you must have extra money or “mah” -as my zogo brothers would say.

Some of us are lucky enough to afford this extra cash, but not everybody can. I pity those who have to suffer to obtain documents like birth certificates, passports, police clearances, etc. only because they cannot afford to throw away extra money.
Let me tell you about an experience I had so you can have a clear picture of what I’m talking about.

I had a conference to attend outside Liberia that required delegates to obtain a police clearance from their respective countries. Having no idea how to acquire a police clearance, I decided to make an inquiry from my brother who had applied for it before. When I explained why I needed the police clearance, he said the process is not long but getting the clearance will take about 3 weeks. He explained that the process as this:

  1. Get a letter attesting to my good character from a community/religious leader;
  2. Take the letter to the police station in my community;
  3. Get a letter from my community police station (corroborating the previous letter);
  4. Pay $200 LD to Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA); and
  5. Take all the documents to the Liberian National Police (LNP) Headquarters before the actual clearance is processed.

But since I needed it urgently, I should just pay an extra $20 USD to someone in the system to help me speed the process.

When I arrived at my community’s police station, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) officer at the station told me to pay $5 USD  in order to have my letter (from the station) printed because there was no computer or printer at the station and the CID officer was using his personal computer to do the letter. I did not think I had any other option, so I paid the money after which I went to LRA and completed the $200 LD payment. I later went to the LNP headquarters to have my clearance processed. My brother had given me the name of a contact at the headquarters to help me speed up the process.

When I got to the LNP Headquarters, I called the contact, and he came out to escort me in the building. Inside the headquarters, we started filling the form with my information and the contact told me to pay the aforementioned $20 USD to have the clearance done urgently. I gave the contact the cash, and he directed me to do my fingerprints in another room.

When I got in the room, the guy working the finger scanner, who is paid by the LNP of to do his job, told me to give him $100 LD in order to have my fingerprints done. After my fingerprints, he squeezed a little liquid soap into my palms and instructed me to go and wash my hands outside. When I got to where he instructed me, I did not see any pump or wash station to clean my hands. I stood there for a moment wondering if I was at the right place. I later asked a passer-by to direct me where I could go to wash my hands and I was shocked to hear him say “wash your hands in the tub” (a tub that was sitting on the floor in a corner with darkened water lying in it). In this post-Ebola 21st century, I am being told at a government facility to wash my hands in a tub where hundred of citizens wash their hands in unchanged water daily?
I was seething! After being extorted for money and treated with zero customer service, the cannot even provide proper sanitary facility??? I barged back into the room and asked the guy again where I should go to wash my hands and he responded

“Are you blind? You na see the tub sitting right in the corner?”

I then replied,

“You joking right? Do you have the slightest idea how many persons’ lives you people are endangering? The number of people that come here daily to do their fingerprints all dip their hands in the same water festering with germs? Do you know how unhealthy that is?. And this is still happening while we are getting information about a new strain of Ebola virus in Sierra Leone, a country just next door to Liberia? You people should get a bucket and attach a faucet on it for people to use, then no one would have to put their hands into the same festering pool of water.”
Now I fully expected nonchalance and even self-righteousness from the employees, but what surprised me was a lady. This lady, like me, had come to do her fingerprints.

She said “These days girls dem, as soon as they learn small book, they like to act like they know more oh. Anyone complained to you about getting sick from washing their hands in the tub?”

I stood there in shock and just reiterated the need for better facilities.

 

There are so many things wrong with this story I just told and they all need to be addressed. The extortion common citizens have to endure for the most mundane reasons is appalling and it needs to be curbed. I can speak from my experiences, but I believe the reason why it’s so easy for citizens to be extorted from obtaining documents like birth certificates and police clearances is that the process is so slow.

Government employees are aware that folks generally tend to be in a rush so they add their own fees.

Do you know how much these individuals collect daily? If 25 persons are to give one person USD $20 daily, i.e. $20×25 = $500 daily; that is $2,500 USD weekly, about USD $10,000 a month.

Do you know how many years an average Liberian would have to work to make that much money? I suggest the government increase efficiency and speed up the process and even if it can’t be shortened down from the average 3 weeks to 3 days, there should at least be an expedited service line that’ll enable folks who are in a hurry to get their documents faster, with an additional cost of course. That way the extra money will be going into the government’s coffers and not to people who have no claim to that money whatsoever.

 

Authored by Anonymous 

Featured Picture by RASTRIYA SAMACHAR SAMITI

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