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Editorial: Not Enough, Madam President, for the Gongloe Committee Report

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On March 26 this year, the Police Support Unit and Emergency Response Unit of the Liberia National Police violently responded to a demonstration staged by students of the Monrovia Consolidated School System or MCSS in solidarity with the ‘go-slow’ action by their teachers in response to the failure of the government to meet up with its commitment to them.

The Government of Liberia, through the Ministry of Education, had committed itself to settling their arrears and increasing their salaries, but could not due to reasons not explained to them. The bloody intervention of the police and its description by Director Marc Amblard as ‘internationally acceptable approach’ attracted condemnations from all sectors of the Liberian society, including the media.

However, weeks following ‘Bloody Soweto’ in Monrovia as the attack on the students was captured by this paper, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf announced a committee to probe matter.  The Committee, headed by former Solicitor-General and Labor Minister Tiawon Gongloe, after weeks of inquiries and interactions with all stakeholders of ‘Bloody Soweto’, recently submitted its findings and recommendations to the President of Liberia for implementation.

Among the recommendations, the Committee called for the dismissal of the Deputy Director of Police for Operations, Colonel Al Karley and suspension of two other senior officers because all of the top brass of the LNP invited by the committee corroborated their testimonies that their men used “excessive force” to contain the student demonstration, the suspension of Director Amblard for two months without pay for his failure to exercise leadership, control and proper supervision over his men, the retirement of the Principal of the G. W. Gibson High school, Terrance Moore for his failure to control his students, the suspension of the Principal of the W. V .S. Tubman High School for a month without pay as well as the student leaders of the  two schools, Alfred Kortu and Lee Harris for a year from seeking higher education in the country for failing to prevent their colleagues from throwing stones.

But in her Independence Day message on July 26 in Voinjama, Lofa County, President Sirleaf described the committee’s recommendations as “too harsh at this time to be implemented”.

In furtherance of her reaction and against the Gongloe Committee report, the President only chose to suspend Deputy Director Karley for a month without pay effective Monday, August 1, as well as warned Director Amblard to ensure that the LNP adheres strictly to the laws and policies of the government related to street protests, demonstrations and incidents inimical to peace and security, and left other recommendations from the committee for actions by the Ministry of Education regarding the principals and student leaders of Gibson and Tubman High Schools.

Quite frankly, while Madam President may have her own justification(s) for her initial reaction to the committee’s report, many well-meaning Liberians may also consider such reaction and latest decisions as an attempt to ‘play fun out of justice. JUSTICE MUST HAVE TAKEN ITS COURSE, especially so when there were admissions by all sides, with severe punishments for those bearing greater responsibilities.

We are of the fervent belief that there’s no better time than now to implement the Gongloe Committee report. With or without Al Karley and others, the Liberia National Police will still continue to exist as a strong and formidable institution in Liberia.  With or without the principals and student leaders, Gibson and Tubman High Schools will continue to remain viable in the education sector of our society.

As innocent Liberians and the students who were one way or the other severely victimized by brutal attack by the police and violence by the students on March 22, 2011 in Monrovia look out for justice, it  is politically inexpedient for the Ellen Administration to ‘sweep the Gongloe Committee Report under the rug’.

We see Monday’s actions by the President, as announced in an Executive Mansion press statement issued last evening as an attempt to protect the perpetrators of the March 22’s ‘Bloody Soweto’, something we consider as dangerous to our emerging democracy.  Surely enough, justice has been stabbed again, while the perpetrators go ‘merry-making’.

Even though we do understand that this is election year (October or November 2011) in our country, it is also this same election year (March 22, 2011) that these senior police officers and their men ordered and executed the brutal and bloody violence against the poor students with pride and honor, while the students in return threw stones and other objects.

While we must reason with Madam President that this is a crucial time for our nation, it is also important for her to save face so that well-meaning Liberians and our international brothers and sisters residing here can continue to see her as a sincere advocate of justice.

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