Police in Gbarnga, Bong County launched teargas canisters against protesting drivers on Monday morning, 26 November, affecting a school kid who was returning home from class.Drivers in Gbarnga had staged a go – slow to claim government’s attention on high vehicle registration fees, but police say the drivers went beyond holding a peaceful protest to setting roadblocks.
Our Bong County correspondent says members of the Bong County Drivers Union set roadblocks at about 7:00 AM on Monday at the Iron Gate Car Wash and at the National Transit Authority (NTA) parking in Gbarnga.
The drivers’ action results from government’s alleged refusal to adhere to their demand to reducing vehicle registration fees.The drivers are complaining that high vehicle registration fees are posing serious challenge to their activities.
Following the situation, our correspondent observed that the police’s response against the protest also affected a nine – year old girl who was on her way from school.Our correspondent says the kid was affected by the teargas to the extent that her eyes were swollen.
The victim was later rushed at the C.B. Dumbar Hospital in Gbarnga.Speaking in an interview with this paper, Police Regional Commander in Gbarnga Morris Teamah says the drivers did not stage go-slow as earlier stated.
Mr. Teamah argues that setting a roadblock is not peaceful protest.According to him, instead of the drivers parking their cars peacefully, they set roadblocks in Totota, lower Bong County, and Gbartala, Yelequelleh District.
Additionally, he says they also set two roadblocks in Gbarnga, all of which were on the Gbarnga to Monrovia Highway.The police commander explains that the protesters’ action was obstructing the traffic, prompting the police to teargas them.
For their part, some of the drivers expressed serious frustration over the action of the police on grounds that they did not expect them to have carried on such action.The drivers say they were not stopping private or government vehicles’ movement, but they set the roadblocks specifically to stop commercial vehicles from carrying passengers.
Some of the drivers were arrested in the process and placed behind bars.According to the drivers, they usually pay US$190.00 for vehicle registration plus US$330.00 annually for insurance.In addition, the drivers complain that they further pay US$45.00 for license, all of which they say total US$565.00.
The drivers are lamenting that this amount is too much for them because they are struggling to survive.The go-slow on Monday affected Bong, Nimba, Lofa and Margibi counties.The drivers allege that the Liberian government through the Ministry of Transport has imposed a compulsory insurance on them.
But they have counter – argument for the government policy, saying insurance is a business which an individual needs to join at his or her will and should not be mandated by government.The drivers continue that despite the many challenges they are currently confronted with and the huge amount they pay to government’s revenue, the Liberian government is doing nothing to ensuring their satisfaction.
The aggrieved drivers also claim police intimidation as another major challenge for them in the process of transporting people to their various destinations.They say when in transit, especially from Gbarnga to Monrovia, police officers usually use guns to intimidate them, allegedly mandating to pay money at various checkpoints.According to the protesting drivers, there is a need for the Liberian government to put in place measures that will stop the police from collecting money from drivers.
By Joseph Titus Yekeryan in Bong–Edited by Winston W. Parley