Liberia: ‘Armed’ Police Besiege LTA Headquarters

Armed officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) on Friday, April 26, besieged the head office of Liberia Telecommunications Authority (LTA) headquarters.

The police’s action, which followed the suspension of all members of the Board of the LTA, led to the officers conducting a search at the LTA headquarters, reportedly in response to allegations of unauthorized removal of assets and documents from the Authority.

This comes amidst a crisis within the telecommunications regulator, as the new President of Liberia, Joseph Boakai, has taken strong actions to remove commissioners he deems incompatible with his administration.

There have been concerns raised about the potential threat to the rule of law in the country as President Boakai pushes to dismantle key tenured and governance institutions, despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering the reinstatement of certain officials in tenured positions.

The Supreme Court had ruled that President Boakai violated the Liberia 1986 Constitution by making new nominations before the tenure of officials appointed by his predecessor had ended, denying them due process.

In response to the Supreme Court ruling, President Boakai suspended Edwina C. Zackpah, Israel Akinsanya, Zotawon D. Titus, James Gbarwea, and Osborne K. Diggs, Chairperson and Commissioners of the LTA, citing allegations of questionable financial transactions and malpractices.

According to a release from the Executive Mansion, the President called for a comprehensive audit of the LTA by the General Auditing Commission (GAC) to investigate these claims and urged the suspended officials to cooperate with the investigation.

He urged the suspended officials to cooperate fully with the GAC as they undertake the investigation and expressed confidence that the investigation would reveal any financial impropriety and help identify corrective measures to prevent such occurrences in the future.

The LTA is a critical institution responsible for regulating the telecommunications sector in the country and the institution should uphold high standards of integrity and accountability in carrying out its mandate.

“The suspension of the Chairperson and Commissioners is a clear indication of the President’s confidence in his Administration’s commitment to ensuring that the LTA operates in the best interest of the Liberian people,” the Executive Mansion release said.

“The President has emphasized that the Government is committed to promoting transparency and accountability in all sectors and urged all public officials to uphold the highest standards of integrity and accountability in carrying out their duties to the Liberian people.”

Upon suspending the entire LTA Board of Commissioners, Boakai made interim appointments pending the completion of a general audit, justifying these moves as necessary for continuity and stability during the audit process.

The President also suspended the Chairperson of the Governance Commission (GC), launching an investigation committee to look into his conduct.

At the LTA headquarters on Friday, the officers, acting on a tip-off and without a search warrant, proceeded to search the vehicles and bags of employees on the premises. During the search, a woman identified as Mrs. Louise Chea, the special assistant to the suspended chairperson of the LTA, was stopped and her vehicle was searched.

Chea expressed concerns over the lack of proper authorization for the search and initially resisted. After negotiations, the search was allowed to proceed, resulting in the discovery of two laptops in her car. One of the laptops was claimed to belong to her husband, while the other was her assigned device from the LTA.

Chea objected to one of the laptops being taken to a depot, and a standoff ensued until the arrival of Cllr. Phil Tarpeh Dixon, the general counsel for the LTA. Following discussions with the police, it was agreed that the laptop would remain in the office due to the sensitive client and institutional information it contained.

Suspended LTA Officials Decry Intimidation, Harassment

There has been an outcry from suspended commissioners regarding the invasion and harassment they faced during the incident.

The suspended LTA Commissioners raised concerns about a police invasion at the LTA headquarters, alleging that officers of the Liberia National Police carried out a search without a warrant and created an atmosphere of insecurity and pandemonium.

They have submitted a formal communication to the Justice Minister, seeking clarification on the invasion and requesting intervention to prevent further police actions against them.

A communication dated April 27th, addressed to the Justice Minister, Cllr. Oswald Tweh, states: “We write seeking an explanation of Friday’s invasion and request that you prevent another police invasion on the premises of the Liberia Telecommunication Authority. On April 26, 2024, at about 4:00 pm, armed police invaded our offices, creating insecurity and pandemonium.”

They alleged that during the invasion, the police molested staffers and threatened to physically “escort” any member of the board of commissioners from the LTA premises. They also claim that the police made statements threatening their presence near the LTA.

The suspended commissioners expressed deep concern over the “vulnerabilities this move of your police brings to our personal security,” and now seek the Justice Minister’s intervention to prevent any further police actions against them.

As tensions continue to escalate, anticipated drama looms at the LTA headquarters as newly appointed commissioners await a chance to assume office while the ousted commissioners challenge their removal through legal means.

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