Monday, November 21, 2011

My Take On The Court Ruling Against The Media

By: Sam Zota, Jr. Judicial Reporter, THE NEWS Newspaper Monrovia, Liberia

On Tuesday, November 15, Judge James Zotaa, Jr., Resident Judge of the First Judicial Circuit Court ‘A’ at the Temple of Justice ruled against four media institutions for spreading ‘hate messages of violence’ in the wake of last week riot between the Liberia National Police and supporters of the main opposition Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) which left at least one person dead and several others wounded.
The Judge, without stating what constitutes “hate messages of violence”, also ordered the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) to revoke the permits and licenses of any media institution that promotes the airing, broadcasting and publication of ‘hate messages of violence’ in the future.
This mandate from the criminal court presided over by one of Liberia’s top judges, now squarely places the ball in the court of the government through the Ministry of Information to determine what is ‘hate messages of violence.’
I believe that the decision by Judge Zotaa to have ruled against the media without clear definition of the term ‘hate message’ is a clever attempt by the government to censor the media in Liberia.
In order to avoid situations that tend to put the media against the government and the creation of self-censorship on journalists in their reportorial duties, the court needed to have clearly stated those things that constitute hate message, incitement and others.
This, in my opinion, is a press freedom trap that has been set by the Government of Liberia to entrap media institutions that the government feels would not be dancing according to their tunes.
This decision compels journalists to be careful about how to express their views on issues that would run contrary to the positions of government. In other words, since there isn’t clear definition on what constitutes hate message, I see it as a trap that could entangle journalists in the future. Without a clear definition, it places the media in an uncomfortable position to report on issues and actions that tend to oppose government’s position.
While I do not intend in any way to question or disagree with the judgment or ruling of the judge against the four media institutions, however, what we (journalists) had anticipated was clear interpretation of the law.
Granted that this instance case was not a regular trial but rather a conference hearing, it equally needed proper interpretation like any other matter.
The Judge, who received the evidence from prosecution lawyers, adjourned the hearing for the following day (Tuesday). Journalists had also anticipated that the judge would have entertained argument into the production of the evidence by the state. Instead, he reviewed the evidence in his chamber and came out with a ruling.
Although the judge did not allow evidence produced by prosecution lawyers to be heard in open court, strangely, at the closing of the case, he said it was warranted to have adjudged the media institutions because they had broadcast hate messages that posed a threat to the security of the state. He also stated that actions of the media institutions were punishable under the law and that the court would not institute any penalty for what he called “ensuring press freedom as guaranteed under the Constitution, making sure that freedom of press prevails.”
Judge Zotaa stated in his ruling that the conducts of the media institutions were criminal under Liberian Penal Code of 1972, and was an indictable offense, without citing specific sections or articles of the penal code. The above statement by the judge needed clarity which also puts media institutions in doubt.
The crowd of journalists, students and ordinary Liberians, who gathered at the hearing on Tuesday, did not only come to witness court proceedings, but to get clearer pictures and understanding of what constitutes hate messages and incitements.
I am of the conviction that most, if not, all of those who attended the hearing, left the court room with doubts and with no understanding about what the law says about what constitutes ‘hate message’.
In conclusion, I strongly believe that the judge needed to have done more good by giving an interpretation that would avoid placing the media in a state of fear and self-censorship.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Pastors End Service In Liberia

…Pray For Violence Free Elections
Two pastors from the Community of Christ Church Incorporated, Nigeria mission have completed a 70-day intensive evangelism mission across Liberia with a call for peaceful and violence free elections in the country.
Pastors I.I. Umanah, head pastor of the Utu Ikpe Congregation in Akwa Ibom State and Rev. Stephen Ukiwe Oleka of the Family Miracle Center in Obon Town, Akwa Abom State, Nigeria said peace in Liberia means peace in the West African sub-region.
Speaking in separate interview in Monrovia recently, the two Nigerian prelates said during their stay in the country, they held talks with key government officials, including legislators and other local authorities in Montserrado, Sinoe, Bong and Margibi counties.
During their meeting with officials of government, they highlighted the work of the Community of Christ Church in the country and the need for Liberians to pray for peaceful and violence free elections.
The pastors said their trip to Liberia was part of the ‘World Service Corps’ of the Community of Christ Church worldwide, which is aimed at proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ in all parts of the world and promote communities of joy, hope, love and peace.
The prelates said while in Liberia, they were also involved in spiritual cleansing and other community works.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Albino Entertains Crowd At Independence Celebration

The 164th Independence Day celebration in Voinjama, Lofa County was marked by several activities, including the dedication of projects in various parts of the county, sports among others.
The actual celebration was held in the Voinjama Administrative building and was only intended to accommodate at least one-thousand persons who were served official invitation by the Ministry of State for Presidential Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Even though, it was estimated that the building would have accommodated at least one thousand persons, but reports gathered indicate that the hall could not accommodate even six hundred persons.
The rest of the people who had congregated in that small Liberian city (Voinjama) to witness the ceremony were left with no options but to remain standing outside the building to take glances at the various traditional and other dancers.
The crowd could not hold their excitements when a little albino girl was called on stage to perform.
The young albino entertained and thrilled the thousands of on looker with enthusiasm, even better than some adult dancers at the ceremony.
With the level enthusiasm seen in the young albino girl, many believed she would become one of Liberia’s best cultural dancers when provided the needed support and care.Writes, Sam Zota, Jr.

Friday, August 12, 2011

“EIA Is Not One Man’s Thing”

…EPA Boss Asserts
The Executive Director of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia (EPA) says the issue of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) is a problem that requires the involvement and participation of all stakeholders in the country.
Madam Anyaa Vohiri said the EIA process needs the collective expertise of every well-meaning Liberian and other stakeholders in order to make the country safer.
Speaking recently at the close of an environmental evaluator 2011 training and licensure for over 40 EIA investigators, auditors and receivers held in Monrovia, Madam Vohiri said a safe environment is the bedrock for sustainable development in any country.
The EPA Executive Director stressed the need for the EPA to form part of all concessional negotiations, policy plans or activities that are likely to lead to the degradation of the country’s environment.
The EPA is the successor of the National Environmental Commission of Liberia (NECOLIB) first established in 1999. According to the Environment Management and Protection Law of Liberia, the EPA is to form part of these agreements in order to identify the anticipated impacts of a proposed policy, project or activity, both adverse and beneficial impacts, and predict the extent and scale of the impact.
EIA is a tool for assisting environmental management and for contributing to sustainable development.
The purpose of EIA is to identify potential environmental impacts from proposals, such as projects and programs, and to propose means to avoid or reduce the significant impacts.
EIA also institutes the rules, regulations and procedures for an internationally recognized and effective environmental management tool which helps to attain and maintain a rational balance between socio-economic growth and environmental protection. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 2, 2011)

Kokoya Women, Youth Complain

…Of Exclusion In Local Governance
Women and youth of Kokoyah Statutory District in Liberia’s central region of Bong County have complained of neglect and exclusion in the decision-making and governance processes of the county.
The Kokoyah District women and youth said local authorities in the county have failed to regard them over the years in all of the decision making processes of the county.
“The local government here is not concerned about the welfare of women in this area (Kokoyah), because they (local authorities) don’t even involve us in anything in this county…be it decision making or other processes,” said Rebecca Dennis, President of the Kokoyah Women Association (KOWA) in an interview over the weekend in Bong County.
Madam Dennis said after several calls by her group and other women groupings in the county, the local authorities were constrained to hold a meeting with them at which they (local authorities) promised to include them in decision making processes of the county.
The KOWA boss said since the meeting was held in 2009, nothing has been done by authorities in the county to remedy the problem.
She said as a result of the continuous exclusion of women in decision-making and governance processes of the county, majority of them are not aware of how funds allocated the county are being used.
Also, the President of Kokoyah Statutory District Youth corroborated the assertions by the women leader in the district.
Mr. Lloyd Ngwayah said the young people in the district and Bong County in general have, over the years, been involved in the decision making process of the county.
Ngwayah, who is also Chairman of the newly established Bong District Youth Caucus (BDYC), indicated that the young people in the county have never been part of discussions surrounding concessions and other agreements in the county.
“We don’t have idea about the various concession agreements in the county; it was only through the help of the international and other local non-governmental organizations that we were able to even see and understand some of the agreements…,” Mr. Ngwayah noted.
He accused the county authorities of being insensitive to the plights of young people in the county.
The youth leader said several attempts made over the years by young people to be heard in the county have been considered and seen by the local Bong County leadership as creating confusion in the county.
He said as a consequence of the local authorities’ actions, young people in the county also have no knowledge on how funds that are allotted to the county through the national budget and other contributions are being utilized.
The Bong County youth are currently being trained in several areas, including budget tracking and monitoring, organizational management skills, among others, by the Community Development and Research Agency (CODRA).
CODRA is a local NGO helping to, among other things, empower communities in setting their own development agenda and pursue other positive course of action aimed at finding solution to their development problem.
However, efforts to contact Bong County Superintendant, Lucia Herbert, did not materialize as her mobile phone was said to be perpetually switched off since Monday, August 8, 2011.
Meanwhile, Bong County is currently paying host to concession companies including ArcelorMittal, China Union and Bhp Billiton.
The county is also a recipient of US$2,383,000.00 annually as Social Development Funds (SDF) from these concession companies for the development of the county.
The county gets US500, 000 from Arcelor Mittal; US$1,750,000 from China Union and US$133,000 from Bhp Billiton annually.
In addition to the SDF, the Government of Liberia also made an annual appropriation of US$200,000.00 in the National Budget for each county as a way of decentralizing the economic spending of the country.
On November 23, 2009, the Cabinet endorsed the National Decentralization and Local Governance policy.
By its endorsements, the Cabinet thereby authorized the ministry and agency heads to have proceeded with the implementation policy.
The National Decentralization Policy was established as one of the Unity Party’s led-government’s key deliverables of devolution of the government, thereby empowering and/or disbursing power to the periphery which comprises the local government structures in the 15 political subdivisions of the county.
Bong County was established in 1964 by the National Legislature and is divided into 12 administrative districts.
Bong County, according to the 2008 National Housing and Population Census, is the third most populated county in the country with a population of 333,481.
The county is strategically situated within the central region of Liberia and borders Lofa and Gbarpolu in the north-west, Margibi and Grand Bassa in the South, and Nimba in the East. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 11, 2011)

Justice Demanded In Klubo’s Death

--As Fear Grip Zorzor District Residents
The people of Zeyeama clan, Zorzor district Lofa County, are demanding justice and that the killer of Klubo Tarnue should be speedily tried.
Mama Tarnue, Chairlady of Zeyeama Clan said she and her female counterparts in the clan and Zorzor district will remain unwavering till perpetrators are brought to justice.
She accused the government through the county authorities of reneging on ensuring that Klubo’s killers are speedily brought to justice in order to adequately address the increased rate of ritualistic killings in the county, particularly Zorzor district over the past four years.
“We are afraid to go on our farms or to even travel alone because it is possible that similar thing (killing) could happen to anyone of us or our children if we are not careful,” said Mama Tarnue.
Madam Tarnue noted that the brutal murder of Klubo and subsequent extraction of her body parts was a complete disgrace to womanhood.
Residents of Zorzor District are said to be living in fear following the brutal killing of their kinsmen in the district.
According to some residents, mainly women and youth, since the discovery of the lifeless body of Klubo Tarnue along the Konia-Zorzor road near Kabbeh village, they are afraid of travelling alone.
Klubo Tarnue was found dead few yards away from Kabbeh village where the deceased lived prior to her death with some body parts missing, including her private part and ear on July 29, 2011, barely two days following the 164th Independence Day celebration.
Kebbeh village is about ten minutes away from Konia where Korpo Kamara was also killed in 2010 in Zeyeama clan, Zorzor District, Lofa County.
Korpo’s death sparked violent protest last year which led to the death of four persons and properties destroyed.
Following the discovery of Klubo’s body on July 29, about 14 persons, including the Sectional Chief of Zeyeama Clan, David Zubah were arrested; but ten persons were later released while the remaining four persons, including the deceased boyfriend, Tarnue F. Lewis and others are still in police custody undergoing investigations.
“We don’t want them (government) to play with this killing business like the ones that have been happening in the past; it is getting too much now in this district…and we will not rest until justice is done,” the Sectional Chief of Zeyeama Clan David Zubah stressed.
The young looking Chief said they are beginning to be frightened by the level of inconsistencies that are emerging from the accused testimonies to the police.
According to Chief Zubah, the accused had initially told the police that he killed Klubo along with John Harris, his brother Karwolo Harris, two prominent sons of the area, and another accused only identified as Mulbah.
However, the chief said the accused latest testimony that he killed the victim alone is worrisome.
Chief Zubah said suspect Lewis told the police in his second testimony that he killed Klubo in their three-room mud hut and later placed her on his shoulder and dumped her lifeless body near the village along the road.
Lofa County Superintendant Galakpai Kortimai could not comment on the matter, even though he had initially promised through a telephone conversation to have done so before leaving for Monrovia on August 4, 2011.
For his part, the County Attorney of Lofa, Luther J. Sumo, called on the citizens to remain calm as government was doing everything to ensure the perpetrators are prosecuted in accordance with the laws.
“The people of that area are also part of the government; so, we count on them to assist us in providing to the police the necessary information that will help to make the investigation faster and easier,” Atty. Sumo told The News in a telephone interview.
The Lofa County Attorney, who was also out of the county attending a workshop in Monrovia, assured that the government will not relent in prosecuting anyone who will be found in connection with the crime.
There have been about four cases of ritualistic killings in the area since 2007.
A group of Lofa youth under the banner, ‘Lofa County Youth Seeking Justice’ recently threatened to stage demonstration in demand of justice for the high wave of ritualistic killings in the county.
The demonstration which was initially scheduled for July 26th was later canceled by the group following several consultations with key stakeholders of the county.
The group claimed that since the deaths of Vawuee Kezelee of Kpazagezia in 2007, Patrick Mulbah in 2008 and Korpo Kamara in 2010, the government has refused to implement recommendations from the investigating committee.
The death of Klubo Tarnue brings to four the number of persons who have been killed in the county, particularly Zorzor District in less than five years.
According to the 2008 National Housing and Population Census, Zorzor is one of the six districts in Lofa with a population of 40,352. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (August 10, 2011)

Friday, July 22, 2011

Sime Darby Faces Lawsuit

Green Advocates International has finally resolved to institute
lawsuit against Sime Darby Plantation and the Government of Liberia for illegally taking over several farmlands to cultivate oil palm in Grand Cape Mount County.
Green Advocates International reached the decision on Saturday
following series of requests from Grand Cape Mount and Bomi counties citizens living near the Malaysian Company concession area.
The citizens, in separate pleas at a recent meeting in Grand Cape
Mount County, asked the advocacy group to help stop further expansion of Sime Darby’s plantation.
They claimed that the Malaysian Company is planning to further
expand it plantation without regard to inhabitants of various
communities in Bomi and Grand Cape Mount counties.
The citizens indicated that Sime Darby has, without any prior notice and consent, taken over their farmlands to grow oil palm.
“The clearing of our forest by Sime Darby has exposed us to raging sunlight and rainstorm,” the Bomi and Grand Cape Mount citizens said.
They alleged that they can no longer farm as a result of the
company and the Government of Liberia forceful seizure of their
The citizens said their land was forcefully taken away from them by the Government of Liberia and given to the company to grow oil palm without their knowledge and consent.
“We were never part of the concession agreement entered into between the government and Sime Darby and not aware of what is in the agreement.
“We are face with severe hardships because we do not have bush to farm anymore,” they noted.
An elder of the counties Siaffa B. Gray disclosed that the company
has desecrated their ancestral graves and bulldozed cash crops like
palm and cassava farms privately owed by the citizens.
He said the company also destroyed their secret society shrub.
He disclosed that about 2.5 million palm trees which serve as a
source of income for the locals were destroyed by Sime Darby without any compensation.
“You have to ensure that Sime Darby is taken to court and is made to pay for all that it has destroyed here,” elder Gray said on behalf of
the citizens.
Responding to the citizens’ request, Green Advocates International
Lead Campaigner Alfred Lahai Brownell assured that his organization would drag Sime Darby and the Government of Liberia to the Supreme Court to revoke the concession agreement on the ground that it is unconstitutional.
He said “we will go to court and we will fight this case and if we don’t succeed at the Supreme Court of Liberia, we will take this
matter to the international community.”
Cllr. Brownell noted that he would rely on his international
partners to fight the case out of Liberia.
The Green Advocates Lead Campaigner couldn’t control his tears when he said “the action of government to give your land to Sime Darby without your prior consent is unfair and wicked.”
He said Green Advocates would challenge government’s action at the Supreme Court, noting “government will have to prove that it own this land that it has given to Sime Darby”
Sime Darby is a Malaysian Company that has a US$800,000 Concession in Liberia.

At Sime Darby Plantation: Workers Drink From Creeks, Dwell In Makeshift Structures

What amount to modern day slavery is reportedly taking place at Sime Darby Plantation in Grand Cape Mount County as workers of the Malaysian Company are still drinking from creeks and living in dilapidated structures erected
with mud.
An investigation conducted by Green Advocates International at the weekend unearthed that the company’s staff are sleeping in makeshift structures and drinking from unsafe water sources contrary to its concession agreement entered with government.
Some employees and residents of Sime Darby Plantation during the visit said the company has failed to provide safe drinking waters for inhabitants of the various divisions.
They said the failure of the company to provide safe drinking water for its concession area is causing diarrhea and other skin disease among residents of the area.
“We have to travel for about ten minutes among rubber trees to fetch water from a nearby creek,” a female resident of Sime Darby Division # 9 who begged not to be named for fear of being dismissed said.
She said division # 9, which has a population of about 1, 500 persons lack a hand pump and only depend on the shallow running water that usually turned dirty during even hours.
The female staff noted that the creek serve as drinking water source and is used to cook and wash cloths.
She also disclosed that the company has apportioned more than two families to an apartment thus causing some family members to sleep in the kitchens of the buildings.
It was observed that residents especially children who fetch water from the creek have to stand in the water before dipping it into a buckets or containers.
Dirt and rubber tree leaves were observed in the creek, while residents were seen living a makeshift structures.
Disappointingly, residents of Zonton Town in Grand Cape Mount County are also said to be drinking from creeks.
Zonton Town Chief Sando Maluballah hinted that they are forced to drink from the running water due to the lack of hand pump in the community.
He noted that Sime Darby has refused to provide pump to the community.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Pleebo Youths Accuse SIFCA

…Of Employing Ivorians Over Liberians, But
Youths of Pleebo Sodoken District in Maryland County have accused the management of SIFCA prioritizing the employment of Ivorians more than Liberians in the county.
According to the Pleebo Youths, the company has begun the importation of Ivorians and other French nationals to occupy various skilled and unskilled positions at the plantation.
“We want to appeal to the President and our Honorable Lawmakers not to rectify that agreement (SIFCA), because the company is not in the interest of the people of Pleebo Sodoken District…Even as I speak to you, if you can’t speak French, you can not easily get job with SIFCA…,” Chris Mulbah, Pleebo District Youth Secretary General said.
Mulbah alleged that the company has already imported several Ivorians to carry out several unskilled jobs including the brushing, planting of palms, construction of road and bridges at the plantation.
Another youth, Solomon Bedell, a member of the Pleebo Intellectual Discourse also accused the company of being insensitive to the plight of the young people of the district.
They alleged the since the company began operations at the Cavalla Rubber Plantation (CRC) three years ago, they have failed to build schools, clinics nor provide scholarship for youths of the district.
The youth, all males who were gathered at an ‘ataya-shop’ in Pleebo further accused the management of SIFCA of bribing some chiefs and elders of the district who were initially opposing the agreement.
“…They (SIFCA) have already given several motorbikes to some chiefs and elders of the district…they also came here, paid several chiefs and took them from here over night to Monrovia to pledge the people of this district’s support to that agreement…,” another youth alleged.
Pleebo District Commissioner, Aloysius T. Hne who refused to grant interview to reporters confirmed that some chiefs were taken to Monrovia by the company without his consent.
“I only heard, after few days that some chiefs have gone to Monrovia to pledge support to SIFCA agreement, but I was not aware of there going,” Mr. Hne said.
When contacted, SIFCA Group Liberia’s Director of Community Services and Public Relations, Martin Nyeka denied all of the claims and said they are only intended to derail the character of the company and satisfy certain political interests.
Mr. Nyeka said the company believes in the empowerment and development of local communities based on recommendations from the community members.
He said in series of meeting with the people of the district, they (residents) outlined several priorities including reserve land for members of the community, provision of scholarships for youths of the district among other things to the management of SIFCA.
“SIFCA has already agreed to meet all of their demands; we are going to finance everything that is before us, because we believe in the social we being of the people and we are committed to that…,” Mr. Nyeka said.
The SIFCA Public Relations Officer said contrary to the youth’s claims, the company has provided over 200 scholarships to Maryland university students at various universities in the country.
He said the company has compensated several formers who farms fill within the operational areas in the tone of USD$33,000.00 over the years.
“In agriculture there is nothing like white-curler job, even if you were a manager…and before you carry out clearing, you must first map up the entire area and in order to do that, you must have people to be willing to take cutlasses and is not white-curler business, is about playing with the dirt; and must of our young people don’t want to go to the soil, but they rather prefer to set behind computer in the office…,” Mr. Nyeka said.
He further clarified that: “We did not bring people from Ivory Coast to do all of our works, we put up vacancy notice for people to do the clearing and most of our young people said they could not do such work and the work had to continue, so we brought in some people from Ivory Coast to handle the technical aspects of mapping the area.”
The company PRO also confirmed the purchase of about 12 motorbikes for some chiefs of the district in order to ease the transportation difficulties that were being faced by the chiefs.
He further denied the claim that the company hired chiefs and elders to lobby for the company and pledge support to the agreement.
SIFCA is a financial holding group operating in the sector of agro-industry that was established in 1964 with seven companies, including Sucrivoire (sugar), Cosmivoire SA (health & beauty products), GREL (based in Ghana), SAPH (palm oil), SIPH, SHB (palm oil in Benin) and SODIMA as part of its network.
The Company reportedly won the concession agreement to management the Cavalla Rubber and the Decoris Oil Palm Plantations in Pleebo Sodoken District Maryland County.
But the agreement has been marked by series of controversy with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf ordering the reexamination of the entire contract.
Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (May 31, 2011)

Lake Shepherd Turns Defecating Ground

There are two major lakes in Liberia, Lake Piso in Grand Cape Mount County and Lake Shepherd in Maryland County.
The two lakes are situated along the Atlantic Ocean, and are characterized by vast expanse of wetlands as well as lowland forest vegetation.
The beautiful Lake Shepherd in Maryland County, southeastern Liberia about 500 miles from Monrovia was one of the Liberia’s leading tourism sites for its breathtaking view.
Lake Shepherd is about seven kilometers long and less than one 1 kilometer wide. It is often described as a long and narrow lagoon paralleled to the coast.
The coastal area of the Lake is characterized by narrow sandy beaches separated by rocky promontories and are backed by broad rolling savannahs.
The calm waters and coconut trees studded coast offered the kind of relaxation that tourists gladly enjoy.
But the Lake Shepherd is now a sand-mining site and defecating ground for many residents of the City of Harper; scores of people, mainly young boys spend almost all day on the shores of the lake loading trucks with sand.
“I come here every day to ‘hustle’ for my daily bread; when ever I load a truck, I am paid LD$150.00; and sometimes we load three-to-four tracks a day…,” a young boy said.
Another boy, believed to be a student, dressed in the Harper High School uniform had just defecated at the Lake when The NEWS visited the area. He said they were constrained to use the shores of the Lake due to the lack of toilet facilities in most communities in the city.
The shores of Lake Shepherd are being taken over by bushes with awful odors caused by human feces.
When contacted, Harper City Mayor Regina Sampson said the lack of toilet facilities in many communities in the city was posing serious challenge to the city government.
Madam Sampson said due to the lack of toilet facilities in homes and communities, the residents are constrained to either use the shores of the lake or other areas to defecate.
It can be recalled that in 2007, the Abidjan Convention of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that the population along the coastal zone is growing at an alarming rate of about 4 to 5 percent and that the rapid population growth along these coastal zones has resulted into the destruction of social values, culture, socioeconomic dislocation and conflicts in addition to the serious degradation of the environment.
Social problems created in these areas include inadequate housing facilities, poor state of education and health facilities, poor public hygiene, and high crime rate resulting from high levels of unemployment and poverty.
The document further stated that many of the coastal urban settlements in the country lack essential elements of infrastructure which give rise to poor health conditions and to environment that is not conducive to a reasonable quality of life, even though social conditions are sometimes often satisfactory.
Background of Maryland County
Maryland was first established as a colony of the Maryland State Colonization Society 1834, but was not granted independence until 1854.
The Maryland colony declared its independence from the Colonization Society but did not become part of the Republic of Liberia. It held the land along the coast between the Grand Cess and San Pedro Rivers.
In 1856, the independent state of Maryland in Africa requested military aid from Liberia in a war with the Grebo and Kru ethnic groups who were resisting the Maryland settlers' efforts to control their trade in slaves.
President Joseph J. Roberts assisted the Marylanders, and a joint military campaign by both groups of Americo-Liberian colonists resulted in victory.
On February 28, 1857, the Republic of Maryland joined Liberia as Maryland County. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

‘Gboyo Center’ Lies In Ruins

‘Gboyo Center’ Lies In Ruins
The most upper point of Harper City known as Up Cape looks like Benson Street in Monrovia where the Masonic building is situated.
Like the Masonic building on Benson Street, there is a four storey building with the inscription on the top front view, ‘Morning Star Lodge N0 6’. The ‘Morning Star Lodge N0 6’ is also popularly known as the Harper Masonic Temple or ‘Gboyo Center’ which was reportedly used as meeting hall for individuals who were believed to be involved in ritualistic activities in the county.
‘Gboyo’ is a word used in Liberia, especially in the Southeast to refer to ritualistic killing.
The ‘Gboyo center’ that once caused terror amongst residents of Harper, especially those in neighboring communities who fell prey to ritualistic activities in the area, is correctly laying in ruins.
A permanent citizen of Harper City told The NEWS recently that the building and its entire vicinity remained a terrible and a ‘no-go zone’ until the civil war when it was allegedly looted and vandalized by rebel forces.
“People in this entire community used to be forced to go to bed as early as 6:00 pm; and no one was even brave to pass along this road or street after 5:00…because that person will not live to tell the story,” he said.
In other parts of Liberia, ritualistic activities have been mainly associated with ‘state power’ or search for job.
But for Maryland County, gboyo or ritualistic activity has been an age-old characteristic of the county.
Unlike other places in Liberia, gboyo activities have been and continued to be a common practice in Maryland which can not be associated with search for job or elective post.
The practice, according to some citizens of the county, was fast becoming a normal pattern of life among the people to the extent that those who were connected with the practice could not hide their connection and was seen as an act carried out by the elites.
A brief about Maryland County and gboyo activities (source: Sunday Express published in October 1977)
The first trial of the ‘gang of 12’ persons indicted for gboyo activities started in Harper, Maryland County on September 12, 1977.
A few days later, two of the defendants, Joshua Brown and Teah Toby, were set free and later testified as state witnesses.
During the trial, one of the defendants, Francis Nyepan told the court that he initially confessed to the killing of Moses Tweh at gun point and under cruel treatment from the Maryland County police, who, he said, arrested and mishandled him.
“…I was dragged, and given electric shocks on the tender parts of my body, and was made to cut grass with my fingers and later placed on ice when the agents put me on a drum of water with blocks of ice.”
Nyepan further alleged that he was arrested and charged with the killing of Moses Tweh as a result of a traditional juju ordeal that had been ordered by the then acting Superintendent of Maryland County, Nathan Barnes.
Other defendants also complained of being maltreated, humiliated, tortured and said their earlier confessions were given and extorted under severe torture.
Some police officers also testified that James Anderson had obstructed police investigation of the disappearance of Moses Tweh.
During the process, the Superintendent ordered the release of two of the accused, Wonplu Boye and Kotie Weah who were apprehended by the police as suspects in the Tweh’s disappearance.
The two were released on July 3, the same day of the night Moses Tweh, who had gone missing was killed.
State witness, Joshua Brown testified that: “When I got in the yard (of Allen Yancy), I saw old pa Barclay and Kotie Weah who both came to the jeep and when Nyepan opened the jeep, Wonplu Boye and Barclay held Moses Tweh by the hands and walked him to the lime tree in the backyard of Yancy. There Barclay and Weah spread a dark flexible material on the ground and sat Moses Tweh on it.
The witness further said: “At this time a circle was made around Tweh under the lime tree and Kotie Weah came out from the circle and stood over Moses Tweh. Then Wonplu Boye standing before Tweh remarked to him in the Kru dialect saying: You remember sometimes ago, you insulted me before the public and I told you that I was going to catch you, now, this is my time. As soon as Boye finished, Kotie Weah took an axe and hit Moses Tweh behind his neck twice and while on the ground, he (Weah) held him (Tweh) by the shoulder, pulled down Tweh’s short black pants and….”
The defendants were found guilty by jurors on October 26, 1977 and were sentenced to death by hanging.
The second trial of another eight defendants started on May 8, 1978 in Harper, which sew the death of one of the defendants before the end of the trial.
One month later, on June 9, the jurors announced a guilty verdict against defendants Allen Yancy, James Anderson, Francis Nyepan, Philip Seton, Wreh Taryonnoh, Putu Dweh and Thomas Barclay and were also sentenced to death by hanging.
Six months later (December 1978), the Chief Justice of Liberia James A.A. Pierre in a 60-page opinion upheld the verdict and affirmed the death sentence.
President William R. Tolbert later signed the death warrant of the seven defendants and they were executed by hanging.
Writes, Sam Zota, Jr., (May 30, 2011)

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sea-erosion Response Must Be Void Of Politic...

Sea-erosion Response Must Be Void Of Politic, Unnecessary Spendings And Impact Lives
On the south of Liberia is Buchanan, the third largest city in Liberia. As a coastal city, it has a wide collection of lagoons and beaches.
Buchanan, also known as ‘Gbezohn’ was founded in 1832, by black Quakers who established the colony and named it Port Cresson after their financier, a Philadelphian merchant who supported the endeavor.
According to the website freewikipedia, this colony only lasted a few years, however, as resentful ethnic tribal members demolished it. The new colony that was founded to replace it was then named Bassa Cove, for the name of the tribe that had formerly attacked it. Bassa Cove managed to prevail better than its predecessor, and in April of 1893 was annexed to Liberia.
The city was then named after Thomas Buchanan, the first Governor of Liberia and a cousin of former American President James Buchanan.
The city that once served as a major economic center as Monrovia is also the birth place of former Liberia’s President, Daniel E. Howard who served from 1912-1920. Buchanan city saw the exports and shipments of iron ore, palm oil and rubber from other parts of the country.
According to the 2008 National Housing and Population Census, Buchanan has a population of 34,270 (16,984 males and 17,286 females) and lies 70 miles (110 km) from Monrovia.
But, the residents of the once beautiful port city are said to be living in fear that the city is gradually being swallowed by sea-erosion daily.
Several streets and homes in the city have already been swallowed by the troubling wave of sea-erosion.
One major street on the verge of being swept away is the Atlantic Street.
This street houses several facilities, including major intertainment centers in the city and headquarters of the opposition Liberty Party (LP) Grand Bassa branch.
Already an entire town in the county is also on the verge of collapsed as the sea last week (June ) destroyed over fifteen (15) shelters and randered several persons homeless.
Bardeh-waleh is a fishing town that lies upper Buchanan city along the Atlantic Ocean with over two thousand inhabitants.
The sea has vertually destroyed almost half of the town leaving more then 217 persons, including women and children homeless, Bardeh-waleh community chairman, Pastor John Mensah said.
Mensah said since the start of the sea-ersion in 2007, the Liberian Government conducted accessement of the level of damage caused by the erosion and promised to address the situation.
He said since the promise was made, nothing concrete has been done by the government to address the problem that continues to destroy homes.
The residents, most of whom are fishermen have however expressed willingness to be relocated to a fishing-friendly environment in the county.
Another fisherman, Kweku Mensah, father of more then 30 children by three wives who have lived in the community since 1955 said, they, as fishermen, depend on the sea for their livelihood, and as such, would not be willing to move to an area that is not condusive for fishing.
Madam Mary Asmah, mother of six children and a widow, one of the many victims said she and her children were sleeping in a church building.
“…Only God can provide for me and my children, because I don’t have anybody to help me…so, I want the government to help me,” the widow who appeared sick said.
The County Director of the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-Information Services (LISGIS) and Focal Person for the Steering Committee on the Coastal Project said some funds have been made available to help address the situation.
Mr. Isaac Guah said initial funding for the four years coastal defense project in the tone of US$3.3 million was provided by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).
GEF, founded in 1991, is an independent financial organization that provides grants to developing countries and countries with economies in transition for projects related to biodiversity, climate change, international waters, land degradation, the ozone layer, and persistent organic pollutants, in partnership with international institutions, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to address global environmental issues.
GEF partners with 10 agencies including the UN Development Programme; the UN Environment Programme; the World Bank; the UN Food and Agriculture Organization; the UN Industrial Development Organization; the African Development Bank; the Asian Development Bank; the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development; the Inter-American Development Bank; and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel provides technical and scientific advice on the GEF’s policies and projects.
Mr. Guah said with the exception of UNDP which has also provided US$400,000.00, no other UN agency have made available any money for the project.
The Focal Person noted that the Government of Liberia has also allocated in the current budget US$1.5 million toward the project.
Several allocations have already been made on how the money will be expended for the project.
An amount of US$10,827.10 has been allloted for training of technicians and the development of data storage/analysis strategy, S$6,496.50 for basic equipment for data collection; US$5,000.00 for meetings/workshops, among others.
These activities are expected to be carried out beginning July to September this year.
The delay in the actual and immediate implementation of the four years project is intended to score a political goal in the up-coming elections by some politicians.
The issue of the sea-erosion needs urgent response to impact the lives of the people who are being affected by this disaster and should be void of politic and unnecessary spendings, shuch as workshops that will have no impact on the lives of the affected women and children.
Brief background about Liberia’s Drainage
Liberia is well-watered by six major rivers and numerous small ones. These rivers and their many tributaries have developed into a dense drainage system with a dendrite pattern.
This drainage system has been determined by the geological structure and by the general slope of the relief of the country. Rivers in Liberia glow from northwest to southeast except the Cavalla River and its tributary, the Dougbe River which flows northeast to south.
Majority of Liberian Rivers originate in Guinea. The six major rivers in Liberia are Cavalla, Cestos, St. John, St. Paul, Lofa and Mano Rivers.

The equatorial position and the distribution of high and low pressure belts over the African Continent and the Atlantic Ocean determine the climate of Liberia and move generally of West Africa. Because of this position and the moderating influence of the nearby Atlantic Ocean, there is a fairly warm temperature throughout the year with a very high humidity.
Seasons in Liberia are not determined by changing temperature because it is fairly warm throughout the year, but by the prevailing precipitation (rainfall).
Therefore, a rainy (wet) and dry (sunny) seasons can be differentiated.
The Liberian coastline runs approximately from southeast to northwest and at right angles to the prevailing southwesterly rain bearing winds... As the maritime air reaches the coast, it is forced to rise, it cools and condensation takes place which causes the extremely heavy rainfall.
The average annual rainfall near the coast amounts to 4770 mm. Towards the interior, the amount of rainfall decreases to an average annual of 2080 mm.
The rainy season begins in April and ends in October, while the dry season is from November to March. Because of the equatorial position of Liberia, the sun is almost directly overhead at noon throughout the year, and insulation is very intense in all parts of the country.
Therefore, high temperatures with very little monthly variations should be expected.
Along the coast the proximity of the Atlantic Ocean has a very moderating effect on temperature; annual and daily variations are evenly balanced, while towards the interior, the continental influence becomes more dominant, the range of temperature widens.
It is difficult to quote figures for temperature, since they vary considerably with location and altitude; but 27oC to 32oC and 23oC to 28oC at night seems to be fairly representative.
The influence of the equatorial maritime air masses causes the very high humidity in Liberia.
Relative humidity ranges from 90 percent to 100 percent during the rainy season. (Source: The COASTAL ZONE VULNERABILITY
AND ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE IN LIBERIA of the Environmental Protection Agency EPA)
Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. (through a jhr/LMC support)July 1, 2011, The News Newspaper

Monday, June 27, 2011

Ivorian Refugees Spent 50 Days

Ivorian Refugees Spent 50 Days
…In Prison Corridors Without Trial
The 89 Ivorian refugees recently arrested by the joint security forces at the border in Pedebo, Maryland County, in connection with mercenary activities in April 2011, made their first appearance in court in May, after 50 days in pretrial detention at the Maryland County central prison.
According to Article 11 (c) of the Liberian Constitution, all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to equal protection of the law.
The seven Liberians who were arrested along with the 89 Ivorian nationals on April 1, 2011 were 12 days later and the case was dismissed by the Associate Magistrate for lack of convincing evidence to link the defendants to the crime.
The appearance of the defendants - all Ivorians - in court on May 20, 2011 was prompted upon a writ of ‘habeas corpus’ filed by the Public Defender of Maryland County Abraham Sillah against the state for keeping the 89 suspects under prolonged detention without trial.
The lawyer argued that prolonged detention of the defendants without due process was in violation of their human rights and the Constitution of Liberia.
Article 21 (f) of the Liberian Constitution states: “Every person arrested or detained shall be formally charged and presented before a court of competent jurisdiction within forty-eight hours. Should the court determine the existence of a prima facie case against the accused, it shall issue a formal writ of arrest setting out the charge or charges and shall provide for speedy trial. There shall be no preventive detention.”
The lawyer also argued that since the arrest of the defendants on April 1, 2011 to May 20, 2011, the defendants have been made to sleep in the corridors of the prison compound and are being fed with dry farina on a daily basis.
He said the arrest and detention of the 89 suspects was also in violation of the Liberian Constitution which provides for the right to legal council at every stage of investigation.
Article 21c state that: “Every person suspected or accused of committing a crime shall immediately upon arrest be informed in detail of the charges, of the right to remain silent and of the fact that any statement made could be used against them in a court of law.
Such person shall be entitled to council at every stage of the investigation and shall have the right not to be interrogated except in the presence of council. Any admission or other statements made by the accused in the absence of such council shall be deemed inadmissible as evidence in a court of law.”
Maryland County Attorney Aloysius Allison confirmed that the defendants were rather being kept in the compound of the Harper Central Prison and not the corridors as claimed.
Although Atty. Allison denied reports that the suspects are sleeping in the corridors of prison, however, he could not state where exactly the defendants were sleeping in the compound.
Atty. Allison said the Government of Liberia was not violating the rights of the defendants but rather the government was ensuring that they remain in protective care during their stay in the country.
Our reporter who visited the Harper Central Prison said the suspects were seen laying around the compound on pieces of mats spread on the ground.
He said some of the suspects were also seen eating farina mixed with sugar in buckets while others were seated on pieces of mats conversing with each other.
Liberia has rectified several international conventions including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) which was adopted in 1948. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr. first published May 25, 2011 (The News Newspaper)


JPC Questions Magistrate Dismissal

The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) has questioned recent decision believed to have come from President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to dismiss a magistrate in Maryland County.
JPC Regional Coordinator for the Diocese of Cape Palmas, Southeastern Region, Thomas Mawolo said the President’s decision followed the recent release of seven Liberian mercenaries who were arrested along with 89 Ivorians by the joint state security of Maryland on suspension of being Liberian mercenaries who were fighting in the Ivorian crisis.
Mr. Mawolo said while it is true that magistrates and other public officials work at the will and pleasure of the President, it was equally important that allegations of misconduct by these officials, especially in the various counties, be thoroughly investigated by independent body before decisions are taken.
He said out of the 96 suspected mercenaries arrested on April 1, seven Liberians were sent to court where they spent 12 days in detention without trial. The case was dismissed by the magistrate for lack of proper evidence.
The JPC Coordinator said the magistrate released the seven Liberians on grounds that the prosecution could not convincingly prove its allegation against the defendants.
Associate Magistrate Jocquette Dioh was reportedly ordered dismissed early this month through a communication from President Sirleaf for releasing the Liberians.
Copies of the President’s communication were allegedly served the offices of the Superintendent, County Attorney and other institutions in the county.
When contacted, the offices of Maryland Superintendent and County Attorney acknowledged the dismissal of the Associate Magistrate, but denied knowledge of the President’s dismissal letter of the magistrate.
A letter marked, EJS/MOS/310/2011, dated May 5, 2011, bearing the signature believed to be that of President Sirleaf, indicated that the dismissal of Associate Magistrate Dioh was based on recommendation from the Minister of Justice for the magistrate’s unauthorized release of seven Liberians.
“…Your dismissal is based upon the recommendation of the Minister of Justice following your unauthorized action to release seven Liberians who had been charged with mercenarism after their return to Liberia from participation in the conflict in La Cote d’Ivoire,” the second paragraph of the letter stated, although the defendants were not convicted of the crime in a court of competent jurisdiction.
Even though the Superintendent’s office denied knowledge of the letter, but the concluding paragraph of the letter instructed the dismissed magistrate to turn over all properties of the Government of Liberia in his possession to Superintendent J. Gbleh-bo Brown. Writes, Sam Zota, Jr.