FIND/UNDP/OHCHR Concludes Town Hall Meetings in Bong, Lofa and Nimba Counties
With support from UNDP/OHCHR joint Programme, the Foundation for International Dignity (FIND) has concluded a week long town hall meetings in Bong, Lofa nd Nimba Counties. The meetings which brought together about 900 local community residents from Foya, Voinjama, Salayea, Gbarnga, Bong Mines, Saclepea, Ganta and Sanniquellie was intended to provide the avenue for interaction between the citizenry and actors within justice and security sectors as a trust building mechanism and a platform for the exchange of legal knowledge and information on how the justice and security sectors work.
Speaking at different intervals, the citizens from the three counties expressed their frustration in accessing justice due to the high cost of fees imposed on them by the police and the court. They accused the police and court of charging huge sum of monies for case registration, arresting fees and transportation of the accused to the prison, something they said was unbearable due to the deteriorating economic situation in the country. They also complained about the high fees charged by Judges in securing bonds for criminal reappearance adding that the legislature needs to revise the law taking into consideration of the hash economic situation in the country.
In responding to the allegation made by participants at the various town hall meetings, the police and court officials at the programs expressed sadness over the situation while at the same time attributing it to the lack of inadequate financial and logistical support from their respective entities. In making the rule of law works, according to Justice and Security actors participating in the town hall meetings, citizens too have a major role to play in complementing efforts by government particularly when officers are logistically and financially incapacitated to effect arrest and pursue alleged criminals.
They further recommended to FIND to serve as advocate in ensuring that the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary make appropriate allotment through the national budget to address the huge logistical challenge faced by the justice and security sectors.
At the same time, the local residents also called on FIND and their donors to continue such and awareness and interaction adding that it would reinforce and strengthen networking between the citizens and actors within the justice and security sectors of Liberia.
Responding to the multiple issues raised at the town hall meetings, Mr. Roosevelt A.K. Woods, Executive Director of FIND thanked the participants for speaking openly about the challenges faced by the justice and security sectors adding that his organization will engage the Ministry of justice and the Judiciary to find workable solution to the problems confronting the two sectors. Mr. Woods further informed the participants of his intention to meet with the Assistant Minister for Correction at the Ministry of Justice to strategize on means to transport and relocate convicts at the Gbarnga, Voinjama and Sanniquellie Prison facilities to Zwedru, Grand Gedeh County as a means of reducing the over rowdiness of those facilities.
He emphasized the need for collective citizens’ participation in fighting crimes and working closely with all actors within the justice and security sectors to ensure that the rule of law is upheld in their respective communities.
The town hall meetings are part of ongoing activities being implemented by the Foundation for International Dignity under the UNDP/OHCHR joint programme title “ Strengthening the Rule of Law in Liberia: Justice and Security for the Liberia People”. Under the initiative, FIND is currently providing legal aid assistance to over 90 indigents in Lofa, Nimba and Bong counties. FIND is also organizing series of sporting events in the three counties bringing together the citizens on the one hand and actors of the justice and security sectors on the other hand where education and awareness is carried out through the distribution of tracks, brochures and other demonstrational materials on how the justice and security sectors work.
Amongst others, FIND is carrying out routine monitoring of the prisons, court and policing withholding cells in the counties in addition to erecting billboards on access to justice at strategic locations in the three counties in addition to having country cooks where local people are cooking and eating together while at the same time sharing information on access to justice.