Four Liberian civil society groups including the Institute for Research and Development (IREDD), Naymote Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-Liberia), Accountability Lab Liberia and Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CNETAL) have last Friday issued a statement during a well-attended press conference regarding the battle against the deadly COVID-19.
Below is the full text of the statement issued:
Good day ladies and gentlemen of the Press, Fellow Liberians!
Four leading institutions working on democracy, governance and accountability in Liberia, Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD), Naymote Partners for Democratic Development (NAYMOTE-Liberia), Accountability Lab Liberia and Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL) have been closely monitoring national response efforts against COVID-19, including State of Emergency which was announced by the President George Manneh Weah on Wednesday, April 8, 2020.
We wish to applaud the National Public Health Institute of Liberia, Ministry of Health, and the many health workers who have committed themselves to save lives and return Liberia to normalcy. COVID-19 has stalled economic, social, political, and other productive activities in Liberia and needs urgent attention to eradicate the pandemic.
We join health and other authorities to admonish the public to fully respect and observe all measures announced as an effective means of preventing further spread of the Virus as well as consolidating efforts to eradicate it. We are optimistic that with an inclusive and concerted fight, led by institutions and individuals with the requisite mandates and proven capabilities and experience, Liberian will win the war against COVID-19.
Since the State of Emergency came into force on Friday, April 10, 2020, we have observed numerous human rights violations by state security actors including harassment, flogging, and other abuses committed against peaceful citizens. We strongly condemn such actions and call on the government of Liberia to fully respect and protect the rights of citizens during this period. Also, we condemn violence against state security by unscrupulous individuals, including the incident in West Point that caused severe injuries to a Police Officer.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the press, fellow Liberians, despite our support for measures announced by the Government of Liberia, we are concerned about trending issues. If not careful, these inadequacies could undermine Liberia’s fight against COVID-19, which needs to be robust, locally-driven, and inclusive.
Equally, we are concerned about the effectiveness of the State of Emergency, which has so far made no significant difference in Liberia’s response against COVID-19. The measures announced by authorities have not been observed by citizens and even security officers responsible to enforce the mandate. How do citizens play by the rules when the enforcers are themselves grossly violating safety measures instituted? If this trend continues, the country’s fight against COVID-19 will be undermined, thereby putting the population at risk.
Meanwhile, our attention has been drawn to the disbursement of over $6,000 to members of the Liberian Legislature as purported operational funds. It is unfortunate that during this critical period, the Legislature will ignore enormous challenges faced by the health and other critical sectors to seek their personal interest. The over $600,000 given to Lawmakers, amidst approval of the President’s State of Emergency and Stimulus Package, is tantamount to corruption and bribery. We strongly detest such misuse of public resources on privileged few individuals. The Government should be more concerned about the plights of health workers, teachers, civil servants, and vulnerable citizens and groups now. Where is the “love for country” and sensitivity to the plights of ordinary Liberians? Where is the nationalism and pastoralism that our leaders so profess? We are extremely disappointed!
Fellow Liberians, we are even more concerned about the accountability of resources and donations from foreign governments, partners, and diverse resources for the fight agent COVID-19. We do not want a repeat of the abuse of resources during the fight against Ebola in 2014, neither do Liberians want the repeat of mismanagement of the $25 million meant for the mopping up exercise, which is yet to be properly accounted for. We are disappointed that the authorities have not regularly updated the public about the total pledges and actual monies and other resources received, so far, to fight against COVID-19. The government should not lose track of its accountability responsibility to the public, ensuring that resources received are judiciously allocated and expended. We are even more concerned now, as some unscrupulous individuals use emergencies to siphon public resources, at the detriment of those they profess to be serving.
We, therefore, want to make the following recommendations:
- That the rights of citizens are fully respected and protected during the fight against COVID-19. Widespread brutality against citizens, especially women, must stop. We call on the Government to investigate and prosecute all security officers brutalizing citizens during this period.
- That COVID-19 resources be effectively managed and accounted for to the public. All donations and resources received must be timely communicated to the public, in addition to reports of funds already disbursed for various activities and processes.
- The mechanisms for allocating and utilizing the proposed $25 million and other resources must be transparent to ensure accountability at all levels.
- That civil society organizations be accorded the full respect and given the space to operate. The Leadership and essential staff of CSOs must be equally allowed to work, as they play vital roles in creating awareness, providing valuable inputs to government as well as independent monitoring and reporting on key trends and decision-making processes around the fight.
- That the government fully supports the health sector, decentralize testing, isolating, and treatment to health-care centers especially Jackson F. Doe Memorial Hospital and Phebe Hospital.
In conclusion, we wish to reiterate calls for all Liberians and residents to fully respect instructions from authorities to protect themselves and others during this period. We must all observe the social distancing rules and avoid action (s) that undermine the fight against COVID-19, which cannot be won without collaborative and well-coordinated efforts of all concerned: Government, development partners, citizens, civil society and media and other groups in society. Also, civil society recommits to remain constructively engaged with the Government to forge a united, concerted, well-coordinated, and citizens-driven fight against the deadly Coronavirus in the Country.
Accountability Lab Liberia
Center for Transparency and Accountability in Liberia (CENTAL)
Harold Marvin Aidoo, Sr.
Institute for Research and Democratic Development (IREDD)
Eddie D. Jarwolo
Naymote Partners for Democratic Development