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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 February, 2003, 16:52 GMT
Exit visas alarm Liberians
By Jonathan Paye-Layleh
BBC, Monrovia

The Liberian Government has reintroduced a highly controversial scheme which poses constraints on travelling out of the country.
President Taylor
President Taylor faces elections in October

Under the Exit Visa scheme, no one is allowed to travel out of Liberia unless that would-be traveller provides proof that he or she does not owe the government and public corporations any tax or have any unpaid utility bills.

Domestic and individual debt obligations verified by court records and orders could also bar such people from obtaining exit visas.

The scheme could affect key opposition figures who may challenge the incumbent president in October elections and have been shuttling between Monrovia and Western capitals seeking support for their campaigns.

Immigration Commissioner Prince Myers said that the Exit Visa was free of charge and its reintroduction after 13 years of not being applied was intended to protect the interests of all parties - the citizens, the government and travellers.

Database

He said until now, people owing huge sums of money in bills and taxes left the country unnoticed and, in many cases never returned.

How do we know if there is a terrorist in the country and he is leaving?
Prince Myers
"We can't stop anybody from travelling; this is not intended to infringe on people's rights to free movement," Myers said, adding, "It is the right of government to institute policies at all times."

Besides tax obligations, the Immigration chief said the scheme aimed to establish a database on people exiting through the country borders. "If we don't institute these measures, how do we know if there is a terrorist in the country and he is leaving," Myers asked.

Reaction

The reintroduction of the exit scheme has not gone down well.

A spokesman for the opposition Unity Party, Henry Kesselly, described it as a "booby trap" for opposition politicians, saying he did not understand why now.

Mr Kesselly called on the government to abandon the implementation of the scheme saying no matter what explanation the government gives, this is a violation of people's right to free movement as enshrined in the constitution.

Another opposition man, Charles Kemokai, called the scheme "a recipe for continuous chaos in Liberia" and said it was not healthy for the forthcoming presidential and general elections.





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SEE ALSO:
Liberia ends state of emergency
14 Sep 02 |  Africa


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