• August 29, 2022

AT LUNGI AIRPORT: ‘Immigration Extorts Le500K to Stamp Passports’

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Travelling out of Sierra Leone presents another experience of how corruption has eaten deep into the fabric of government’s Ministries, Departments and Agencies, with a specific case in point involving the Lungi International Airport (LIA), where a disappointed traveller called Forum newspaper and alleged that Immigration Officers at the airport are demanding 500,000 old Leones from passengers to stamp each of their passports.

This, according to the caller, happened on Friday 26 August 2022 at Lungi International Airport. Passengers who were travelling out of the country received harrowing experience, according to the caller. “It was brazen manner at which the Immigration Officers were coercing, soliciting, persuading and even harassing Sierra Leoneans and foreign travellers and visitors to part with money to the tune of Five Hundred Thousand old Leones to stamp a passport,” the caller said, adding: “It is sickening and saddening to see Immigration Officers shamelessly soliciting Five Hundred Thousand old Leones without respect for their uniform.

What is happening at the Lungi International Airport is a national disgrace. Extortions among other unlawful activities that are ongoing at the Lungi International Airport are indeed disgraceful for the reputation of Sierra Leone, the government, an administration that boasted to eradicate graft under the watch of the chief crusaders themselves such as President Bio and the ACC Commissioner, Francis Ben Kaifala. Of course they can’t deny having knowledge of such unlawful activities at the gateway of the country they pass through frequently.

As passengers observed the extortion syndicate at the airport, the caller said he decided to send an audio message and call Forum Newspaper to inform state authorities and the public about their experience with the immigration officers at the airport.

The caller further raised several issues, asking: “Why are these officials so shameless as to not realise that by being at the Lungi International Airport they represent the face of Sierra Leone? Do they not realise that they are the first point of contact for any visitor coming into our country? What impression will foreigners have of our country when immigration officers harass people and demand for money openly without shame? Can they not at least respect their office and uniform?

Forum as a reputable newspaper in Sierra Leone contacted the Headquarters of Immigration Department in Freetown to get their side and the lady who responded said she would get back to us after relaying the message or complaint to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Internal Affairs but she never did. Called again by Forum, the lady’s phone was off till press time.

If the information or allegation by the caller is anything to go by, it would seem the Sierra Leone Immigration Officers, the Sierra Leone Police, and related sundry personnel or workers at the airport do not care about the damage they are doing to the image of Sierra Leone.

One of the affected travellers narrated his ordeal to Forum: “The mess at the Lungi International Airport is so brazen that it filled me with revulsion. As the reality of the rot confronted me, I was too ashamed to be a Sierra Leonean. As I beheld their dishonest activities, I, ironically, even felt ashamed on their behalf.”

Unfortunately, it seems the immigration officers at the airport have lost their moral values, as they engage in their disgraceful act, another passenger told this medium, adding: “They do not even care if they are being watched at.”

Corruption, it must be noted, has eaten so deep into the fabric of Sierra Leone that it would take an unprecedented incident to rid this nation of such a cankerworm. What is happening at the LIA is the true picture of what the people of Sierra Leone have become over the years, hence the case of the immigration at the Lungi airport is a microcosm of what is happening across the MDAs of government in this country.

The demand for money at the national airport was intimidating as it shamelessly borders on harassment, the affected traveller noted, saying that the extortion has added to the trouble passengers have to go through at the airport as they grapple with their luggage and get enmeshed in the chaotic situation outside the departure lounge.

For Sierra Leonean travellers, extortions and other illicit games at the airport are certainly normal practices even under the constant watch of close circuit cameras. Whereas, for foreigners passing through the facility for the first time it gives adverse and unethical impression about grand corruption in Sierra Leone.

Hence, considering vows that have been made by President Julius Maada Bio to leave no stone unturned in fighting corruption, Forum is of the view that the Anti-Corruption Commissioner, lawyer Francis Ben Kaifala and his team in the Northwest do the needful by way of schooling the Lungi Airport Immigration Department staffers on upholding the values of honest public servant, with specific reference to the aforementioned civil servant.

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