MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA – The Association of Liberian Journalists in the Americas (ALJA) has criticized as premature and insensitive a decision by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to shut down the Liberian Consulate in the US state of Minnesota.
ALJA believes that the shutting down of the consulate would cause undue hardship for thousands of Liberians within the US midwestern states who benefit from visa and passport services offered at the consulate. These states include Minnesota, Illinois, North and South Dakota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Indiana, and Ohio among others.
In a letter dated January 13 and signed by the Deputy Minister for Legal Affairs, Deweh E Gray, and directed to Mr. Jackson George, Liberia’s Honorary Consul in Minnesota, the Foreign Ministry directed the consulate to cease to function as representative of the Liberian government along with the issuance of passport and visa due to a new set of regulations.
According to the communication, the thousands of Liberians in the Midwest who could easily and conveniently access passport and visa services at the consulate in Minnesota will now revert to mailing their applications or travelling either to the Embassy in Washington DC or the consulate in New York as was done in the past. The communication further directed that the passport equipment currently used to process passports by the consulate in Minnesota be turned over to one Frank Elolo Kwami Dogba of VFS Global which is reportedly a Ghanian firm. Mr. Dogba’s firm, according to the Foreign Ministry will now be responsible to capture the biometrics of passport applicants.
In a Press Release issued on Wednesday, the 18th of January, the Association said it is at a loss as to why Minister Maxwell Kemayan and the Foreign Ministry are hell-bent on executing a policy that will create additional bottlenecks including the added financial expense for Liberians and foreigners travelling to Liberia.
The Association said while the letter from the Foreign Ministry acknowledged that the offices of the “Honorary Consulate (in Minnesota) serve to alleviate the hardships of Liberians having to travel to New York or Washington, DC for passport and visa services, yet it preposterously opted to reimpose that hardship by prematurely shutting down the Consulate.
The Association said it is also disappointing that the Ministry is transferring the passport service, especially the capturing of applicants’ biometrics to a Ghanaian firm when Liberians have and continue to provide such service in an efficient and effective manner.
ALJA said the timing of this decision to close down the consulate in Minnesota without a viable alternative couldn’t have come at a worse time, especially with hundreds if not thousands of Liberians planning to travel over the next several months as the country prepares for Presidential and General elections.
The Association is calling on President George Weah and the CDC government to reconsider this decision and prevent the difficulties and economic hardship that thousands could potentially face as a consequence. ALJA says every government has a responsibility to ensure that is providing efficient and effective service for its people at home and abroad.
ALJA is a conglomeration of current and retired Liberian journalists residing in the Americas. It is a 501c (3) non-profit organization. The Association was founded in 1998 with the objectives of advancing press freedom through media capacity building, and the fostering of good governance in Liberia through media advocacy.