Legal Action Awaits GT Bank

...Over Inaccessible ATM Machines For Persons With Disabilities

MONROVIAAn advocate for Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) and the promotion and protection of human rights, Samuel Dean has threatened to take legal action against the Government of Liberia (GOL) and the Management of Guaranty Trust (GT) Bank-Liberia Limited.

He alleged that the government and GT-Bank have failed to improve the well-being of disabled persons in the country and provide easy access and loan opportunities for persons with disabilities.

Mr. Dean who is also a Representative Aspirant of District #8 in Montserrado County expressed concerns at a news conference in Monrovia recently. Confined to a wheelchair for life, he revealed that he and several other disabled individuals have faced challenging and detrimental situations due to the alleged actions of GT Bank and the government’s inaction.

The incident that triggered his complaint against GT Bank occurred a few years ago when his ATM card got stuck in the machine. A security guard, who was inexperienced in operating the ATM caused this issue.

Mr. Dean requested the bank to construct a wheelchair ramp at its 13th Street Sinkor branch in Monrovia to facilitate easy access for PWDs to their finances. He mentioned that there are instances where he had to give his ATM card to strangers because the security guards refused to assist him in accessing the stairs.

After officially filing a complaint with the bank, GT Bank constructed a removable ramp. However, according to Mr. Dean, the bank claimed that Monrovia City Mayor Jefferson Koijee instructed them to remove it citing revenue generation from parking as the reason. Despite requesting in written documentation to substantiate these claims, the bank has failed to provide any evidence.

Mr. Dean said he contacted Mayor Koijee directly to inquire about the allegations but the Mayor denied giving such instructions stating that he supports equal rights for all citizens including those with special needs.

Mr. Dean claimed that GT Bank discriminated against him by denying a loan application. Despite meeting the qualifications for the loan, including having collaterals, the bank allegedly stated that they do not grant loans to persons with disabilities due to perceived lower repayment likelihood.

This denial of loan opportunity and discriminatory treatment by the bank according to Mr. Dean, contradicts Article 20 (a) of the 1986 Liberian Constitution which ensures the protection of individuals’ rights without discrimination or denial of justice.

Regarding the Liberian Government’s role, Mr. Dean criticized its failure to enact laws with punitive measures against discrimination or stigmatization of PWDs. He referred to a report filed by the government in 2019 to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons With Disabilities, which acknowledged the denial of loans to disabled individuals based on their disabilities. Despite constitutional provisions and international conventions, the report did not indicate any concrete steps to address or eliminate discrimination through prosecution.

Mr. Dean also highlighted the government’s failure to fulfill its commitment to providing representation for PWDs at the National Legislature. While President George Weah issued an Executive Order to implement Section 5 of the Act that created the National Commission on Disabilities (NCD) which calls for 4% disabled persons in the workforce, Section 9 of the NCD Act remains unfulfilled. This section mandates three seats for PWDs in the National Legislature.

Addressing these ongoing challenges, Mr. Dean expressed his intention to file separate lawsuits against the Liberian Government and GT Bank. He believes that these legal actions will set a precedent for protecting and promoting the rights of disabled persons in Liberia and ensure the government upholds its commitments under international treaties.

When contacted, Mathias, the Corporate Communication Manager at GT Bank, stated that the bank does not discriminate in offering loans to its customers. However, he mentioned that there are specific criteria that individuals must meet in order to qualify for a loan. Despite this, he did not provide any details or share a copy of the criteria with the reporters.

Regarding the removal of the ramp for persons with disabilities (PWDs) from the front of the ATM booth, Mathias explained that it was done because the bank facility is situated close to the main road, and having the ramp there was causing difficulties in parking vehicles at the bank. When asked about whether the removal of the ramp was a request made by City Mayor Koijee, Mathias neither confirmed nor denied it.

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