As Businesses Continue Protests, Exchange Rate Drops to L$98

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As businesses yesterday closed the second day of their three-day protest in demand of reduction in taxes and the USD exchange rate, signs of hope began to emerge as both market and political forces began to positively respond.

It was observed that the foreign exchange rate which, until the strike, had reached L$115 to US$1, suddenly dropped to as low as L$98 in some locations, while others recorded L$100 to US$1.

It is not clear whether the prices of goods and services will reflect the sudden reduction in the exchange rate. Some marketers told our reporters yesterday that the present exchange rate will not meet the marketers’ demand “since we bought our goods while the exchange rate was high.”

Meanwhile the Central Bank is still recording rates between L$104 to L$105 regardless of the reported low rates on the street.

In more hopeful news, President Sirleaf, who just returned from the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, said she will hold an Economic Management team meeting to address concerns raised by the business community.

According to an Executive Mansion press release, she however expressed concerns over the protest by some members in the business community, but was quick to note that some of the people involved in the protest were also part of the problem because, according to her, some of the very business people who even closed their shops and stores in protest were engaged in hoarding the U.S. dollars.

The protesters, in their action, brought to the attention of authorities at the Central Bank of Liberia, the Ministries of Finance and Development Planning, Justice and other relevant stakeholders to speak against the sky-rocketing US dollar against the Liberian dollar.

This, the marketers said, caused prices of goods and services including transportation fares to rise, thereby making life unbearable on the already poverty-stricken citizens. They therefore demonstrated their commitment addressing the problem by adhering to the call from the leadership of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL) to keep their respective businesses closed for three days beginning Monday, January 30.

Even foreign-owned businesses joined the protest by keeping the doors to the stores closed because of the protest.

PATEL officials said the imposition of three currencies on the economy – the old and new Liberian dollar and the US dollar, as well as the increase of excise taxes on basic commodities are the major reasons for the inflation.

The protesters also petitioned the Legislature to institute “immediate measures to tackle and stabilize the constant fluctuation of the US dollar against the Liberian dollar on the local market to avoid further hardship to Liberian businesses; Liberian businesses must be given exclusive retailer rights since they are the majority in the retailing sector; and that the city government of Paynesville must be immediately instructed to desist from imposing municipal fees far higher than the normal business registration, and should be made to account for all municipal fees collected for the last one year.”

House Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay in response assured the PATEL leadership that the Legislature will exert efforts to address their concerns on the huge tariff and other incentives for Liberian businesses.

Meanwhile, PATEL chairman Presley Tenwah and the chairlady of Goba Chop Market in Red Light, Jestina Ghartey, announced yesterday that the protest will continue up to day three.

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