Business Climate 2013: Challenges and Prospects

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In the year 2013 domestic Liberian businesses experienced a mixed climate. The investment climate was blurred to a larger extent, but with a beam of hope at the end of the tunnel. As usual, undercapitalized domestic Liberian businesses struggled to compete with their foreign counterparts who had unhindered access to finance.

Adding to this challenge were others, such as the lack of good business skills and lack of diversification of businesses. Many Liberian businesspeople are selling the same goods in the same marketplaces.

Moreover, the high costs associated with doing business in the country— particularly the cost of electricity— presented another challenge. In the face of these challenges, however, the domestic business sector stood firm and maintained their ground hoping for a better future.

Liberia’s Ministry of Commerce and Industry reported an increase in the number of new business registrations across the country thanks to the government’s automated business registry. Amid all of these challenges, there is one Liberian businessman that made a difference during the year.

He is Mr. Fumba Trawally, CEO of the National Toiletries Incorporated (NTI), a self initiative.

Trawally is the president of the concerned Liberian International Business Organization (COLINBO), a conglomeration of over one thousand Liberian businesspersons from across the country.

Trawally braved the storm and went against all odds during the course of 2013 to build and open the NTI, Liberia’s first toiletries company in decades. Located in Paynesville City, outside Monrovia, the NTI currently employs over 75 Liberians on full-time basis.

Now, manufacturing is where the real job lies and is the backbone of the economy. The monetary value of the NTI is put at about US$3 million dollars and is the biggest producer and one of the largest suppliers of toiletries in the country.

The COLINBO president and owner of NTI, also owns a series of businesses throughout the country, a clear manifestation of good prospects for Liberian businesses in the coming year. The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) provided the biggest stimuli to Liberians in business, further increasing the prospect of good business climate for Liberian entrepreneurs.

The Bank initiated a series of schemes to help Liberian-owned businesses across the country through banking and non-banking financial institutions. Cognizant of the struggle these businesses were facing, the Governor and Board of Directors of the CBL made available a US$10 million mortgage credit scheme through the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment for Liberians who are earning low incomes.

The Bank also made available a US$7.5 million credit facility to smallholder farmers in rural Liberia. This program is being implemented by the Afriland First Bank on Crown Hill.

The most interesting of the CBL’s support to Liberian Businesses was through the Bank’s Loan Extension and Availability Facility (LEAF) which commenced in January, 2012; and to date a total of L$400,000,000 million Liberia dollars have been allotted to the program.

 By the end of 2013, a total of L$340,000,000 million of that amount had been disbursed in all fifteen counties to: 10 Microfinance institutions, 118 credit unions and 345 village savings and loan associations.

 Women represented over 80% of the beneficiaries under the program. The underlined reason for this bold step by Trawally can be traced to the Central Bank of Liberia’s (CBL) economic inclusion policy backed by strong support from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf through the Ministry of Finance, the fiscal arm of the government of Liberia.

In January, 2013 the Minister of Finance, Amara Konneh, announced that he and CBL Executive Governor Dr. J. Mills Jones were doing everything possible in their collective power as policymakers, to put the economy back in the hands of Liberians.

Speaking with this paper via a mobile phone from the U.S., Minister Konneh disclosed that Governor Jones was making the intervention in this regard on the monetary side, while he (Konneh) and team at the Finance Ministry were working on the fiscal side to help satisfy the demand for more Liberians in businesses.

A few weeks before then, Konneh had announced that the government would allocate about 15% of the government’s total budgetary allocation for furniture; just to purchase furniture directly from Liberians.

In the same vein, CBL Executive Governor J. Mills Jones clarified that the empowerment of Liberian enterprises is not an anti-foreign investment posture. In an exclusive interview, the CBL boss noted that foreign investment has a cardinal role to play in the Liberian economy “and should even be able to play a supportive role for Liberian businesses.”

“We are now talking about economic transformation,” Dr. Jones said, noting “this requires a change in our mindset. We must act, and do so in innovative ways to make that transformation happen.”

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