For Passing Small Business Empowerment Act into Law Ellen Hails Lawmakers

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President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on Monday recognized the efforts of the 53rd national Legislature for passing the Small Business Empowerment Act (SBEA) into law.

Article 58 of the Constitution   mandates the President on the fourth working Monday in January of each year, to present the Administration’s Legislative Program and report to the Legislature on the State of the Republic covering the economic condition including expenditure and income.

Delivering her State of the Nation Address to the National Legislature, the President said the Act calls for 25 percent of all government purchases to be set aside for Liberian-owned businesses.

The law also provides that five percent of the 25 percent must be set-aside for women-owned businesses. 

To effectuate this, changes are required in our Public Procurement Concession Commission (PPCC) law and in our attitudes as we should be prepared to promote and to buy Liberian products made in Liberia, and distributed by Liberians, President Sirleaf indicated.

“We take this preferment of our people seriously and call upon everyone, public and private entities, to comply fully with this new law of 25 percent or be prepared to face sanctions or legal action,” she warned.  

In further empowerment of our people, the Liberian leader said,  I ask everyone to join in promoting the “Wear Your Pride campaign” that would require all government employees to wear, at least once a week preferably Friday, clothing made in Liberia from Liberian products.

According to her, it is critical to build the demand for local rice through practical strategies that empower the local economy and give us ownership of our economy. 

Under the “Eat Your Pride Campaign” we will require that only locally grown rice is purchased by government entities that provide rice to their staff, she emphasize.

The local content bill that is now being drafted will ensure a minimum Liberian participation through joint venture ship or sub-contracting in several areas of national development activity.

President Sirleaf also promised that her leadership will continue to push hard for diversifying the economy beyond two primary commodities.

In 2014, we launched the National Trade Policy and our Export Strategy, which provides a roadmap for export diversification, particularly in agriculture by broadening our export basket through new investments in fisheries, cocoa, rubber, oil palm, and cassava.

Opportunities in tourism are bountiful and deserve further exploration.  We will ensure that furniture in schools use our local wood and support the investment proposal to make wood products from dead rubber wood.

Informing members of the 53rd National Legislature, she said as we fought on the health front ensuring that the Ebola outbreak was under control, we also had to take appropriate measures on the economic front to ensure that we did not have a collapsed economy.

Still on the economy, she said under her instructions, the Economic Management Team (EMT) coordinated by the Minister of Finance and Development Planning ensured that: foreign exchange rate remained stable; civil servants continue to receive their salaries and wages on time; commercial banks remained liquid during the crisis.

“We applaud our Economic Management Team for working together to maintain macroeconomic stability.”

The Government, through CBL expanded financial intermediation by promoting throughout the country expansion in commercial banks, foreign exchange bureaux and Savings and Loans Associations.

The introduction of a Collateral Registry and promotion of the recently passed Insurance Act are also important milestones.

Consistent with policies, the CBL took decisions to improve access to finance for those in rural areas and in the informal sector of the economy.  Going beyond this, the CBL took decisions to mitigate the financial burden of school closure in the private schools by committing to settle the debts owed the commercial banks, Ellen added. 

While we welcome measures that have a positive impact on the lives of our people, we urge caution and more cooperation by the CBL, in the announcement of measures which have implications on our collective targets for sustained national financial viability.

Commenting further on the natural resources, the Liberia leader said the country has a historical primary enclave economy, highly dominated by iron ore, rubber and timber; which subjects it to vagaries in global conditions and prices. 

Over time, the structure has been changing, with the expansion of agriculture into more traditional tree crops such as coffee, cocoa and oil palm.

Essentially, production of crops comes from individual and small entity holders with limited capacity to produce on the scale that leads to industrialization.

She said recent efforts by her government sought to change this by promoting large scale oil palm, using the investment and the experience of Malaysia and Indonesia which have become emerging economic giants.

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