Ice Cream ‘War’ Resurfaces

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..Sharks manager writes Minister Addy

Mrs. Eyvonne Bright Harding, chief executive officer (CEO) of Sharks Enterprise, an ice cream producer, has written a letter to the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Axel Addy, drawing his attention to the ongoing controversy over who should manufacture and retail ice cream in the country.

A copy of Mrs. Harding’s May 15 letter in possession of the Daily Observer reads, “Mr. Minister, it has come to our attention that another ice cream parlor is about to open on the Tubman Boulevard in Sinkor directly opposite the Exclusive Supermarket on 19th Street. We observed the sign -“Creamery,” and immediately contacted Minister Steve Marvey on May 13, 2017.”

Mrs. Harding also told Minister Addy that she was informed that like Sharks, “they intend to retail ice cream at that location, as well as supply all of their foreign counterparts. We, as you are aware, have a serious challenge in supplying supermarkets in and around Monrovia.

“The production and retailing of ice cream by non-Liberians is a violation. Their investment is not equivalent to the threshold required.”

According to Mrs. Harding, who is still paying ERA Supermarket for the equipment imported as part of an amicable solution to the issue, the “Nice Cream” issue has not been resolved, “and now we are confronted with another.”

She said another ice cream entity is about to open after ERA could not intervene. “Why? I still don’t understand why the Liberia Business Registry (L.B.R.) continues to register businesses, which do not meet the threshold per the investment code. Why does MoCI think it is best practice to allow someone to invest, than fight to shut him or her down? Wasn’t an Import Permit Declaration (I.P.D) issued by the MoCI for such equipment to be imported? Doesn’t the ministry have oversight responsibility of the L.B.R.?”

The letter continues: “Mr. Minister, how will we grow as SMEs in our own borders? It is difficult enough with all the loans, high interest rates, tough repayment periods, high utility costs, and under-capitalization just to name a few.

“How can they retail ice cream, slush popcorn after putting a halt to ERA’s sale of these very items under the same circumstances and environment? If you refer to my previous letter, I mentioned that ERA was setting the stage for every supermarket owned by Lebanese to retail items like ice cream, slush and popcorn as well as engage in businesses set aside for Liberians only. Today, it appears that the MoCI have set the stage for any foreign national to engage in whatever business, not just ice cream, they choose.

“PLEASE don’t allow those who pretend to be our partners to kill our dreams before they are realized. Today, we see the largest quantity of imported ice cream ever in the history of our country. Today, we see block making, ice and water, sand mining, etc., just to name a few businesses, which are being violated. All of these violations have become prevalent under your administration, Minister Addy. I am a tried, tested, and proven Liberian female in this industry struggling to make the best of the prevailing circumstances.

“How do we pay government taxes? How do we continue to assist government in the employment sector?  How and when do we become millionaires in our own country? If MoCI continues to allow these violations to occur, every foreigner will do as he/she pleases, thereby allowing Liberians to lose the economy. Please use your good offices to intervene again,” the letter concluded.

Mrs. Harding’s letter came against the backdrop of the ministry’s reported efforts to settle the issue with Nice Ice Cream (which remains open), and now another ice cream spot is opening up, thereby complicating the situation.

While Ministry Addy is yet to respond to Harding’s letter, a bystander believes that Sophie’s Ice Cream thrived for decades because previous governments upheld the law, “but that’s not the case here. Eyvonne is not afraid of competition; she just wants fair competition.”

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