Liberian Truckers Take WFP to Task

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The Port Truckers Association (PTA) of Liberia has taken serious exception to a recent contractual agreement signed between the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) Conakry and United Mining, a Guinean trucking company, to provide transport services in Liberia on behalf of WFP Monrovia’s Ebola response.

 The Liberian truckers have rejected the agreement, describing it as an attempt to undermine the Liberianization policy and hurt the viability of the country’s transport industry.

 In a statement issued on Thursday, December 10 the PTA announced that it has filed formal complaints with several regulatory institutions in the country, including the National Port Authority (NPA), the Ministry of Labor, Ministry of Commerce and the Ministry of Transportation, respectively, seeking their immediate intervention in investigating the contract entered into between the WFP Conakry Office and the private Guinean company.

 An investigation conducted by the Daily Observer revealed that United Mining, a private Guinean Company, has already imported 29 trucks and signed a contract valued at US$240,000 monthly, to transport the UN-WFP Liberia Ebola response food and other supplies in Liberia only. Our investigation also revealed that the Guinean trucking firm has already brought in truck drivers and conductors, all Guinean nationals, to operate the trucks here in Liberia.

The contract is valued at US$ 240,000.00 monthly with an annual value of US$ 2,880,000.00 should it be extended to a year.  At present, all 29 trucks under this contract are parked at the Samuel K. Doe (SKD) Sports Complex in Paynesville City outside Monrovia, awaiting clearance by the Bureau of Customs and Excise, whose officials have also raised concerns about the ownership of the trucks.

Mr. William Dewalt, president of the Port Truckers Association, who signed the statement, said the Association had been diligently working with all major entities providing humanitarian assistance in Liberia, including the US Army and WFP Monrovia since September 2014.

 “The PTA has made over 2,500 trips all across Liberia with over 100 member trucks delivering relief supplies, medical equipment, personal protective equipments (PPEs), containers, and much more, to over twenty Ebola treatment centers, and has done so without any major incidents,” said Mr. Dewalt. “Our work has continued to receive praises. On October 1, 2014 we were awarded a formal contract with a US Logistics firm operating in Liberia to assist in the movement of its humanitarian supplies across Liberia,” he stated. 

The Port Truckers Association is a legitimate and recognized trade organization in Liberia representing the interests of Liberian truckers, drivers, vehicle owners and logistics companies.

“We have a standing operational Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the National Port Authority (NPA) and therefore will not allow trucks from a Guinean company to enter the Freeport until all issues pertaining to the awarding of such a ‘lucrative contract’ to a Guinean Company —  to the detriment of Liberian truckers — is fully addressed by the Government of Liberia and the World Health Organization (WHO),” Dewalt added.

The Association has meanwhile vowed to pursue every legal avenue at its disposal to protect the livelihood and the rights of its members to equal opportunities; and to earn a living here in Liberia.  The Liberian truckers raised several issues and concerns which they want to be addressed immediately. They want an answer to the burning question of why would the WFP-Conakry award such a lucrative contract to a Guinean Company and not offer the opportunity to Liberians?

 “Note that the entire contract was negotiated in Guinea and awarded to a Guinean company with absolutely no consideration whatsoever to Liberian companies.  Why is WFP-Conakry entering into contracts for work in Liberia?” the Liberian truckers asked.

They wondered why a private company in Guinea that leases trucks to the WFP does not have duty free privileges and cannot benefit simply because it rents trucks to the WFP, especially when local Liberian truckers are not awarded such a privilege when working for relief organizations with tax exempt status.

Another issue raised by the Liberian truckers is whether the Guinean Company is exempt from paying income tax to the government of Liberia for income earned for work done in the country. They also want to know the position of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) on this matter. 

The Liberian truckers also want to know the arrangement with the Ministry of Labor and the Bureau of Immigration for permitting Guinean drivers and "conductors" by the Guinean Company and the WFP into Liberia to operate those trucks in the country when Liberians are available to do the work; and especially given the high unemployment and economic devastation from the Ebola outbreak.

The Liberian truckers explained that Guinea Transport Authority does not allow Liberian trucks to transport goods back whenever they [Liberian trucks] go to Guinea to deliver goods.

“Our trucks are NOT allowed by the Guinean authorities to transport goods back to Liberia, so they come back empty.  The Guinean transport authorities are emphatic that any goods leaving Guinea must be brought out by Guinean trucks,” declared Mr. Dewalt. “If the Guineans are willing to protect their workers, why are Liberians not willing to do the same? Should the Government of Liberia really allow this level of unfairness towards Liberian workers?

The Port Truckers Association has completely rejected the attempt of the WFP, which they say is apparently a very questionable contractual arrangement.

 They have called on the WFP, as an agency of the United Nations (UN), to be an organization that builds people up, not breaks them down economically, especially a small and fragile economy like Liberia’s that is already suffering under the devastation of Ebola.

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