As the Ebola calamity continues to wreak havoc on Liberians, business owners are reportedly wasting no time adding economic infliction to the existing injury by pricing basic commodities higher prices than they are worth.
It is against this backdrop that Nimba County Development Superintendent, Teeko T. Yorlay, on behalf of the county authority, threatened to order the seizure of goods from any businessman or woman who deliberately increases prices because of the existence of Ebola.
Liberia is now under a state of emergency in line with Article 86 of the Liberian Constitution, which mandates the Head of State to declare in the presence of war and calamity of such nature as the Ebola outbreak.
As is usually the case, entrepreneurs take advantage of such a situation to increase prices arbitrarily, since movement of goods and people as been restrited.
But in an exclusive interview with the Development Superintendent in Sanniquellie last weekend, he asserted that entrepreneurs were taking advantage of the Ebola crisis hitting every part of the country to create “vampirism,” which he defined as eating people's income and at the same time sucking their blood.
Mr. Yorlay said despite the raging epidemic, prices designated by the Ministry of Commerce were still in place without change, and there was no reason why people should add to the existing prices to exacerbate the pain which the disaster has inflicted upon people of the nation.
Prices of commodities, basically imported goods, are most of the time determined by cost of the goods, transportation and tax related expenses necessary to get the goods on the market.
With respect to transportation, the Nimba Development Superintendent told the Daily Observer that those goods brought to Ganta and other places are carried by trucks that are solely for those goods.
He argued that the price of gasoline has not been increased, and before transportation can increase, it must have consent of the Ministry of Transport.
“The gasoline price still remains without increase, and those trucks that bring the goods are only fueled by the owners. I see no reason why people will intentionally increase the prices of basic commodities like rice and other food stuff on the market only to afflict our people. This is wrong and unpatriotic and when anyone is caught in the act we will not compromise but send the person to court and seize his/her goods,” he said.
Currently in Ganta gasoline is sold for LD$395.00 and rice, Liberia's staple food, is being sold at varying prices. In some places the 25 kilo bag is sold for LD$1,300.00 while in other places it is LD$1,500.
At the same time, prices of locally produced commodities including vegetables, tubers, amongst others, are increased by small business owners since movement has become difficult and the US rate continues to rise and fall between 90 and 86.
As for transportation, there is a sharp increase due to various factors, including reduction of number of passengers and extortions drivers can encounter with Police and other assigned security personnel along the highway.
Prior to the worsening of the Ebola crisis, a taxi cab was carrying four-six passengers and a driver; four at the back with two at the front besides the driver.
Drivers are now obliged to set a good amount aside to pay to highway police and those at various checkpoints along the highway. A passenger under this condition was paying LD$1,000 from Red-Light to Ganta, but now it is increased to LD$1,500 because of the absence of two passengers couple with the already existing extortion by security personnel.
Regarding effort to control the Ebola epidemic in Nimba, Mr. Yorlay said authorities of the county and the people are making efforts to sensitize the population to adapt good hygiene habits and take precautionary measures to halt the spread of the virus.
He said having conducted a series of meetings with local authorities, they were contemplating organizing a massive sensitization and awareness campaign to get people out of denying the existence of the virus and to accept the reality that it is real and they should take precaution.
He also disclosed that a portion of the county budget, to the tone of US$100,000, was being set aside to complement government’s efforts in combating the disease.