Assistant Commerce Minister for Trade Services, Daniel Dean, has said the Ministry is still probing Nice Ice Cream to determine whether the establishment has violated any laws.
Mr. Dean said the Ministry will shut down the ice cream parlor if investigations revealed that it was fronted by Liberian citizens.
The assistant minister made the remarks on Monday, March 27, in response to assertions from the chairman of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), Presley S. Tenwah, regarding the Liberianization Policy. The Policy aims to create an exclusive space in the private sector for certain businesses to be owned exclusively and others partially by Liberians to enable them to succeed without competitive interference from wealthy foreign businesses or people.
“We are still investigating and we will shut it down if it’s been fronted,” Minister Dean told lawmakers.
Since June 2016, there has been controversy over the ownership of Nice Ice Cream, situated on 9th Street in Sinkor, because the sale of locally-produced ice cream is one of the 16 businesses set aside exclusively for Liberians, although others have argued that foreigners can invest in it, if their investment is more than US$500,000.
In October 2016, in an effort to strengthen the Liberalization law, the Ministry of Commerce & Industry shut down Nice Ice Cream, but it was reopened by a court order.
Liberian ice cream manufacturer and owner of Sharks Ice Cream, Eyvonne Bright Harding, had filed a complaint to the court that Nice Ice Cream was not owned by a Liberian. Eyvonne said that it was frustrating for the government to allow foreigners to compete with Liberians in businesses that are set aside for them.
Harding filed a similar complaint against Era Supermarket in 2016, which led the Ministry of Commerce to shut down the production of ice cream at the supermarket.
She argued that importing materials for such a business into the country requires having an Import Permit Document (IPD) from the Ministry of Commerce, and that the operators of the ice cream shop might have gotten the permit from the ministry to import the materials.
In response to Eyvonne’s complaint and following investigations, the Ministry of Commerce also filed a complaint to the court, which shut down Nice Ice Cream.
The Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Director of Public Affairs, Mitchell Jones, said the ministry will enforce the Liberianization Policy and ensure that any business that violates the Liberian Investment Code will be forced to close.
The code prohibits non-Liberians from engaging in the production and sale of ice cream.
Nice Ice Cream’s tax consultant accountant, Eric Nagbe, said Jak’s Flavors, a Liberian owned entity, produces the ice cream and sells it to Nice Ice Cream, which is owned by a Lebanese national identified as Mohamed Shaiki. He said Nice Ice Cream was registered to provide ice cream to restaurants and mobile food service centers in Monrovia.
Nagbe said Nice Ice Cream was opened in line with the law, adding that it is unfair for anybody to think that they circumvented the law.
He denied the allegation that Nice Ice Cream manipulated the Ministry of Commerce, and insisted that “Nice Ice Cream did not hide their identity during the business registration process.”