Observer Publisher Calls for Laws to Empower Liberians in Business

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Daily Observer publisher and  managing director,  Kenneth Y. Best has described as “tragic and unfortunate” the dominance of foreigners in the Liberian economy.  He  called for the passage of a strong, enforceable laws to protect Liberian participation in the national economy.

In a strongly worded keynote address at the opening of a two-day workshop organized by the Liberian Business Association (LIBA),  with sponsorship from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), Mr. Best emphasized that Liberian economy is vulnerable to foreign  and alien domination  because there are no  strong laws to protect Liberians in the sector.  

“This is not the case in Nigeria or Ghana, where any foreigner intending to do business in the country must have a local partner.  But in Liberia, you can see Lebanese, Indians and Fulas dominating every sector of our commerce, behind counters doing work that Liberians should  be doing.”

Mr. Best questioned the roles of the Ministries of Justice and Labor, which dish out to foreigners the Residence and Work Permits, and the Ministry of Commerce, which issues licenses without any question whatsoever of any Liberian participation.  He wondered whether the officials of these ministries are there for citizens of the country or for foreigners as they (foreigners) continue to dominate Liberian economy.

“This must stop! He declared, adding, “See our youths in this country on the streets selling chewing gum, candy and biscuit and doing other petty trade while Lebanese, Indians, Chinese and Fulani youth and other aliens own shops and stores in our land, employing their own kith and kin to do work that Liberians should be doing.  Do we really love this country?” Mr. Best asked.  

As a result of foreign dominance in the Liberian economy, he said, most new buildings in our capital city, Monrovia, are being erected by foreigners while Liberians live in slums and in some cases dilapidated buildings in their own country.

He called on participants of the workshop to “think, plan and initiate strategically.  You must be people of vision—think about what you want for yourselves, your families and your country tomorrow, not just today.  I warn you that if we as Liberians do not, other people are thinking and planning strategically about how to further enslave us in our own country.  And many foreigners are determined to keep Liberians out of the business sector and keep them in continual poverty.

We cannot and must not allow this to happen! The skills you acquire here in these next two days you should take back to your counties and train others so that they may be empowered to train even more of our people in business.”

The keynote speaker challenged the participants to make strategic plans and initiatives in order for business to flourish in the Liberian interior—business run by Liberians!  “You should be innovative,” he told the participants.  “Enter the grocery business, the building materials business, the motel and hotel business.  Liberians in Ganta and Zwedru are already going running motels, hotels and other profitable businesses–so can you.”

He once visited Kaweaken in River Gee County and found to his pleasant surprise that the biggest store in town was owned by a Liberian and his wife.   

He cautioned the participants and the Liberian people in general to watch the activities of their elected officials—their lawmakers in particular, and vote out those who will not live by the terms of contract.  “If your legislators will not pass laws that directly affect your interest as citizens and owners of this land, vote them out and vote in people who will help you to fulfill your dreams and aspirations.”

In addition to comment on the frustrating situation facing Liberian businesses, the assertive keynote speaker intoned that many Liberians who are fortunate today used Liberian resources to enrich themselves and their children, but have not attentive to the development of the country.

He noted that patriotism is also lacking in Liberians; so that they think only about how they and their children can benefit from the country without anything going to it (country).

According to him, some Liberians used proceeds from rubber and other resources to capacitate themselves and send their children abroad at early ages to learn, but they have forgotten the very country that gave them the capacity.

“Most of these parents were themselves  educated at the  College of West Africa (CWA), St. Patrick’s, Monrovia College, Liberia College and the University of Liberia, and other local learning institutions.  But when God blessed them and they made money, mainly from rubber, instead of giving back the Liberian schools who made them who they became, the sent their children, at tender ages, to England, other European countries and America.  This robbed these children of the knowledge of Liberian culture; nor did they learn to know and love their people and country.  So when they returned, only a handful of these most highly privileged children are giving back anything to their country.  Yet it is they who should today be the captains of commerce and industry in Liberia, not these Lebanese and Indians.  But these  privileged Liberians are missing in action.  I consider this to be very, very sad.  It means we have lost several generations of Liberians who should now be in control of our economy.

Citing a reference on the Dennis family to which Chamber of Commerce President Francis A. Dennis belongs, Mr. Best recalled that the parents of this gentlemen spent most of their time in the Liberian diplomatic service abroad.  But when their children completed high school abroad, the parents decided to send them  back home to Cuttington, where they learned to know and love their people and country.  Look what F.A. Dennis alone has accomplished!  Over 14 years of credible and outstanding service as president of the Liberian Bank for Development and Investment.  Today he is president of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, said Mr. Best.  

The two-day LIBA Business Workshop is intended to benefit 40 Liberian business entrepreneurs who are all members of the Liberian Business Association (LIBA).

The opening session was attended by UNDP Economic Advisor, Janice James, Liberia Chamber of Commerce President Francis A. Dennis, LIBA’s President Dee Maxwell S. Kemayah, a representative of Ministry of Commerce & Industry, and other executives of LIBA.

Ms. James commended LIBA for the bold initiatives it has taken in taking LIBA country-wide. She said UNDP was happy to assist the organization with this kind of empowerment that will train the participants to go out and train others.
In remarks, Chamber of Commerce president Francis A. Dennis cautioned LIBA members to avoid attempting to bribe  authorities and take a legal stand whenever anyone attempts to close their businesses down illegally.

Bribing inspectors and other authorities is responsible for dishonesty, and if it can be eliminated, entrepreneurs should record transactions between them and those concerned to have evidence and take them to task when they infringe on the rights of business people.

Meanwhile, the concern for protection of Liberian-owned businesses has not only been expressed by the Daily Observer publisher.

In President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s annual address last year, she stressed the need for enforcement of the Liberianization Policy which sets aside certain number of businesses to be exclusively owned and operated by Liberians.

The Liberianization  Policy regarding business under the Investment Incentive  Act of 2010, sets aside for exclusive Liberian participation businesses valued at   less than US$50,000.  These include the supply of sand, water, block making, peddling, travel agency, retail sale of rice and cement, ice making and sale of ice, tire repair shops, auto repair shop.

She also promised government’s commitment to prioritizing local content—a policy that seeks to allow foreign companies to give first preference to Liberian made products in procurement process.

Early last year following the President’s annual Message, Commerce & Industry Minister Axel Addy at a dinner organized by the Chamber of Commerce said he was going to fully implement the Liberianization Policy as long as it was  crafted by the government for implementation.

A Lebanese businessman recently  noted that Liberians were not in the position to do cold water business, for example, because they are not financially capacitated.

Minister Addy said whether financially capacitated or not, he was going to implement the policy.

However, since that  pronouncement last year, Liberians are yet to feel the impact of the Liberianization  policy as foreigners and aliens continue to pour into Liberia daily  to do business.

The motor cycle transport business is another example.   This business was supposed to be reserved for Liberian youths, to empower them to reduce their unemployment and poverty.  But the motorbike business has today been taken over by Guineans, Sierra Leoneans and Fulani, with Liberians unable to compete.

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