‘We Must Learn From How Other African Nations Protect Their Entrepreneurs’

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Calling on the government through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) to implement the Liberianization policy, Mrs. Eyvonne Harding-Bright, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Sharks Entertainment Incorporated, suggests that learning from how other African nations protect their entrepreneurs could help nurture the proper development of Liberian SMEs.

The policy reserves 16 businesses exclusively for Liberians, including supply of sand, block making, peddling, travel agencies, retail sale of rice and cement, tire repair shops, shop repair shops operation of gas stations video clubs and operations of taxi.

Others are retail sale of timber and planks, ice making and sale of ice, importation or sale of second-hand or used clothing, distribution in Liberia of locally manufactured products, auto repair shops with investment of less than US$50,000 and importation and sale of used cars (except authorized dealerships which may deal in certified used vehicles of their make.)

Speaking yesterday at the opening of a 3-day 2016 Micro, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (MSME) conference, organized by the Small Business Administration (SBA) of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, held at the Monrovia City Hall, Mrs. Bright-Harding said many
Liberian entrepreneurs are faced with numerous challenges, including capacity building, access to finance and access to markets, which the government needs to respond to.

The MSME conference featured hundreds of Liberian entrepreneurs showcasing their various locally-made products, overflowing from the large ballroom of the Monrovia City Hall to the Salvation Army School premises across the street. Products included Kernel Fresh (skin lotion made from palm kernel oil), rubberwood furniture, textiles, arts and crafts, security uniforms, IT services, juices, ice cream, vegetables and other agro produce, cleaning services, and other handicrafts.

The entrepreneurs came from all across the country to showcase their goods at this year’s MSME conference.

On behalf of all Liberian businesses, she said, “I am appealing to the authorities to observe and implement the laws, and MOCI must do due diligence at all levels. A clerk at MOCI must not be allowed to sign any Import Permit Documents (IPDs) related to these businesses listed above.”

She said the MOCI needs to protect the 16 businesses reserved for Liberians and continue to provide incentives and other opportunities to Liberian businesses.

“We need to look at how other African nations protect their entrepreneurs, and learn from them. The MOCI needs to remove roadblocks and barriers that prevent Liberian entrepreneurs from achieving their full potential. Many of the vendors put in a lot of tears and sweat to get where they are today. The MOCI can make it so much easier and is trying in some ways,” she said.

She reminded participants and government officials that this is not a fight for today or for just one enterprise, but a fight that ensures a better tomorrow for future generations of Liberians.

“We encourage our children to get educated and compete with the rest of the world. Despite all our efforts with our children, there must be a Liberia for them to develop, because it is the only place we can call our own,” Mrs. Bright-Harding said.

She said Liberians are extremely grateful for the role of the foreign investors in helping to rebuild Liberia, which is still recovering from 14 years of unrest civil crisis. “As a Liberian businesswoman, I value the impact and contributions of our foreign investors. We are allies in developing
Liberia. Liberians want healthy competition, however, when there are laws on the books, those laws must be respected.”

Women Run 34% of SMEs

Speaking earlier, Commerce Minister Axel M. Addy said in order to promote women entrepreneurship and create more women-owned businesses. He expressed his delight about this year’s theme “Promoting Women Entrepreneurship for Economic Empowerment,” which focuses in particular on the role women play in the economy.

“The vital role that women play in driving our economy cannot be overstated. In Liberia, women already manage a significant share of our registered SMEs which is 34% and are dynamic entrepreneurs,” he said.

He said 69% of Liberian women are more likely than men to start their own businesses which underline the importance of enabling women to unlock their entrepreneurial potential.

This year’s conference was witnessed by VP Boakai, Central Bank of Liberia Governor Milton Weeks, Gender Minister Duncan-Cassell, Education Minister George Werner, Deputy Foreign Minister Elias Shoniyin, United States Ambassador Christine Elder and representatives of local and international partners, among others.

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