The national chairman of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), Presley Tenwah, and an executive member of PATEL who happens to be the chairlady of Goba Chop Market in Red Light, Jestina Ghartey, have announced that the second day of the three-day strike will continue today, February 1, unless a significant step is made by the Legislature in the eleventh hour.
The duo made the assertions in separate interviews yesterday, as over 500 owners of small Liberian businesses, in dominant red T-shirts, stormed the grounds of the Capitol Building in protest of “hardship and the bad economy.”
“The economy is rotten and the market is spoiled,” an angry and frustrated Ghartey said. “Prices are sky high. Imagine a cup of rice is L$60; we are tired, enough is enough. We want a change.”
She said the imposition of three currencies on the economy – the old and new Liberian dollars and the US dollar, as well as the increase of excise taxes on basic commodities are the major reasons for the inflation.
She ranted that lawmakers should institute measures to tackle the rapid depreciation of the Liberian dollar to the United States dollar and reduce the high tariff on imported goods.
For his part, Presley Tenwah indicated that the “strike will continue today if the House and the Senate don’t tackle the plight of Liberian businesses.”
He also called for “immediate measures to tackle and stabilize the constant fluctuation of the US dollar against the Liberian dollar on the local market to avoid further hardship to Liberian businesses; Liberian businesses must be given exclusive retailer rights since they are the majority in the retailing sector; and that the city government of Paynesville must be immediately instructed to desist from imposing municipal fees far higher than the normal business registration, and should be made to account for all municipal fees collected for the last one year.”
House Speaker J. Emmanuel Nuquay in response assured Mr. Tenwah and other members of PATEL that the Legislature will exert efforts to address their concerns on the huge tariff and other incentives for Liberian businesses.
“Both chambers of the Legislature together with the Justice Ministry and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) have already begun series of meetings aimed at addressing this situation,” Speaker Nuquay said.
He added that discussions are ongoing between the two branches of government in a bid to address the challenges faced by the national economy.
Meanwhile, Senate Pro Tempore Armah Jallah told the protesters to exercise “patience and [be] supportive” as they expeditiously act upon their concerns.
Below is the Petition from the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL):
“Whereas, Article 17 of the 1986 Constitution guarantees that all persons, at all times, in an orderly and peaceable manner, shall have the right to assemble and consult upon the common good, to instruct their representatives, to petition the Government or other functionaries for the redress of grievances and to associate fully with others or refuse to associate in political parties, trade unions, and other organizations;
“Whereas, we the members and officials of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia as representatives of Small Liberian businesses have the rights and responsibilities to advocate for the rights and privileges of our members;
“Whereas, it is our rights to assemble at all times in an orderly manner to raise serious public interest concern about the high tariffs and other incidental taxes being placed on goods imported into Liberia by Liberian businesses, something which is negatively impacting the growth and development of Small Liberian Businesses;
“Whereas, all peaceful dialogues geared at amicably resolving the imposition of high tariffs on small Liberian businesses have failed and the Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA) has not shown any interest in helping to listen to our grievances and other concerns;
“Whereas, the continued hiking of the US Dollar against the Liberian Dollar is not only imposing further hardships on Liberian businesses but also reducing the purchasing power of Liberian businesses and making it difficult, if not impossible, to meet the high tax regime;
“Whereas, there is no specific tax regime exclusively set aside for small Liberian businesses and efforts to have the government do so have fallen on deaf ears and as a result small Liberian business have been taxed like any other business;
“Whereas, the goods of petty traders, Yana boys and other Liberian businesses have been continually harassed, seized and taken away by members of the Liberia National Police, Monrovia City Police and the Paynesville City Police without any redress;
“Whereas, Liberian business are doing business in Liberian dollars but are required by the LRA to pay taxes in US dollars and all efforts made to remedy this situation have failed; and
“Whereas, the Paynesville City Corporation continues to levy municipal taxes in the amount of US$250 to US$450 and now US$500 in an irregular form contrary to taxes imposed by the Central Government and will close down business entities that refuse to pay such taxes…”
The content of their petition reads as follows: “We have resolved to petition the 53rd Legislature of the Republic of Liberia for its earnest consideration of the following to wit: That all Liberian businesses should be classed in a specific group among the four categories of tariffs, mainly to pay a flat rate on all goods imported from 0 to 5 percent; that there should be a single custom examination before any payment rather than the multiple examination of goods that is being conducted with separate and distinct payment of taxes; that the constant police brutality on petty traders, retailers and Yana boys and the illegal seizure of their goods be stopped immediately and that the Ministry of Commerce must ensure that wholesalers should not at the same time do retailing to avoid influx of retailers on the streets; that immediate measures be taken to tackle and stabilize the constant fluctuation in the US dollar against the Liberian dollar on the local market to avoid further hardships to Liberian businesses; that Liberian businesses be given exclusive retailer rights since they are the majority in the retailing sector; and that the City Government of Paynesville be immediately instructed to desist from imposing municipal fees far higher than the normal business registration, and should be made to account for all municipal fees collected for the last one year.”