Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Commerce and Trade Services at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), A. E. Nyema Wisner says the administration is aimed at creating improved business climate for traders and consumers.
Mr. Wisner made the assertion Monday in an exclusive interview with the Daily Observer in central Monrovia. According to him, the current leadership/administration has taken the lead to address some of the challenges through the activation of new programs for easy importation of goods or major commodities.
“Today, we have digital system that can give the public or importers information about the goods/commodities currently in the country. If you called us now, through our system, we give you current update. For instance, we can give you information on onions, and rice,” Mr. Wisner said.
Mr. Wisner said the ministry has also reconstituted the customer’s department to meet international standard that provide services in the shortest possible time, an initiative that is being welcomed by importers and partners.
“We have brought new desks and improved the system by bringing new office materials, including laptops. We have a new system that tracks all importers digitally. We have circumvented the system of data analysts putting information on file (paper) that is difficult to find sometimes, especially when urgently searching,” he said.
Mr. Wisner said the ministry is also poised to establish a new system that will track the arrival of every container in the port through an automated system, which is intended to bring total improvement in the importation of goods, a commitment made before assuming office.
“The system allows the ministry to be notified from the port, which is more advanced than the previous system. Our data analysts will know what is in the container,” he said, as compared to manually dealing with the Trade Services Department to determine the status of the container. “The agent (importer) will also be informed about his or her container,” he said.
Additionally, “once your container or document is ready, an SMS goes to your phone without delay. Some brokers like the new system, while others don’t because they no longer get anything from importers. The brokers can no longer lie about document because the SMS informs both (broker and importer),” he said.
“Today, there is no Import Permit Declaration (IPD). But prior to Executive Order #96 that cancelled it, importers took at least 78 hours to get it. We realized that it was not good for the ministry. Now, the process of notifying the ministry and getting green light for importation has even reduced to less than four (4) hours. Presently, if you brought in your document, once you are done with BIVAC, you don’t have to come to the ministry for final signature,” he said.
Mr. Wisner said his department along with the Inspectorate Division has educated business people to avoid importation of damaged goods.
“The ministry is no longer receiving complaints from the public about damage or unwholesome goods” he said. “We advise them to inform us whenever there are unwholesome goods. We are able to help in disposing it. But allowing the ministry to discover it will lead to fine and also as well as responsibility for the cost in disposing it,” Mr. Wisner said.
According to Mr. Wisner, the ministry is also monitoring the sales of goods on the market to ensure that business people, especially importers, do not increase the prices in order to make huge profits.
“There are times people inflate prices but, today, some are due to the exchange rate. But we are monitoring major commodities on the market in the interest of the Liberian people,” he said.
Mr. Wisner said the ministry is poised to tackle the involvement of importers into retailing, stating, “the ministry will not allow those importers who are involved into distributions to retail.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Wisner has called on Liberian businesses to be transparent, especially business transactions.
“Lots of foreign business people have complained about the delinquency of some Liberian business people in terms of settling financial obligations. Some rice importers have displayed names of Liberians who are refusing to pay their debts. They just take the goods and don’t want to pay back,” he added.
He said fighting dishonesty on the market is pivotal and will assist in transforming many things, including wholesalers doing retail business.
According to him, the transformation of the ministry workings was necessary because the system used, prior to the current administration, was old-age and needed to be changed to meet the interest of the people of Liberia and business people in particular.
Previously, the Commerce and Trade Services Department spearheaded the World Trade Organization (WTO) and National Trade Facilitation Committee (NTFC) functions. However, the ministry has constituted a secretariat to steer the affairs of the WTO and NTFC functionaries. He said there is a representative from each entity, including Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Ministry of Agriculture, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI), that handle the entire process.
He said this secretariat reduces the stress of looking for documents and currently works from the Liberia Chamber of Commerce. Mr. Wisner has lauded the President George M. Weah for given him the opportunity to serve his country.