Exchange Rate Reaches L$150 to US$1

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Liberians want government to urgently derive solutions to economic downturn

Signs of a halt to the continued fall of the Liberian currency against the US dollar appears nowhere in sight as the exchange rate continues to climb, with the Liberian dollar now trading at L$150 to US$1.

Liberians including business people, caught in the dragnet of the current economic hardships, want the Liberian government to urgently derive  practical solutions to the current economic downturn which is having disastrous consequences for the ordinary Liberian.

A two-week survey of the foreign exchange market was conducted in several business districts in and out of Monrovia. The survey included Paynesville, Kakata, Gbarnga  and Voinjama.

Currently, the exchange rate of the Liberian dollar against the all-powerful American dollar is L$150 to US$1.

As a result of this seemingly uncontrollable climb in the exchange rate,  Liberians  are encountering unbearable hardship in accessing money to purchase essential items like rice, vegetable oil, etc. Even locally produced food items are now being sold at prices beyond the reach of many, particularly those surviving at less than a dollar a day.

Economic and financial analysts told the Daily Observer that an immediate intervention by the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL), Ministry of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP) and key financial institutions in the country is required to restore sanity to the currency market.

Owing to the sharp increase in the pump prices of gasoline and diesel fuel, which are being sold at a cost of L$500 per gallon at the moment, transport fares have dramatically been stepped up to all destinations in and outside Monrovia.

Moreover, the recently commenced motor vehicle inspection exercise by officers of the Liberia National Police (LNP) is driving many vehicles  off the streets, adding to the transportation woes of commuters.

When the police vehicle inspection exercise started on Monday, June 11, several commercial and privately-owned vehicles were impounded for not processing their registration and insurance documents on the stipulated deadlines set by revenue and finance agencies.

Police sources say because of the exercise, many commercial and privately-owned vehicles, not registered and covered by third party insurance as stipulated, have been keeping off the streets and driving at night hours mainly to evade possible police action.

However, public reaction to the ongoing inspection exercise by the LNP has been mixed, with some applauding it and arguing that the country needs money for development, while others have shunned the exercise, describing it as “chopping” for police officers.

Meanwhile, the latest transport fares from Paynesville Red-Light Market to Broad Street, central Monrovia, range between L$150 to L$200 in taxi cabs and L$90 to L$100 in mini buses.

Prior to the sharp increment in petroleum products, commuters and business people were paying taxi cabs L$100 and L$70 in mini buses from Red-Light Market to Broad Street, central Monrovia.

Civil servant Darlington B. Thomas, 45, of Paynesville Weaver Street noted that the CBL needs to really work meticulously with the various foreign exchange bureaux, to structure a single exchange rate and have law enforcement agencies monitor the transactions in all parts of the country.

On the hike in transport fares, Mr. Thomas pointed out that there are some unscrupulous commercial drivers that are allegedly taking advantage of the current socioeconomic challenges to exploit and destroy the image of the Liberian government.

Businessman Clarence B. Sackie Sr. intimated that the Liberian government needs to take proactive steps to work with well-seasoned experts in financial management, in order to shore up the business sector against the current economic downturn.

“I personally want the CBL and other financial stakeholders to take a critical economic look at our foreign exchange sector and come out with genuine and durable solutions to our nightmare and hardships in our own country,” Mr. Sackie stressed.

Madam Caroline George Cooper, 48, general merchandise dealer at the Waterside General Market in Monrovia, stated that every effort should be exerted by the CBL and MFDP officials to find permanent solutions to the unusual escalation of the foreign exchange rate.

Besides, she added, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOCI) must double or triple efforts aimed at regulating transport fares and enforcing all laws against violators caught in  price hiking and commodity hoarding.

Madam Cooper also stressed that the Liberia Petroleum Refining Company (LPRC) should exert all efforts to regularly brief Liberians on the global trend of oil prices in order to checkmate hoarding and illegal price hikes.

It can be recalled that the Liberian government, through the Ministry of Commerce recently announced a reduction in tariffs for some basic commodities such as pig feet, chicken feet and mosquito coils.

However, there are growing public concerns that the announced tariff reductions have had little or no effect on the cost of living generally. The rising cost of petroleum products on the Liberian market is said to be the chief culprit responsible for the hike in prices and the continued fall of the Liberian dollar against the United States dollar.

The Ministry of Commerce has not, however, addressed itself to these latest claims. Meanwhile the Ministry of Commerce has vowed to continue with its inspection exercise which has resulted in the discovery of tainted and expired food items on the shelves of supermarkets in Monrovia.

It can be recalled that recently, the Ministry of Commerce imposed a fine on the Abi Jaoudi supermarket for selling expired food items a charge which the business outfit strenuously denied, although the Abi Jaoudi supermarket did pay the imposed fine.

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