-Brokers Association accuses regulatory authority of overlapping function; threatens to file lawsuit
The already struggling Liberian economy is on the verge of seeing an upsurge of negative issues as tension continues to grow between the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) and the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL)—two entities that contribute significantly to the country’s economy.
The brokers association is accusing the LRA of overlapping its functions and of practically involving in ‘fraudulent activities’ that undermine the smooth operation of the association.
At a recent press conference in Monrovia, the association’s president, Ivan Tumbey, accused the LRA of clandestinely engaging in the certification of customs brokers, a move that is contrary to that entity’s scope of operations, he said. The LRA’s action, Tumbey noted, is in clear violation of the legal framework that established the NCBAL and enacted it into law by the National Legislature in 1997.
According to Tumbey, the act that created the NCBAL gives it the authority and right to perform clearing and forwarding duties as well as supervising their operations.
“We think basically that the LRA is missing her basic function. If you go to the act that established the LRA, there’s nowhere in the act that gives them the right to create any association,” he said.
Tumbey said the brokers association also has the legal mandate to recruit and vet individuals, while the LRA only has the power to license the group as an association, “and not individuals” as it is being accused of doing.
“We are hearing radio announcements and rumors in various corners that the LRA is in the process of giving licenses to people who want to venture in the clearing and forwarding business, though they have no knowledge of the sector.
“Many of these people have not gone through the rank and file of the national customs brokers association and not accredited by our entity,” Tumbey added.
This, he noted, contravenes the act that created the association. “There is no indication in the act that established LRA to train or create a broker or license a broker. The NCBAL is the only entity created to do so. I don’t know whether they have other entities established by an act of the legislature,” he said.
“Our argument here is that, we are brokers and we follow the rules that established us; and when it is legal for them to license us, we are happy with the procedure that they are coming up with, because more than four years since our last license was earned as an association, it has expired. It is welcoming news to license, but they cannot go beyond the association to license any individual. We are the ones clothed with that authority.
“It is our sole responsibility and they cannot take that from us. If, and only if they insist, we will take another turn because we have used every diplomatic means. We have written, argued, sit together to set a memorandum of understanding to proceed with the LRA and NCBAL as to the way forward in the entire process. But they have been ignoring our requests to sit down and sign the MOU that we both put together.
“We don’t know their intentions, but we are going to resist that, and will not allow it to happen for another entity to exist in the country as long as our entity still exists,” he said.
Section 3:4 of the NCBAL act gives the association the right “to organize, conduct, administer and evaluate candidates or applicants wishing to engage in and practice brokerage activities in order to standardize the profession. It shall administer tests to all persons or applicants wishing to practice brokerage activities and to be members of the association and also submit who be qualified individuals to the Minister of Finance for professional licensing.”
He called on his members to be calm as the leadership puts to bed “this unfortunate situation that is serving as a distraction to them. We want to tell our members not to be deterred, because these are just mere radio announcements. We are not worried about that.”
Also speaking, the vice president of the association, James Hinneh, reiterated that the NCBAL is not just a mere entity, “in that the act that was established by our honorable legislature give us the responsibility to be the sole operator of the clearing and forwarding business, every customs related document that enters the customs system should and must pass through the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL).”
“The LRA and NCBAL are two separate entities, created by the same legislature for specific and distinct functions. Our function is to do clearing and forwarding and to supervise the clearing and forwarding business,” he said.
“Their (LRA’s) function is to give us license to make it proper through the government; they are the ones responsible to give us license, and we are the ones charged with the responsibility to create brokers and determine who becomes a broker and forward those names to LRA for their own licensing procedure. But in recent times, there are rumors circulating in the public that LRA is certificating individuals.”
When contacted, D. Kaihenneh Sengbeh, the communications, media and public affairs manager at the LRA, clarified to the Daily Observer that the two institutions were each created under an act of the National Legislature, but said that the LRA is not violating the act that created the NCBAL.
“If any issue, they do not understand what is in the act. They should have come to us to see how best we can tell them about how the process is going on, because LRA has the authority to license brokers and individuals as mandated by section 1500 of the Liberia Revenue Code (LRC) and section 21(1) (a) & (b) of the LRA Act of 2013,” Sengbeh said.
He said the purpose of the LRA licensing customs brokers and individuals is to promote professionalism, integrity, and accountability in the business of customs brokerage in Liberia.
Quoting the relevant sections of the LRC, Sengbeh concluded: “Section 1500 of Liberia Revenue Code (the “Code”) authorizes the promulgation of regulations for ‘the licensing as customs brokers of persons of good moral character, and of corporations, associations and partnership’ including requiring ‘as a condition to the granting of any license, the showing of such facts as…may be deemed advisable as to the qualifications of the applicant to render valuable service to importers and exporters.
“Upon this regulation becoming effective [and subject to the transitional period provided hereunder], every business, corporation, partnership or natural person operating or seeking to operate and carry on commercial business as customs broker shall be required to apply for, obtain, and remain in possession of a valid customs broker license issued by the LRA.
“No person shall transact business as a customs broker without a license granted in accordance with the provisions of this regulation, provided that this requirement shall not be construed to require a license in the case of any person clearing goods or transacting business pertaining to his own importations and our action is in the act that created the revenue code.”