The Daily Observer has confirmed that a nationwide strike by the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL) now in its third day, is disrupting clearing of imports at the nation’s seaports, airports and borders, depriving the government of millions of dollars in tax revenues.
Unconfirmed reports say the 40,000 strong Customs Brokers across the country who contribute a hefty US$2m daily into government coffers have a list of complaints that have so far not been addressed by the Liberia Revenue Authority or the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning. The Customs officers, citing unlawful, illegal and unjust collection of taxes from members of the business community by LRA, among other criticisms, have threatened to continue the strike until their terms are met.
As the frustrated customs brokers entered their third day of strike action today, clearing of imports have slowed down denying the Government of Liberia millions of dollars from tariffs and other import charges.
The major ports of entry affected include the Freeport of Monrovia, the Port of Buchanan, the border points in Cape Mount and Lofa Counties as well as Ganta entry point in Nimba County.
During a press conference yesterday at their headquarters in the Freeport Community, NCBAL said their protest stemmed from ‘unsuccessful negotiations’ between them and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), headed by Madam Elfrieda Tamba.
The president of NCBAL, Mr. Ivan J.F. Tumbey, said that a letter of complaint it sent to the Minister of Finance and Development Planning is yet to receive any redress.
There is unlawful, illegal and unjust collection of taxes from members of the business community by LRA, especially those businesses involved in the importation of cargo through the Free Port of Monrovia and the Roberts International Airport (RIA), Mr. Tumbey charged.
He said the association was taken aback when the LRA began charging tax payers additional fees on Clean Report of Findings (CRF) and collecting fees of US$50 per 20 foot container and US$100 per 40 feet container for scanning of Pre-Shipment Containers (PSI) when in fact, the scanner is not functioning.
Tumbey said the unnecessary additional fees are disturbing and NCBAL is demanding that the LRA stop such charges until the scanner is functional and the charging power is renegotiated.
“This an act which contravenes an earlier agreement signed between GOL and BIVAC (Bureau Inspection Valuation Assessment). If the LRA will continue to
re-appraise the Clean Report of Findings, then let it forget about the BIVAC and Liberia’s lawful contract of 1997,” Mr. Tumbey declared.
Another point of contention said Tumbey is that the LRA has appointed additional assessors to the already assigned assessors in Assessment at the DI-sites at the Freeport of Monrovia to re-appraise all cargos, a procedure which he said is outside of the agreement signed between BIVAC and GOL.
Only BIVAC is authorized to appraise all cargos at the Country of Origin, using all of the internationally accepted procedures, according to the agreement between GOL and BIVAC.
“Assigning additional Customs officers has also created serious congestion at various DI-sites at the Port causing delays in the clearing process which is a serious burden for the Tax Payers and the consuming public at large,” the Customs Brokers’ president said.
Mr. Tumbey further called on the LRA to put an end to the inhumane treatment being meted out against Tax Payers, including denying them access to restrooms, drinking water, cafeteria and waiting accommodations among, others.
“We want such deprivations to stop because it is not in the best interest of the country and it circumvents international best practices,” Mr. Tumbey noted.
The NCBAL boss described as an act of corruption LRA officers prohibiting the clearing of cargos and door-to-door delivery of Cargos after 4:00 pm instead of these activities being 24-hour services according to the Maritime and Revenue Laws of the Country.
“This situation results in the tax payers having to pay more for storage at APM Terminals while at the same time leaving their perishable goods at the mercy of truck owners and port security, posing a huge cost burden on both the tax payers and the consuming public,” Mr. Tumbey indicated.
Mr. Tumbey alleged that Customs officers of the LRA and employees of the Ministries of Commerce & Industry and Finance and Development Planning are engaged in Clearing and Forwarding while at the same time carrying on their normal government functions.
“We think that this is unprofessional behavior by (employees of) these government agencies and this is a very serious conflict of interest. How will you be a referee and a player at the same time? Clearing and forwarding is for the Brokers,” he said.
The Customs officers maintained that the strike action will continue causing the Liberian government to lose millions of dollars until their terms are met.
When Madam Tamba’s offices was contacted for her comment, a female employee who picked up the call, refused to give her name and position, but said the LRA would come out with its position statement very soon.
The female employee, however, dismissed reports that LRA is charging unlawful fees. She argued that all fees charged by the LRA are aimed at collecting lawful revenues on behalf of the government. She promised to contact the Daily Observer very soon to respond to their “so-called allegations.”
There is speculation that Commissioner Tamba is making efforts to resolve the strike action.
This means if the Liberian Government through the Ministries of Finance and Development Planning and Commerce and Industry as well as the National Port Authority do not resolve the strike action soon, government revenues to support the projected US$660 million 2015/2016 budget may be at risk.