The President of the World Lebanese Cultural Union (WLCU), Ahmad Wazni has spoken of the too many bureaucracies in government, tough regulations associated with entering Liberia, costly and continuous regularization of resident and work permits, and business registration as some challenges confronting the Lebanese community in contributing its quota to the country’s development.
Wazni made the statement during a program marking the observance of the 76th National Day anniversary of Lebanon, which was held on November 22 in the presence of scores of diplomats and officials of government, including Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, House Speaker Bhofal Chambers, and Senate Pro Tempore Albert Chie.
Mr. Wazni said these situations create suspicion, not only among the Lebanese, but also in other foreign investors about confidence in making business in the country.
In order to build confidence in foreign investors, he called on the government to review the laws to create an enabling environment that will make the country business friendly.
Mr. Wazni said having a transparent system in place will build trust in investors to make business in any environment, including Liberia.
Lebanese by occupation are traders who dominate the Liberian foreign-owned businesses, followed by the Indians, and then the Chinese and Fula traders.
Wazni said the situation, coupled with “inadequate healthcare and education facilities,” has contributed to the exodus of Lebanese people, recalling that before 1990 about 18,000 to 20,000 Lebanese were in the country, but the number has now been reduced to about 4,000.
The call for review of business and other laws in Liberia may not only be in favor of the Lebanese community and other foreign investors but Liberian business people as well.
Liberian business people in past and current regimes have spoken against harsh taxation at ports of entry, especially at the Freeport of Monrovia where custom duties and other taxes imposed on goods imported have been one of the main issues raised in the public domain. Investigation has shown that this prevailing situation now causes many people to use the port of Guinea to clear their vehicles instead of the Freeport of Monrovia that charges exorbitantly to clear a single container.
Many times containers of goods have been abandoned at the Freeport due to high taxes levied on them.
It can be recalled that prior to the inauguration of President George Weah, business people staged a number of strike actions calling on the government to reduce import duty on imported goods, because of the adverse consequences on both the importers and the consuming public.
In a related development, Mr. Wazni has, on behalf of the Lebanese community, declared Liberia as the only country a lot of them call home and, therefore, they are ready to contribute to its socioeconomic development.
Wazni said most Lebanese living in Liberia today were born and nurtured here, something that makes them to believe that they have no better home than Liberia.
“Many of us here refer to this country as our home; we were born here and brought up here, and lived here for the rest of our lives, and it is in Liberia we intend to live until God calls us from labor to rest,” Wazni said.
He added that while they have Lebanese heritage that includes race, language and religion, they are Liberians, “because this is where we live without thinking of going back to Lebanon.”
Predicated upon their loyalty to Liberian citizenship and the joy they have had to be identified with Liberians, Mr. Wazni said they are, therefore, in support of President George Weah’s proposal for constitutional amendment that calls for removal of “the discriminatory clause” in the Liberian Constitution that grants citizenship to people only of the Negro race.
Mr. Wazni said he and the rest of his compatriots support this proposal of the President, and emphasized that they support all objective criteria that will compel everyone to join hands in developing Liberia.
He further said that because they owe their loyalty to Liberia, they, under the WLCU, have set up a framework that will enable them collaborate with their Liberian brothers and sisters to foster the socioeconomic development of the country.
He said the WLCU has set up a secretariat and other organizational committees that have different but cohesive responsibilities to unite Liberians and Lebanese, in order to have a shared vision aimed at development.
With this in mind, Wazni said the WLCU has a scholarship fund-drive aimed at supporting Liberian university students, including those of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law at the University of Liberia. The WLCU for academic 2018 provided scholarships to 18 students of the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law.
Additionally, the WLCU, according to Mr. Wazni, is collaborating with Liberians in sharing the culture of both Lebanon and Liberia. This takes both Lebanese and Liberians converging in a place of learning where they are taught the national anthems and other cultural activities of both countries.
To convince the guests that converged at the Lebanese Embassy for the National Day Anniversary, the students called the program to order by singing melodiously the national anthems of the two countries and performed cultural dances.
In addition to Mr. Wazni’s comments, Lebanese Ambassador to Liberia, Henry Kastoun, recalled that the bond between the two countries goes as far back as 1890 when Lebanese began arriving in Liberia.
Amb. Kastoun described the Lebanese community as the “biggest” business community that has been in Liberia in bad and good times.
He, like Wazni, said it is not just a business place, but the second home for some and just a home for others.
Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Findley, on the other hand, said the relation between the two countries has existed for many years and that some Lebanese have been integrated into the Liberian society.
He said Lebanon is on record for immensely contributing to the country’s economy, and Liberia will remain committed to the bilateral tie between the two of countries.