-Say gov’t exploiting indigenous businesses by allowing the company to stay
In his inaugural address in January of 2018, President George Weah received a standing ovation and the loudest applauds of the day when he promised that Liberians will not be spectators in their economy once he is the leader of the country.
The President’s promise came on the back of the perennial challenges that Liberians, especially indigenous businesses continue to face — being economically marginalized and strangulated — which has kept them stagnated for years, keeping them perpetually poor.
These conditions however made the declaration at the Samuel Kayon Doe Sports Complex a welcoming moment for ordinary Liberians who felt that it was a dawning of a new day for them.
However many are now weary that that dream is becoming elusive by the day and, in fact, Liberians are being pushed further away from the pitch and can no longer be seen in the arena of prosperity because of the actions and inactions of the ruling party.
One group that has openly vented its frustration against the Weah administration is the Liberia Business Association (LIBA) along with some of its auxiliaries, the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), the Broker’s Union of Liberia and the Paynesville Business Association.
At a press conference held over the weekend, the heads of these indigenous business groups said that they are being suffocated by excessive fees imposed by government at the National Port Authority (NPA) through which members of those groups import their goods in the country. Some of the charges, the business leaders noted, are not unjustifiable.
The LIBA and PATEL bosses made specific reference to Global Tracking and Maritime Solutions (GTMS)—a purported shipping security firm that tracks goods imported in country.
The officials are calling for GTMS to be booted out of the country because it is creating serious economic hardship through imposition of huge fees, such as as a staggering US$800.00, on struggling businesses without clarity on whether such fees collected go into government revenues or individuals’ pockets.
“We receive no flag receipt from GTMS when we pay money and this raises the question as to where the money we pay goes.”
Businesses also pay fees to APM Terminals, BIVAC and the shipping lines at the port of entry, before getting their goods from the port.
“These are the reasons why high prices are being charged for goods on the market, with the end users bearing the greatest burden of those huge charges businesses pay. Meeting loan payment schedule is another huge challenge for us,” Lawrence Cole, PATEL Secretary General, said at the press conference.
Cole alleged that GTMS is violating all the treaties that Liberia is part of, including the World Trade Organization, World Custom Organization, and ECOWAS Trade Facilitation, among others.
He questions the legitimacy of GTMS’s existence in Liberia, lamenting that government, through the NPA, earlier informed businesses that it was adding US$175 as charge, with the understanding that this charge would not have exceeded US$175.
“Contrary to this, he claims that GTMS now charges up to US$800 and does not issue flag receipt to signify that monies it collects from business people go to Liberia’s revenue account,” he said.
Mr. Cole alleges further that when GTMS is asked where these fees go, the company allegedly indicates that it pays to NPA whatever fees are collected. Additionally, he says GTMS does not have on-site security teams like other firms do to know what is being loaded to a container, calling on government to revisit its concession agreement with GTMS.
PATEL Chairman Mr. Dominic Nimely complains that GTMS, once booted out of Sierra Leone under the name CTN, is in Liberia heavily fining importers up to US$800, and wanting to levy a charge for each car brought in a container.
“The revenue you collect where does it go? We don’t know. We don’t know where the money goes. You’re not issuing flag receipt, you just impose on us so we say GTMS should pack up and leave Liberia. We cannot have GTMS and BIVAC at the same time. GTMS is a violation,” Nimely says.
He urges President George Manneh Weah to live up to his pledge that Liberians will not be spectators in their own economy by creating a level playing field.
Nimely wondered why NPA is not taking the responsibility of paying GTMS if it hires the group’s services, instead of shifting the financial burden on struggling Liberian businesses.
He complains that business people are fed up with GTMS’ activities and would take some decisive actions if the government does not address their plight.
GTMS was reportedly hired as a security company by NPA Managing Director Bill Tweahway and it reports fees collected to Tweahway.
“That shows that there’s no tracking that you can do on that money. Anybody can set that system in their computer and print the receipt, invoices and give it to you,” says LIBA president, James Strotther. He calls on President Weah to look into this matter to show concern for the people who elected him.
Malcolm Scott, Communication Director for the National Port Authority (NPA), denied claims against his boss, arguing that what he knows is that GTMS has a concession with the government and it pays royalty to the government for operating. According to him, when Mr. Tweahway was appointed as NPA Managing Director, GTMS was already in motion, saying the group came into being when the MD was not at the port.
He said the NPA does not have an account with an individual’s name and that money to the port is not paid in royalty to individuals.