There is a massive smuggling of petroleum products, especially gasoline, out of Liberia to the Republic of Guinea, via a border point, located behind the Child Friendly School Campus in the Gbouyee Community in Ganta.
According to information reaching the Daily Observer Nimba Desk, at more than 1,000 of gallons of gasoline are shipped through the bypass border point daily, using motorcycles as the mode of transport.
When this reporter visited the bypass, dozens of motorcycles were loaded with containers filled with gasoline, heading toward to the border point. Each motorcycle carries 10 containers filled with gasoline and each container contains about 10 gallons, with each motorcycle making several trips from Ganta to the crossing point.
Recently, the price of gas jumped from L$460 to L$700, prompting concern among the citizens whether there was another shortage of gasoline in the country. After a few days, the price dropped to L$680 and, it is now stands, between L$560 to L$600 in market places in Ganta.
Throughout the day, motorcycles loaded with the gasoline containers can be seen leaving the filling stations in central Ganta, taking the highway toward Gbarnga. But, before reaching Jackie’s Guest House, they branch off to the right, follow the road all the way down to a narrow path through a patch of rubber trees, toward Guinea Border, where they would cross over into Guinea.
Interestingly, situated along the path leading to the border crossing is the residence of an LIS officer, one Capt. Samuel Boumein.
Based on the movement of gasoline and the fluctuation in the price of gasoline, the Daily Observer established an investigation to find out where these motorcycles, loaded with containers filled with gasoline, were heading.
Following the tracks of the motorcycles, our reporter landed at the border crossing point, where people were carrying on normal cross-border activities, but there was no uniformed officer around. Our reporter was told earlier that there was a plain-clothes LIS officer assigned at the crossing point, but he could not be identified during our short visit.
While returning, the reporter came across two LIS officers — one armed border patrol officer and a regular LIS officer, both of them in plain clothes, facing the road leading to the crossing point.
When contacted, one of the officers, Samuel Boumein, whose residence is situated along the road, denied of ever seeing any motorbike carrying gasoline. “I thought is was you guys who were escorting the motorbikes with gasoline,” he said.
When asked, why they (LIS officers) could not have us arrested, he could not respond to the question.
The police and the LIS have been clashing on many occasions over the illegal entrance of goods from the Guinea, using this same route during the 3 p.m. curfew period. The police once raided the same residence currently occupied by Capt. Boumein, but the LIS argued that the police was infringing on their right and trying to usurp their (LIS officers’) functions.
“First of all, all borders are considered closed by order of the President of Liberia,” an LIS spokesperson told the Daily Observer. “Any essential commodities not authorized by the Ministry of Commerce being transported in large quantities through an unauthorized point of entry is illegal.”
The LIS spokesperson also said that if the Ministry of Commerce and LIS are not in the know, and people are using illegal entry points to get the commodities out of Liberia, it is illegal. “When we don’t have capacity to deploy personnel to every entry point, we have a border patrol unit to carry on foot patrol along those border points that are not accessible by road, to make sure that people do not use those unauthorized point to enter the country with goods.”
I have not seen people carrying gasoline across,” Commerce Inspector for Nimba County, Mr. Alphanso Miamen, told the Daily Observer. “Even if you tried to carry one gallon of gasoline across the border, you will not be allowed because it is not produced here. Rice, gasoline, sugar and other essential commodities that are not produced in Liberia cannot be taken out of the country without an export permit because that would create price instability.”
“We are trying in our weak way,” said Inspector Miamen, oversees a team of about 20 field agents, says for a large county like Nimba, his office is understaffed and under-equipped to effectively keep watch of smuggling activities across their jurisdiction.
“We want our Ministry to deploy more agents and logistics (vehicles) to address the constraints. Nimba County has Six legal border points with neighboring Guinea and Ivory Coast. But there are about 96 illegal entry points to Liberia from those two neighboring countries. I have 20 persons under my inspectorate, but I need not less than 40 to effectively cover the county. Moreover, when we go on tour of some of these areas, we have to carry the joint security along and I cannot do that on the one motorcycle I have.”
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Commerce in Monrovia told the Daily Observer just as much — that though he could not quote the exact policy concerning the movement of essential commodities from Liberia to another country, it is nevertheless “against our laws because it undermines efforts to keep the market stable.”
“The Liberia Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) and the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) should know about it,” the Commerce Ministry spokesperson added. “During the recent gasoline shortage crisis, one or two local companies obtained permission from neighboring countries to import product from those countries to Liberia, so we would at least expect a reciprocal action.”