-Business owners want clarity, as MCC displays 2012 MOU giving it rights over 70% of Congotown’s revenue
An apparent overlapping of authority between two neighboring municipalities is causing some confusion among tax-payers in the Township of Congotown (TCT), situated between the cities of Monrovia and Paynesville. Lately business owners and residents of Congotown have begun to receive bills for municipal taxes from both the Township of Congotown as well as from the City of Monrovia.
The issue reached the press when David Lagree, General Manager of the Ghana Chop Bar, a popular entertainment center situated at the SKD Boulevard Junction, decided to speak out.
“I have received two different notices. On April 4th, 2018, the office of the Commissioner of Congo Town notified me that I should pay my tax to her office and not the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC). Also, on 20th April 2018, the MCC issued a notice to us that we should not pay taxes to the Congo Town Commissioner because they’re not clothed with the responsibility to collect taxes. As a result of these two instructions, I am confused on what exactly to do right now,” Lagree said.
The latter notice, issued by the MCC, was accompanied by a 2012 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed by former Acting Mayor of Monrovia, Mary T. Broh and former Congotown Commissioner, Mac John Russell. The MOU, signed June 5, 2012, essentially turned over the sovereignty of the Township along with a whopping 70 per cent of all municipal revenues generated within the Township, to be accrued to the City of Monrovia.
Among other things, MOU required Congotown to “submit to MCC a listing of all businesses operating in the Township”; give MCC “full disclosure of all transactions relative to businesses operating in the township… relative to the payment of local taxes and fees” and “provide adequate security and protection for MCC’s staff performing duties authorized by MCC’s Management, within the Township…”
The MOU also made MCC “the sole collecting authority clothed with the responsibility to impose and collect local taxes… and other fees from business operation within the Township.” And while the MCC appeared to add a touch of transparency by sharing with the Township Commissioner copies of revenue bills issued to Township tax-payers, the MCC postured to be doing the Township a favor by providing “at its own cost, all technical and professional expertise, in line with municipal standard to ensure the collection of local taxes and fees within the Township.”
Under the MOU, the MCC, being the sole collector of all taxes and fees within the Township, would keep 70% of all revenue and pay the balance 30% to the Township “for the enhancement of the Township and… day-to-day operation of the Township… distributed on a quarterly basis.”
The MOU, duly notarized, noted that the arrangement became necessary due to “administrative, technical and capital impediments to comprehensively collect local taxes and fees from businesses operating in the Township and as such has elected to solicit the full intervention of the MCC.” The signatories to the MOU also agreed that, “it shall have perpetual existence and shall remain the working and legal authority of the MCC from time to time unhindered…” and that, the MOU “shall remain binding on the Parties and their successors as if they were specifically named.”
Township Council Response
In a communication sent to Mr. Frank Krah, Coordinator of Impact Projects at the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC), dated July 30, 2013, the Township Council, through its Acting Chairman, Rev. C. Wellington Morgan, said neither the Council nor the then Montserrado County Superintendent, Grace T. Kpaan, gave their approval of or had any knowledge of the MOU. Additionally, the Township Council observed that the MCC had so far failed to live up to its side of the deal.
“Since we last communicated with the former acting mayor, Mary T. Broh in January 2013 at which time we expressed our unwillingness to sign another MOU with the MCC growing over dissatisfaction the manner in which the MCC handled the 2012 MOU, and therefore TCT will not be doing business with the MCC this year 2013, the MCC has not responded to our communication thus making us to believe that she is taking us for granted,” the Township Council said in the letter.
The Daily Observer reliably learnt that MCC remains indebted to the Township of Congotown, to the tune of US$65,000 — part of the Township’s 30% share, as per the MOU.
Thus, in that letter, the Township Council, with the agreement of then Superintendent Kpaan, called for the immediate cancellation the MOU.
The current Commissioner of Congotown, Mrs. Ade Jones-Captan, who was appointed by then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in January 2014 and asked by President George M. Weah to stay on, pending confirmation by the Senate, said she has been instructing all business owners in Congotown to pay all taxes and fees to the office of the Commissioner instead of to MCC.
“The office of the Commissioner wishes to inform businesses operating within the Township of Congo Town to make the payment of all municipal taxes and fees to the office of the Commissioner as they have done during previous years,” a notice from the office of Commissioner Captan, dated April 4, 2018, instructing businesses in the Township said. “Accordingly, the office of the Commissioner will be opened from Monday to Friday every week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., as anyone making payment should ensure to obtain genuine receipt from the office of the Commissioner.”
Who’s in charge?
Businessman Lagree admits he has been paying all fees and taxes to the commissioner’s office. And though he is the only person to speak out about receiving separate invoices from MCC and TCT, his concerns are those of every business entity in the Township. “I think the MCC and the Township should handle their differences because this is affecting my business,” he said.
However, the municipal bills from MCC only started coming in April this year, shortly after Jefferson Koijee was confirmed by the Liberian Senate as Mayor of the City of Monrovia and CEO of the Monrovia City Corporation (MCC). The MCC bill addressed to Lagree demands L$6,000 for Solid Waste Tax and US$100 for Municipal Tax.
The Township of Congotown covers the stretch of Tubman Boulevard from Vamoma House Junction (bordering Sinkor) all the way to the SKD Boulevard Junction bordering Paynesville City. Congo Town also covers outlying communities such as Fish market, and other coastal communities in the area as well as Old Road , Peace Island and other nearby areas. The Coalition for Democratic Change headquarters falls within the domain of Congotown.
If the MCC gets its way, it stands to generate hundreds of thousands of United States Dollars annually from businesses of all sizes, including supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, gas stations, various real estate ventures and the like.
Since Monday, May 21, some local newspapers and radio stations have carried banner headlines, accusing Commissioner Ade Captan of “illegally collecting taxes from Congotown residents.
However, in a release issued yesterday in Monrovia under the signature of S. Alvin Browne, Township Clerk, said “the Township of Congotown wishes to clarify that contrary to reports carried by some local media, the Township only collects its legitimate municipal fees, which in the absence of budgetary appropriation from the national government, serve to fund the operations of the Township, including its payroll.
Mr. Browne further said the Township also wishes to note that in 2013, an MOU was signed with the Monrovia City Corporation to collect its municipal fees on its behalf under a revenue sharing scheme.
From 2012 to 2014, Mr. Browne said, “MCC did not honor its commitments under the MOU. In a letter dated July 30, 2013, the Township Council, through its chairman, Rev. C. Wellington Morgan, wrote an official letter to MCC informing them that the former commissioner of Congotown had signed the MOU without the consent of the council, that MCC had not honored the terms of the MOU, and that the MOU was cancelled. Since 2014, the Township of Congotown had reverted to collecting its legitimate municipal fees.”
According to him, the Commissioner has kept the Deputy Minister of Urban Affairs, Paulita C. Wie apprised of the affairs of the Township, including the matters of the MOU with MCC.
He further said unlike the MCC and Paynesville City Corporation, the Township of Congotown does not receive budgetary appropriation from the national government, but has to rely on its own resources derived from the collection of municipal taxes, and fees.
Accordingly, Mr. Browne said, the leadership of the Township has always supported a Pro-Poor agenda through job creation for youth, assistance to students and marketers.
He added that Commissioner Ade Jones-Captan expresses gratitude to President George M. Weah, for allowing her to hold over the office of the commissioner until further directive, and pledges her full support to the promotion and implemenation of the government’s pro-poor policy.
The Township of Congotown was created by an act of legislation in 1956, which has to do with local government.
According to Chapter five of the local government law that also talks about corporate powers of townships, it says “The several Townships shall be bodies corporate, and as such may sue and be sued; take and hold real and personal property for the benefit of the township; make and fulfill contracts; and levy taxes authorized under the provision of section 630 of the Revenue and Financial Law.
It says commissioners of the townships shall have the following duties, including they shall have the power to execute and enforce all relating to the government of the townships.
“They shall have the care of the public property in their respective townships. They shall submit the annual township budget to the bureau of the budget for the approval of the President; they shall make quarterly reports of their administrative acts to the Secretary of the Interior for the townships located in Montserrado County, and for the townships outside Montserrado County, to the superintendent of the county or territory wherin the township is located; and they shall render from time to time such other reports as may be required,” the Law says.