The Capitol Building office of the Legislature was yesterday a scene of protest when hundreds of protesting marketers, under the leadership of the “Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia Incorporated” (PATEL), stormed the area with multiple concerns, including the demand to reduce the surging exchange rate between the United States dollar and the Liberian dollar.
However, the situation came under control when the leadership of the Senate promised to set up a special team to receive the petition the protesters presented to that august body. The Senators, led by Pro Tempore Armah Jallah, also informed the protesters about their next course of action in the coming days relative to the rising foreign exchange rate.
The Pro Temp told the protesters that the Senate will work along with the House of Representatives and the outcome of their action will be submitted to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for prompt action.
“Our decision will be known within 24 hours,” Senator Jallah said as the Senate adjourned with Senators George Weah, Geraldine Doe-Sherif, Gbleh-Boh Brown, Dallas Gueh, Thomas Grupee and Morris Saytumah in attendance for the 7th day sitting.
Weah wants tax returns
In remarks, Senator George Weah promised that a government under his leadership would introduce tax returns as a means of encouraging tax payers to pay their taxes willingly and on time, adding, “If I ever have the chance to be president of this country, if you pay tax you must have tax returns.”
The United States of America is one of few western democracies that practices tax returns, and if elected president, Weah said he will be the first Liberian leader to follow the footsteps of Liberia’s traditional friend.
He expressed the hope that government will start to put mechanisms into place that will ensure that tax payers benefit from tax returns at the end of a tax year, otherwise they will have to introduce low taxes.
“As someone who the people look up to in a situation as such, I will continue to work with my colleagues to ensure that the voices of our ordinary citizens and members of the business community are heard, so that what we are experiencing today will not be repeated. “
Weah spoke to journalists in the corridor of the Senate minutes after the protesters submitted their petition to the Legislature. The petition was presented by the leadership of PATEL.
Members of the group were protesting against high inflation and taxes levied on certain commodities that are required by government to be paid in US dollars. They called for a complete shutdown of all businesses in the country for three days, which came into effect yesterday, Tuesday. Business centers including major supermarkets as well as wholesale and retail stores and entertainment centers remained closed for the day.
But Senator Weah, who is also the standard bearer of the Coalition of Democratic Change (CDC), recalled how three years ago, he told a journalist in an interview that if he becomes president of Liberia, “the first thing I will do is lower taxes so that it could attract business people to come to this country; lots of journalists then thought I did not know what I was saying, but again, if you think about what is going on, you will say ‘Mr. Weah was right.’”
The former world football icon, who is one of two Senators representing Liberia at the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, Nigeria, emphasized the need for people to pay taxes, but pressed that taxes should be lowered to enable especially petty traders to sell their wares, adding: “as such, we will have a win-win situation. But if the taxes are high they will face problem.”
On the question if he voted to amend the revenue code and increase tariff, Weah said: “I never voted, I am on record; but I stand that taxes must be low and that is the point I am trying to make. The best thing to do whenever this kind of situation arises, we cut overhead, go back to the drawing board and try to satisfy the consumers. You cannot pay heavy tax and cannot even realize profit.”
He maintained that the people who gathered at the grounds of the Capitol Building yesterday have the right to let the Legislators know that they are not happy.
Meanwhile, this reporter toured central Monrovia and the commercial district of Waterside, and observed that indeed the call to shutdown businesses was well heeded as restaurants and supermarkets remained closed, while gas stations, banks and some pharmacies were open for business.