In the wake of rising prices of basic goods and services, President George Weah yesterday gave a 72-hour (three days) directive to the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) to present a new schedule that will ensure immediate tariff reduction on a wide range of basic commodities imported, an Executive Mansion release has revealed.
Tariffs give a price advantage to locally-produced goods over similar goods which are imported, and they raise revenue for the government.
According to the release, the president has over the months observed that the current tariffs regime, including the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Common External Tariff (CET), is causing a serious hike in the cost of basic commodities, thus adversely affecting the Liberian people, especially the poor.
The president deems this as unacceptable and further expresses that it contravenes the promise of the “pro-poor agenda.”
The president said that he will leave no stone un-turned in making sure that basic goods are made affordable and that the public is not strangulated by unreasonable high tariffs.
“The current tariff regime, which was implemented during the final days of the past administration, has increased tariffs, in some cases as high as 40 percent,” the release said.
President Weah has therefore mandated LRA Commissioner General Madam Elfreda Stewart Tamba to report on his directive within 72 hours, beginning yesterday.
It may be recalled that shortly after President Weah was inaugurated in January this year, the president of the Paynesville Business Association (PBA) Sheik Y. Jalloh expressed the hope that the president will live up to his promise to address some of the challenges the business community faces, including waiver of fines.
Jalloh’s April 24 comment came against the backdrop of a series of concerns the business community raised, which included APM Terminals’ abrupt change in the number of days goods are to be kept in storage at the Freeport of Monrovia (from 21 days to five days), huge storage charges, high bills levied by custom officers, and the payment of taxes in United States dollars. President Weah held a meeting with authorities of the LRA to take immediate action by addressing sky-rocketing prices of goods and services.
Mr. Jalloh said as part of efforts to address some of the challenges faced by Liberian importers, President Weah immediately instructed the LRA to waive all fines imposed on importers for failing to comply with set guidelines and regulations.
Additionally, Mr. Jalloh said President Weah also instructed the LRA to accept payment of taxes in Liberian dollars and reduce bureaucracy to allow importers to be prompt in clearing their goods.
The president’s directive yesterday came in the wake of the surge in oil price on the world market, which is hitting Liberians hard as the national oil refinery company calls on people to brace for the worst after increasing prices of petroleum products.
The increment comes at a time when the CDC-led government is propagating its pro-poor slogan, with the aim of making the interest of ordinary Liberians a priority.
But economists say since the price of petroleum products influences the price of several major commodities, the government must make timely interventions to avert acute inflation on the local market.
But government regulatory bodies of the sector are showing what appears to be a laissez-faire approach, stressing that the increment is based on global factors. As such, prices of basic goods and services, including transportation fare, have increased, thereby reawakening Liberians’ cry for government to ensure that the sky-rocketing of prices of commodities are contained or considerably reduced.
The government has increased the price by US$0.20: retail price of a gallon of gasoline is now US$3.61, while fuel is US$3.70.
However, the uncontrolled exchange rate between the US and the Liberian dollars is making the price unstable as some retailers are selling a gallon for L$500 in Monrovia, Paynesville, Brewerville and other cities near the capital. But in the counties and other rural parts the story is different, with some reporting that a gallon of gas is now being sold at L$600 to L$1000 respectively to the extent that locals are now bearing the brunt of a rise in the prices of other major commodities due to a hike in the transportation fare.
The new prices are creating more uncertainties for the local economy, while the exchange rate remains unstable despite the Central Bank’s insistence that it has fixed it.