The attention of the Daily Observer is drawn to a story carried in its Thursday, January 17th edition headlined, “2754 Barrels of Salmonella Pork Quarantined”. Daily Observer reporter Alvin Worzi who covered the story relates that Health Minister Dr. Wilhelmina Jallah disclosed that the Ministry was alerted about the contaminated meat by the European Union. The meat was reported to have been brought in by the Lebanese importer, Cheaitou Brothers.
According to reporter Alvin Worzi, the Health Minister disclosed that her Ministry received the information on December 13, 2018 and that following receipt of the information, she contacted the Ministry of Commerce and informed that agency of the contaminated meat which was being brought into the country.
This is not the first of such reports involving the importation of contaminated meat and dairy products into the country. It can be recalled that a few months ago, inspectors from the Ministry of Commerce discovered large quantities of contaminated meat products in the warehouses of the Abi Jaoudi and Azar company. They were then slapped with a fine and the meat products confiscated.
Several questions readily come to mind considering the role which the Commerce Ministry should be playing in all of this, especially in view of the pre-shipment inspection contractual agreement signed between the Government of Liberia and the Bureau Veritas, (BIVAC)
It is the Ministry of Commerce to which importers apply for an Import Permit Declaration, (IPD). Importers are required to fill in forms detailing the nature of goods to be imported, their country of origin, price port of lading, etc. The IPD is then sent to BIVAC offices in the country from which the goods are being imported. BIVAC agents then inspect the goods for quality and price. Upon satisfactory completion of this task, the BIVAC then forwards to the Ministry of Commerce its findings, referred to as a “Clean Report of Findings”(CRF).
On the basis of the CRF the importer is then given the go-ahead to bring in the goods. In the case reported in the Daily Observer story, the question is whether the imported consignment go through the BIVAC pre-shipment regime. In case it did, how come it did not discover the meat was contaminated but proceeded to instead produce a CRF attesting that the meat met health compliance measures/checks?
Since the Daily Observer story, this newspaper has received a number of calls from various sources suggesting that Ministry of Commerce officials have either been remiss in their duties or that the BIVAC is acting in complicity with Lebanese importers to bring contaminated meat products into the country. Chances are that the contaminated meat would have found its way on the local market had the European Union had not alerted the Ministry of Health directly.
Whatever the case, the public deserves an explanation from the Ministry of Commerce why the BIVAC appears to be remiss in its contractual agreement with the Government of Liberia and allowing the import of contaminated meat products into the country.
And these concerns do not apply only to contaminated meat alone. They apply to wide range of substandard goods which have flooded the Liberian market. Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh, recounting what he said was Government’s commitment in getting unwholesome goods off the market, declared: “We have made some progress in taking some food and others that would have been eaten without any problem. Today, we are now working with the Ministry of Health to do some advance testing at the National Standard Laboratory, which is located within the Ministry of Public Works”.
But the public is left to wonder just why the Minister made no apparent reference to the Pre-shipment Inspection agreement between the BIVAC and the Government of Liberia whose laxity, from all accounts, is the main source of the problem. But just why the Commerce Ministry does not conduct a review of the existing agreement rather than scurrying all over the place in search of contaminated meat and dairy products?
If the BIVAC pre-shipment inspection agreement is not working then it should be scrapped. Laxity in the performance of its duties have led to what many describe as illegal action on the part of LRA officials who insist on conducting what they call destination inspection which is often nothing more than a contrived ruse to extort money.
Under the so-called destination inspection scheme, goods are reassessed and additional fees levied often much higher than those assessed by pre-shipment inspectors on behalf of the Government of Liberia. This kind of unwarranted behavior is not only hurting ordinary Liberians, it is both unacceptable and illegal. The Ministry of Commerce should therefore take the appropriate steps to being the situation under control. This is indeed a challenge to which Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh must respond.