A Closer Look at the EU and US Ambassadors’ Visit to the Free Port of Monrovia

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Just who in Liberia is not aware that corruption is a serious cancer eating away the fabric and soul of the nation?

Further, is it not publicly acknowledged that this government is perceived to be very corrupt? Have not Western diplomats including the EU and US Ambassadors written an open letter to this government demanding restitution of funds which they had committed to development projects in Liberia?

Well, it is common knowledge also that the management of the National Port Authority, under the leadership of Bill Twehway, is perceived to be very corrupt.

Under his leadership the unilateral imposition by the NPA of a Cargo Tracking Note fee of US$180 on each container shipped into the country has proved controversial and unpopular.

The scheme was opposed by both the Liberia Chamber of Commerce and the Liberian Business Association.

But their opposition proved costly as the head of the Indian Business Association was summarily deported while the head of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Wendell Addy, fled the country allegedly following threats to his life.

Moreover, revenue being derived from the scheme, as indicated by the audit report  conducted by the now deceased head of the Internal Audit Agency (IAA) is not being deposited into Government of Liberia (GoL) consolidated revenues.

This raises strong suspicion that the revenue may be going into private pockets including possibly that of the NPA managing director himself, Bill Twehway. That aside, the impact of COVID-19 has taken a toll on revenue generation.

That has meant fewer ships docking at the port. But, most of the ships docking at the port do so within a circumscribed area exclusively under the control of the APM Terminals.

What is left to the control of the NPA are the Bong Mines and LMC iron ore piers, the fishing pier and the oil jetty. Since the war, not a single ton of iron ore has been shipped from those piers, meaning that the NPA is deriving zero revenue from those piers.

Prior to the civil war, the NPA maintained a rail mounted Shore Crane that was used to offload heavy cargo and containers from ships berthed at the port and it generated considerable revenue from the services it provided.

But all those functions, i.e. the offloading of cargo, have since been ceded to the APM Terminals under its concession agreement, although to date the APM Terminals have not installed a new Shore Crane.

And neither has the public seen any evidence of the so-called State of the Art, modernized Container Park it promised to build.

What was once a potentially viable public corporation has been given on a silver platter to a major user of the Port, MAERSK Lines, for a pittance.

All this was part of President Sirleaf’s neoliberal economic agenda for Liberia and, for this, Liberians are now paying the price.

The prices of commodities will continue to go up because as sure as the sun rises and sets, APM Terminals will continue to increase her rates, which will obviously be passed on to the public.

It is unclear, at this point whether the APM Concession agreement is one of those 64 concession agreements signed under President Sirleaf that, according to the Moore Stephens Report, did not meet the mark of transparency.

If indeed it is, then it means the country, Liberia, deserves the right to review such an agreement and it could at some point in time take her case to the World Trade Organization, because it is about time predatory corporate interests begin to play by the rules.

Granted that the NPA management may be or is corrupt, it does not change the fact that the APM Terminals Concession agreement is a bad agreement whose terms have to be revisited in the interest of Liberia.

Was the visit of the ambassadors intended merely to apprise themselves with the “great infrastructural development” undertaken by the APM, or was it to assure the APM Management that the furore and angst of legislators amounted to nothing more than a “tempest in a teapot”?

Whatever the case, the timing of their visit at a time when the APM Terminals Liberia management is being called to order by the legislature for increasing tariffs at the port appears suspicious.

This is because, according to a retired NPA official, those increased costs, which are being unfairly passed on to the public and causing much suffering for the people, convey the distinct impression that the EU and the US will and are standing by greedy and predatory corporate interests against the interests of the Liberian people.

But we pause to ask why? Why, for example, should Liberians, endowed with vast natural resources as they are, forever remain hewers and drawers of water for others in their own land?

How much, for example, has Firestone given back in return for the billions in profit earned on the backs of unpaid and under-paid workers for nearly a century? Not even a fitting high school, public library, let alone a junior college or vocational training school can it boast of. Granted, our corrupt leaders may be responsible. But where do our corrupt leaders deposit or keep their ill-gotten and stolen wealth? Is it not in their banks?

1 COMMENT

  1. One wonders what’s hard to understand that recklessly increasing rates on imports causes a corresponding spike in prices of goods inevitably passed on to consumers. When then Justice Minister Benedict Sarno told reporters in 2015, or so, that “pervasive poverty is the greatest threat to national security”, this over-reliance on ports of entry for private pockets and taxes happened to have been a contributor. It didn’t surprise therefore that an ailing economy was bequeathed this administration, and reportedly getting worse through the same suspect shenanigans.

    Political leaders and policymakers make better decisions for the people when they have better information. A point emphasized in the biblical story of Joseph’s interpretation of the dream of Pharaoh, which saved Egypt from famine and probable chaos. The anecdote also illustrates that not every information of value to stability comes from spies, or through secret methods. Such data can be gleaned at, for example, NPA, and open-source news report, or even this editorial. Hungry people are angry people. Our intelligence service should train its eyes on the economy, too, and unambiguously brief President Weah.

    For instance, better information would’ve spared him the humiliation of the “lover’s quarrel” comment made in church regarding the double murders of LRA Assistant Director Peters and his female colleague. A far-reaching consequence of the falsehood communicated to him is that it fed to an orchestrated disinformation campaign about the deaths of auditors being ordered by government. Intelligence collection and analysis form first line defense for any country. They say, “To be forewarned is to be forearmed”.

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