All of the Agencies mentioned above should know that in this predominantly Christian nation, Christmas is not the time for fuss.
Even in predominantly Islamic The Gambia and substantially Islamic Nigeria, Christmas is very special and every businessperson hustles by all means to get his/her goods to the market in time for this most festive Season, just as they do during Ramadan.
Fortunately, Christmas this year falls on Sunday. So we have five more days for importers to bring their goods to the market. But most of them will say that it is already too late.
And yet there is limited time for Agencies of the Government of Liberia (GOL) to show good faith by dialoguing with importers to resolve their contentions and give this Christmas a break.
We call on the National Port Authority (NPA), the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MOC) and the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) to quickly arrange a meeting with importers to resolve the crisis that brought businesses in the prime commercial districts of Bushrod Island and Water Side to a standstill last Thursday. The importers and customs brokers last Thursday staged a massive demonstration in these business districts, forcing all stores, street and sidewalk vendors to come to an abrupt halt. The alternative was seizure or destruction of goods.
The importers accuse GOL Agencies of creating bottlenecks in the clearing process. The importers say they are charged as much as US$5,600 per container, a fee they claim as extremely high. But in addition, they have to pay customs duty and storage fees on their goods, which run into thousands more US dollars.
The importers complain of NPA and Revenue authorities seeking kickbacks in addition to what they consider these excessive charges. The importers further complain that the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) had imposed a new regulation of 25 percent in local currency on in-bound money transfers which they describe this as “unacceptable.”
This is CBL Executive Governor Milton Weeks’ first Christmas as head of this powerful player in the Liberian economy. He cannot afford to be part of “the Grinch that stole Christmas.” Liberia does not need a Newt Gingrich who, as Speaker of the US Congress in 1994, locked down the administration of President Bill Clinton by refusing to approve funds for government operations.
So we urge all of these GOL Agencies, the NPA, Commerce Ministry and their surrogate, BIVAC, the LRA and the CBL to convene an emergency meeting and invite importers and customs brokers to hear their grievances, toward a peaceful resolution of all the issues and complaints. This will allow the whole country, including the marketplace, to have a peaceful, festive and joyous Christmas.
The time is indeed far spent, but let it not be said that no one tried to salvage the situation and prevent a Christmas nightmare.