The World Food Program (WFP), in flagrant (barefaced, unashamed) disregard for struggling Liberian businesses, recently awarded to a Guinean trucking firm a multimillion dollar contract for transport services to the WFP’s Ebola response to Liberia.
How is that possible? Does WFP or anyone else think that the Guinean government and people, more particularly Guinean businesspeople, would ever allow such a thing to happen in Guinea? Definitely not! The Guineans most certainly know better. Though they are predominantly Muslim, they know fully well the Christian dictum that “Charity begins at home.”
The big trouble is, NOT IN LIBERIA!
Liberia is a friendly country, most probably the most friendly in Africa. For which other African country so openly and so wholeheartedly welcomes foreigners and are prepared to give them every opportunity to do business and make tons of money here, while Liberians continue to live in abject poverty?
This newspaper has always advocated, argued for, pleaded with the Liberian government, to do everything in its power, as a deliberate policy, to encourage and foster the development of a middle class. Daily Observer publisher Kenneth Y. Best, as a young Assistant Minister at the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism (MICAT) in 1972, started urging the Liberian leaders to begin the process of developing a Liberian merchant class. His point was that it was the quickest way to lift our people out of poverty, for that is where the money is—in business and commerce. If Liberians controlled their own commerce, they would be in the driver’s seat of their economy.
When Kenneth made that 1972 call during a speech at his alma mater, Booker Washington Institute (BWI), no less a person than the eminent former Liberian Secretary of State J. Rudolph Grimes told him, “You know, you are right.”
Alas! The government has paid absolutely NO attention to this advice. This advice has over the years been consistently rejected by successive Liberian administrations, including the current one.
The Tubman government started by enunciating (pronouncing) the Open Door Policy. This was initially hailed as a great thing because it started attracting foreign investments to the country, But from the very start, it became a totally foreign thing, the first being Lansdell K. Christe’s Liberia Mining Company (LMC) that mined iron ore from Bomi Hills (now Tubmanburg). But 20 years before LMC came Harvey S. Firestone, Jr’s Firestone Rubber Plantations Company (FRPC). That was Liberia’s first major foreign investment. Like Firestone, LMC had no local investment participation. Then came LAMCO in the late 1950s, to mine the iron ore in Mount Nimba, Nimba County; and later Bong Mining Company. All of these were overwhelmingly foreign-owned.
The government did nothing to encourage Liberians to undertake ancillary (subsidiary, secondary) businesses, such as food supply, transportation and other logistical services. Even as late as the 2000s, especially with the coming of the current government, major concession agreements have been signed, particularly in the iron ore, oil palm and now the petroleum sectors, with no Liberian participation. The National Oil Company (NOCAL) has auctioned off most of the oil blocks, again with little or no Liberian participation, except a very few that have not been made public. Who knows whether these are not reserved for people close to the powers that be? If not, why are these Liberian owners so secretive? Is that the few remain natural resources should be shared?
There is another alarming, deeply distressing reality at play: The government owes the media, most of them tiny business enterprises, well over half a million United States dollars, but has, over several years, consistently REFUSED to pay them. Now the government is DEMANDING that the media houses accept far less than the amount due them! How so fraudulent and unfair, how so shamefully a misuse of power!
Worse yet, several Christmases have passed, and this one, too, is about to pass, and GOL has not aroused its conscience — if it has one — to pay the media, so that our wives and children can say “Papa na come home.”
So who can blame the WFP for ditching Liberian truckers in favor of Guinean truckers? WFP has learned well the lesson the Liberian government has taught them— “to hell with Liberian businesses. You can come to Liberia and do as you please.”
Is this government then serious about poverty reduction, which it has preached, since coming to power?
Ellen’s government has only two more years in power. As eternal optimists, we don’t think it is too late for her to make a difference. A good place to start is to PAY THE MEDIA WHAT YOU OWE THEM AND DEMAND THAT THE WFP AGREEMENT BE REVERSED.