President Weah must be commended for quashing the recent lopsided concession agreement with the Lebanese owned Fouani Brothers granting them outrageous duty free privileges and other tax free incentives for a cumulative period of 14 years.
Under the agreement, the Fouani Brothers propose to build a refinery to process crude palm oil mainly for export and partly for domestic consumption. But make no mistake about it, the Fouani Brothers do not own any oil palm plantations in Liberia, neither do they have they invested in oil palm cultivation and production.
Additionally, under the agreement, the Fouani Brothers promise to provide employment for 500 Liberians over a 5-year period. But the agreement does not say anything about the categories of Liberians they intend to hire. Whether those individuals will be casual laborers doing menial jobs or whether they will be skilled Liberians is the unanswered question.
But just what was contained in the finer print of the agreement remains unclear. What is clear is that these so called investors are in effect requesting the government of Liberia to subsidize their operations completely at the detriment of the Liberian nation and people. Reliable sources say that the Ministers of Finance and Justice have their signatures appended to a sellout agreement as testimony of their having done sufficient due diligence on the Fouani Brothers proposal which is for all purposes detrimental to the national interest.
Claims that the Legislature had passed the agreement into law as compelling reasons for attestation by both ministers and subsequent submission to the President for his signature falls short of any rational justification, given the history of previous agreements passed into law which failed to meet tests of transparency and legality.
For God in Heaven’s sake, just why would Justice Minister Musa Dean, an individual well-schooled in law append his signature of approval to such a lopsided agreement that undermines the national interest, is difficult to fathom.
This is because the Minister prides himself as a progressive and devotee of the late Gabriel Bacchus Matthews, founder of the Progressive Alliance of Liberia and the Progressive Peoples Party, who was a noted opposition figure that condemned corruption and other vices undermining progress in Liberia’s development.
Moreover, the Justice Minister has a Deputy for Economic Affairs who should be a lawyer and economist. It is under his watch that matters of an economic nature such as concession agreements are analyzed to inform policy formulation and action.
Did the Minister truthfully and to the best of his knowledge, experience and information, approve such an agreement? Additionally why were the contents of such agreement not made available to the public for vetting?
Further, how will such an agreement granting such outlandish concessions to the Fouani Brothers impact other investors who have pumped in millions of dollars in investment to cultivate and produce oil palm and palm product for export and for domestic consumption and who have also invested in out-grower programs and provided employment for a greater number of Liberians than what the Fouani Brothers propose?
In addition to this, there are environmental issues which are not clearly addressed in the proposal. For example the proposed concession area is the Freeport of Monrovia, whose constricted land space is highly unsuitable for industrial production on the magnitude and scale being proposed by the Fouani Brothers. Further, siting the oil palm refinery in the Freeport without a sustainable waste management plan is an open invitation for disaster.
Questions are being asked, for example, why should Liberia surrender millions of dollars in import revenue to subsidize a business entity which should be competing on a fair basis with other players in the industry?
If the Fouani Brothers are granted such huge subsidies how much then is the government prepared to offer other players in the industry such as GVL, SIFCA and the new owners of the Sime Darby concession?
These are genuine concerns for players in the industry who already have thousands of workers in their employ, particularly the SIFCA and the GVL who are already jointly constructing what promises to be the largest oil palm mill in West Africa to refine oil from palms harvested from its plantation.
The Fouani Brothers propose to import crude palm oil from outside. This means that the Liberian government is being requested to support growers in other countries who will be exporting their oil to Liberia at the detriment of growers and producers in Liberia.
Thankfully, President Weah has vetoed the agreement. The Legislature is requested not to resubmit such agreement to the President. Additionally, the Liberian people have the right to know who were those legislators who appended their signatures of approval to the Fouani Brothers in order that they be named and shamed accordingly.
This newspaper (Daily Observer) has consistently urged President Weah to beware of those around him who continue to provide him bad advice that tends to make him look ridiculous in light of the decisions he makes.
Additionally, this newspaper has also consistently reminded President Weah that Liberians are aware that amongst his officials, only he alone can boast of having acquired wealth prior to becoming leader, quite unlike his cast of officials, nearly all of who were virtually penniless before but are today millionaires. That is why they voted him into office, trusting that he will be corruption-free and that he will have zero tolerance to corruption.
As for his officials, Liberians are not surprised therefore that “money na full their eyes” so they are licking up to their elbows. At the end of the day, it is he, as President, who will take all the blame as history has clearly demonstrated to us before.
In the opinion of the Daily Observer, the Fouani Brothers concession agreement is a very bad agreement, detrimental to the interests of Liberia and should therefore not be allowed to see the light of day.
Thank You Mr. President for being there for Liberia. The Liberian people are now all eyes and ears, waiting anxiously to hear and see you do more.