The Challenge for Capacitating Liberian-owned Businesses

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The President, in her recent Annual Message to the Legislature admitted  that a paltry (measly, worthless) 25% of government's purchases come from Liberian-owned businesses.  This is, unfortunately, a tacit admission that this government has failed to encourage its own  people in business.  But there is more to it.

However, let us deal first with the government's own responsibility in the premises–why? Because the government, as in most countries, including the United States, is the biggest  employer and contract giver.  It is also that ONE BODY that wields ALL the political power in a country.  And, just so we know, it is that POWER that can make ANYTHING happen in any country. In other words, it is the government that gets done what it wants done.

Daily Observer staff members, and many in the public, have often observed in small, medium-sized or big businesses–that there are always government officials hanging around these businesses—doing what? Begging for favors, or having been summoned to receive a handout or gift.

When the Daily Observer got into trouble with a certain major Lebanese businessman in 2007 for exposing the sale of a rotten commodity, we learned that this particular businessman had NEVER visited the Ministry of Commerce.  It was, instead, the Ministers of Commerce—in the Samuel Doe, Charles Taylor, National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL) regimes–and probably even before–that went to this Lebanese businessman's office.  He did not have to go to the Ministry of Commerce, because  there were NO questions, only answers—packaged generously and neatly in brown envelopes, to be picked up by the Ministers themselves–nobody else.

But make no mistake! This has been going on for a very long time. That is why Liberia is not yet developed, but backward.  The Daily Observer has often told the story of Moshe Meyer, who built the Ducor Hotel.  When in 1972 President Tolbert added Tourism to the Ministry of Information, Cultural Affairs and Tourism, the Minister G. Henry Andrews invited tourism developers from around the world to present proposals to develop Liberian tourism.  Moshe Meyer returned, with some great proposals.  When we recalled that it was he who had built the Ducor, we asked him what had happened?  Why had he, instead, developed tourism in La Cote d'Ivoire?

Mr. Meyer's reply: He saw Liberia as the perfect place to launch tourism in West Africa because of her vibrant economy, her rich culture and her unique geographic position, THE Roberts International Airport was where Pan American Airways  touched down first in Africa, before going on to any other African capital, including Lagos, Nigeria and Nairobi, Kenya.  BUT the problem: After the Ducor was opened, President Tubman sent them to the other government offices to do the follow-up work for Tourism development. But everywhere he and his colleagues went, the officials in charge wanted a cut "up front."  "We didn't have that kind of money; so when we found out that President Houphouet and his government were serious, we settled in Ivory Coast, built Hotel Ivoire, the Towers and the Ivorian Rivera."

Liberia lost out  completely!

And we are still losing out, because of our selfishness, corruption and our patent lack of PATRIOTISM and  SERIOUSNESS.

THE SAME THING IS STILL HAPPENING.  It is as though we have learned NOTHING all these five decades.  Remember, 1964 was 50 years ago!  How long does it take for a people to learn?

The foregoing sums up the government side.  What about ourselves as ordinary Liberians?  Are we different? Or are we just like our past and  present  officials?  How many of us have borrowed from our friends and relatives and refused to pay back?  How many of us have borrowed money from banks and failed to pursue our professed  businesses, and failed to pay back?

The Liberian Business Association (LIBA) and  Central Bank Governor J. Mills Jones are among the few who are striving to give Liberians a new opportunity.  We are told that so far, the beneficiaries are paying their LIBA  debts.

Let us pray that this new beginning will make a substantial and sustained difference and that one day, at long last, Liberians will be empowered to take the lead in business in their own country.

Part two to follow tomorrow.

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