The Chickens Have Come Home to Roost

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The chickens have now come home to roost for all it seems. For just what the Daily Observer warned against sometime back is just what appears to be unfolding at the moment. The controversial Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) agreement signed between the Government of Liberia (GoL) and the Global Maritime Tracking Solution (GMTS), was disclosed to the public in a National Port Authority (NPA) press release dated October 6, 2018.

But prior to then, on October 3, 2018, NPA Managing Director Bill Twehway held a meeting at his offices with executives of shipping companies in Liberia to acquaint them with the newly introduced CTN measures. He told the executives that the CTN is a “solution of verification and monitoring of international maritime transport in order to prevent any attack and locate the responsibility of each maritime operator in the case of shipping”.

By then word had already broken out about the impending deal which had raised much furore in the public with many calling for the scrapping of the deal. Already, information bandied on social media had disclosed, and truthfully so, that the Government of Sierra Leone had just kicked the very company out of that country for fraudulent activities against the government of Sierra Leone. On January 1, 2019, however, the NPA began enforcing the agreement, calling for the imposition of a surcharge of US$175 per container imported into the country. This was in addition to payment of the required BIVAC pre-shipment inspection fees.

But push-back from public generally and the business community in particular, impelled a decision taken by the Senate (25 Senators voted in favor) to mandate its Committees on Commerce and Industry, Defense, Intelligence and Security to invite the National Port Authority (NPA), Global Tracking and Maritime Solutions Holdings (GT&MS) and the Chamber of Commerce to give evidence about the agreement concerning then newly introduced cargo tracking regime.

The Senate’s decision was prompted by media reports citing sources in the business community that a planned protest (stay-home) action supported by the Liberian Chamber of Commerce (LCC), the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), the Fula Business Community. Additionally, just about the entire business community including the Lebanese and Indian business communities had expressed opposition to the imposition of the of the CTN but their concerns went unheeded.

And this was due to the last-minute pullout from the protest action by the PATEL whose stay-home protest action during the Sirleaf regime saw the shutdown of business activities in entire city of Monrovia and its environs for two days. There were reports that the action had also spread throughout the country. Fearing that such prolonged action could have brought down her government, President Sirleaf acted quickly with threats and then suspected hefty payoffs to the PATEL leadership. The strike action fizzled out.

And recently, when the business community, having felt and endured the strongly negative effects of the CTN, and had threatened to boycott the NPA by withholding the future importation of goods into the country, some foreign businessmen were declared persona non grata and deported from the country, according to highly placed sources (names withheld). This was just after the March 5, 2019 meeting Commerce Minister Wilson Tarpeh held with executives of the business community including the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC).

And before one hundred butchers could skin a roach, PATEL, perhaps feeling apprehensive of possible or maybe threatened retribution, had issued a press statement praising the introduction and imposition of the CTN and once again, the threatened protest action fizzled out. (PATEL has since had a leadership change from the one that went about declaring its support for the CTN.) But the Daily Observer had repeatedly pointed out that the imposition of the CTN would not augur well for this government and that resultant economic hardships induced by such high taxes could serve to provoke civil unrest.

The Daily Observer, in its February 12, 2019 editorial, headlined “Heed the Warnings of the LCC, Mr. President! Scrap the GM&TS Deal NOW!” called on President Weah to listen to the concerns of the business community and scrap the agreement. The Daily Observer argued that dogged insistence on the imposition of the CTN will serve to undermine and erode the legitimacy of this government and this is just what appears to be happening.

The Daily Observer further warned that strike action, general civil unrest with unknown and unforeseen consequences could be the end result of imposed but unbearable economic hardships.
Just about a year later, the matter has resurfaced primarily because the issues were never resolved. One of such contentious issues was and still remains that of transparency and accountability, particularly in view of widely held perceptions that President Weah was a major shareholder in this shady company.

For example, importers are required in the name of the Republic of Liberia to pay taxes but are not issued official receipts as evidence of payment. At an approximate inflow of about 2000 containers a month (prior to the outbreak of COVID-19) at the rate of US$800/container, it yields on an average US$1.6 million a month. But to whom such money is being paid remains a big question.

According to expressed concerns by the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), PATEL and all indigenous business groups, the CTN must go. Says PATEL: “The revenue you collect, where does it go? We don’t know. We don’t know where the money goes. You’re not issuing flag receipt, you just impose on us so we say GTMS should pack up and leave Liberia. We cannot have GTMS and BIVAC at the same time. GTMS is a violation.”

Well said, but this is not new. “Hindsight”, the old saying goes, is always better than foresight” THE CHICKENS ARE NOW COMING HOME TO ROOST”.

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