We Must Address the Foreign Exchange Issue Now

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Why are we Liberians so timid a people?  As far back as the early 1990s anyone entering Nigeria, Ghana or Sierra Leone with United States dollars or any other foreign currency had to surrender everything being changed to the local currency.  And anyone who received a transaction in a foreign currency automatically had to surrender the entire amount, whatever it was, in the local currency.

But we in Liberia seem to be blindly addicted to anything foreign, currencies included. So when it comes to making a  decision one way or the other, we cry, as though we are about to make a decision as painful as a mother giving birth.  For true?  Or is it simply   cowardice, or an unwillingness to swallow a bitter pill and get on with life?

Senior Reporter Edwin Fayia’s story published in yesterday’s business column was alarming indeed. The prices of everything, including locally produced foods as well as transportation, are  skyrocketing due to the rapid decline in the value of our own currency, the Liberian dollar.    

We know that the Central Bank Governor, along with others, contend that Liberia needs to be producing more goods to earn more foreign exchange.  True.  The cost of rubber is somewhat down right now, owing to instability in the global economy.  From over US$2,000 per ton a year or two ago, it is down to little over US$1,600.  Worse yet, only Firestone is buying farmers’ rubber right now. Neither Salala Rubber Company (SRC) nor Liberia Agriculture Company (LAC) is buying rubber from farmers as they used to do.  

We also understand that due to the same difficult global economic situation, the iron ore companies are having difficulty bringing money into the country.  

There are two other problems causing our foreign exchange woes.  A week ago someone sent us an article for publication alleging that one of the foreign companies to which government gave huge contracts for road construction   was busy shipping millions of United States dollars to Lebanon in suitcases and brief cases.  The writer found it extremely painful that the government would favor foreign companies over Liberians, but that these foreigners would show absolutely no appreciation to their benefactor, but would religiously ship the money they were paid out of the country.    He said he could not   understand how Liberians would continue to shoot themselves in the foot by allowing such a thing, when there was no other country in the world that would do this for Liberians.

We could not publish that story because we were unsure of the facts.  But we honestly believe that the Central Bank of Liberia should investigate. Does the CBL know how much foreign exchange leaves the country daily and how?  We are told that many businesses no longer put their foreign exchange into the banks and that is one of the reasons for the shortage.  What has the CBL to say about this?

Perhaps the biggest cause of our foreign exchange woes is that we consume what we do not grow.  Take our staple, rice.  Hundreds of millions are spent annually on the importation of rice.  And we have consistently refused to produce the meat we love so much.  Before the coup and before the war we grew our own chickens and eggs, our own pork.  Today most of these are imported.  A leading poultry producer told the Daily Observer a year ago that she no longer produces eggs because she could not face the competition posed by foreign importers.  Does the Agriculture Ministry know about this?  What is the Ministry doing about it? What incentives are being developed and implemented to encourage Liberian agricultural production?

We have often lamented in this very column about the importation of vegetables from neighboring countries  with the identical soil type and rainfall as Liberia’s.  What are we doing to correct this?  Or are we surrendering to the status quo?

Well, so long as we continue to adopt a philosophy of surrender, so long will we continue to suffer, and have no ones to blame but ourselves. 

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