Mr. Wilson Tarpeh has been appointed by the President, George Weah, as the new Commerce Minister of Liberia.
He comes into this position at a time when the Liberian economy has never been in greater control by foreigners. This reality caused our new President, Mr. Weah, to proclaim in his Inaugural Address last Monday that Liberian business people will no longer “be marginalized.”
That remark by President Weah was wholeheartedly welcomed by the Liberian business community, many of whose members have been finding it extremely difficult to compete with their foreign competitors who for the past 12 years have been overwhelmingly favored by the past administration. These foreign enterprises have historically enjoyed another serious advantage—they are well financed, not only by local banks but also by tons of money flowing from the oil-rich Middle East.
Realistically, we do not expect these two highly favorable scenarios—persistent government favor and being heavily financed—to change overnight. The Weah Administration is already faced with many very serious challenges, including the many that were terribly neglected by the past administration, such as education, health and sanitation, agriculture and the very economy itself, which President Weah has probably already realized is broke.
But these difficulties, compelling as they are, give the new Commerce Minister, Mr. Tarpeh, no excuses. Beginning today, technically his first day in office pending confirmation, he must refresh his mind about the realities he already knows too well, being himself a Liberian businessman who has lived in the country throughout the war and has seen how one sector after another of the nation’s economy has been gobbled up by foreign business people.
And guess what? Liberians have done it to themselves by engaging in that senseless and totally unnecessary 14-year civil war, which reduced us (Liberians) to penury (abject poverty, pennilessness), while foreigners capitalized on our fratricide (brother killing brother) and became even more entrenched in their ownership of almost everything in the country, including their leasing, for 40-60 years, of sizeable tracks of urban land.
Commerce Minister Tarpeh, in his new job beginning today, will soon realize that even the importation of our staple food, rice, is controlled by a Lebanese monopoly, and foreign business people also control most of the wholesale and retail businesses.
Part of this problem is Liberians’ lack of entrepreneurial capacity and skill. Mr. Tarpeh will immediately have to tackle this problem, too, if he, his boss, President Weah and the rest of us must arrest the ‘marginalization’ of Liberian business people.
How shall we do this? The Commerce Ministry should institute a program to introduce entrepreneurial training in our schools, colleges and universities and find the financial resources to empower those who successfully go through these programs to go immediately into business. Mr. Tarpeh knows what we are talking about because he has served in many important economic and financial portfolios in the country, including president of the Agricultural and Cooperative Development Bank (ACDB) and Finance Minister.
Another important part of the new Commerce Minister’s responsibilities—along with those of the Finance and Justice Ministers, the Central Bank of Liberia and the commercial banks—is to find a way to teach and encourage Liberians to PAY THEIR DEBTS TO THE BANKS! How shall these institutions do this? By organizing seminars and workshops for Liberian business people to impart the importance of developing honesty and a high sense of responsibility in business.
Needless to say, the new Commerce Minister must set the example for all his staff in the Ministry by living above the fog and maintaining the highest standard of integrity, and insisting that ALL those working under him follow suit, in the supreme interest of Mama Liberia.