Private Sector Monopoly for Lebanese Businesses is Counter-Productive to the Pro-Poor Agenda

18
96

By Jones Nhinson Williams

NEW YORK – Why are a monopoly, corruption, and undue government interference and control, and regulation always a subculture in Liberia and amongst Liberian officials at all levels?  Why do those who are frequently entrusted with state power in Liberia lack natural patriotism to their own people and country?  These questions are serious, especially so when Liberia faces a nexus of problems that manifest themselves as slow economic growth, high unemployment, social strife, and excruciating marginal poverty.

I posed these questions because it would appear that some members of the Liberian legislature and many in certain government functionaries are never prepared to seek the interests of the Liberian people either because they are just plain unethical or just clueless about the fast-paced race of modernization and globalization in which countries around the world and those in our backyard are becoming more competitive than ever before.  In such competition, a free enterprise market economy that cultivates and promotes innovation, competitive and visionary entrepreneurship remains a vital and non-negotiable vehicle that is optimal for everyone’s pursuit.

On the contrary, there are efforts, as has always been for decades, for extraordinary exemptions and monopoly to be granted to a certain sector of the Liberian economy to benefit a cartel at the expense of the entire nation.  This is wrong and dangerous.

The news that a certain bill on agricultural products (such as Cocoa) is matching its way in the Liberian legislature to provide a monopoly status on the local purchase and shipment of cocoa out of Liberia is sad.  This is a disastrous and dumb legislative, economic, and public policy move and should be rejected by all Liberians.  It is also unethical because those who are championing such a sinister scheme appear to be consumed by greed and uneven shortsightedness.  Ultimately, they fail to understand that such a rogue process will generate limited growth, the benefits of which will go only to those at the very top.

The Liberian government should support and protect a free enterprise economic system because it is the most appropriate and appreciable experiment for growth, development, and collective prosperity.  A free enterprise economic system generally benefits producers and consumers in any country, and such benefits include; competition, innovation, entrepreneurship, lower prices, dignity in labor, freedom of owning private property, producers producing at their own profit, both consumers and producers can control themselves, increased efficiency and adequate use of the available resources. Besides and apart from facilitating an enabling environment and a business-friendly culture, a government should have no direct interference in the private sector.

Though I am not an economist by education and training, as a learned public philosopher and public policy professional, I recognized that even though a free enterprise economic system is not perfect, it is the best market system ever devised. When a nation, its citizens and businesses are free to work hard, be innovative, and succeed, they contribute and add to a strong and dynamic economy, and essentially that is a good thing for everyone.  Simply put, it means the cocoa and general agricultural market and all other markets in Liberia must be free and competitive and let everyone participate at will. This is not just good economics; it is also a good public policy and a common-sense way to govern more effectively.  It also means that Liberian government officials should not be in the business of making Lebanese nationals and businesses and non-Liberian residents in the country wealthy at the expense of Liberian citizens and businesses.

We have had monopolies of sectors in Liberia that only stand to benefit Lebanese business people and other non-Liberian businesses.  Apart from Liberia, this does not happen in any country. Currently, the importation of rice, our national staple food, is a semi monopoly control by a cartel of individuals, many of whom are Lebanese nationals. Even petroleum products importation is also restrictive, so are many other business opportunities.

The key questions are: Why are the Liberian legislature and certain individuals in government desiring to give the local purchase and shipment of one of the absolute agricultural productivity or produce in the country to a single entity or individual?  How do they expect jobs and latitudinal wealth to be created and poverty reduced with such voodoo economics and pseudo thinking?  This is not regulation, and even if it were, it would be an injudicious one.

I would also note that regulation and monopoly are two different things.  It is not a bad idea for a government or government agency to regulate. The Liberia government, for example, may wish to regulate the country’s market economy to protect the interests of consumers and producers. Such regulation may include price capping, preventing fraud, determining a yardstick for competition, and preventing the growth of singular market power and control. The primary function of such a regulatory system in a market economy is to monitor the financial and economic system as well as create a level playing field for competition, transparency, and accountability.  It is not intended to steal from one’s people and country.

On the contrary, those who are pushing these bad tendencies of always wanting to make non-Liberians, especially Lebanese nationals wealthy at the expense of the Liberian people, must stop. There is a lot to be concerned about in Liberia today: a growing and devastating political and economic divide, a slow and threatening growth, a decreasing life expectancy, an epidemic of diseases of despair, a looming economic collapse, and an unending social strive.

The understanding in the public square is that the push for this so-called ‘monopoly bill’ on the purchase and shipment of cocoa from Liberia is pursued because a certain Lebanese businessman needs that exclusive contract despite the fact that almost all major construction contracts go to Lebanese nationals in the country. This should not happen.

While Liberia and Liberians have and continue to welcome Lebanese and other nationals as part of the Liberian society, several Lebanese businesspeople have and continue to exploit the country in collaboration with certain Liberian officials, and this dates back to the regimes of President Samuel K. Doe, Sr. in the 1980s, Interim President Amos Sawyer and President Charles Taylor in the 1990s and the early 2000s, Transitional Chairman Gyude Bryant and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf from 2003 to 2017.

In the end, these Lebanese nationals that usually immigrate to Liberia dirt poor become millionaires overnight while there exists a widespread sense of powerlessness, both in our economic and political life as a people and a nation.  We seem no longer to control our own destinies because of the greed and shortsightedness of a few Liberians who are financially enticed and emboldened by crooked Lebanese businesspeople in the country.

In fact, why are the Lebanese nationals in Liberia abusing the generosity of the Liberian people by engaging in white-collar crimes and economic sabotage activities when in Lebanon they do not appreciate nor accommodate any person of color – not to mention an African?

In an article published by The Economist Magazine online titled “Racism in LebanonBlack is not thought beautiful,” it is reported that “Black people and foreigners from Asia and elsewhere in the third world who make up the bulk of migrant workers are often turned away from the city’s smarter venues…..” https://www.economist.com/middle-east-and-africa/2012/05/26/black-is-not-thought-beautiful.   Yet, these people from such a country (Lebanon) where racial intolerance is pervasive are accorded not just the hospitality of Liberia but its wealth and resources through hook and crook.

CNN also corroborates The Economist’s reporting in a news story titled “Not all colors welcomed in Lebanon’s cultural tapestry” published by Arwa Damon on Sunday, February 10, 2013.  Despite these unwelcome treatments against Africans, Lebanese businesspeople continuously and piquantly abused the hospitality of Africans and Liberians in particular by engaging in exploitation and economic sabotages. See links for reference on the CNN’s report: https://www.cnn.com/2013/02/10/world/meast/lebanon-racism-migrants-sting/index.html

In concluding remarks, I urge all Liberians to categorically reject the imposition of monopoly on the purchase and shipment of cocoa out of Liberia. I also urge His Excellency President George Manneh Weah to be true to the Liberian people indeed by ensuring that Liberians are no longer, as he put it, “Spectators” in their own economy and country.  If the administration’s “Pro-Poor Agenda” would mean anything at all, it must support and adhere to transparency, accountability and ensure a free enterprise market economy that facilitates innovation, entrepreneurship, create jobs and wealth, improve living standards and collective prosperity.  A monopoly for a Lebanese businessman or any other non-Liberian national is counter-productive to the true meaning and understanding of what a “Pro-Poor Agenda” would suggest if there is actually any.

About the Author:

J.N. Williams is a Catholic educated public philosopher and a U. S. trained public policy and institutional governance professional with strong expertise in job creation policy, workforce development analysis, strategic management, and socio-economic growth and development. He can be reached at [email protected].

18 COMMENTS

  1. A great piece for those who have ears to hear. Liberians experts in recent times have reminded the government to invest in its own people FIRST but their requests have always fallen on deaf ears.
    No country can be developed by foreigners. Foreigners come to “LOOK for IT.” They will take it home. So smart leaders invest in their own people but our unwritten policy of granting better preferences to foreigners first, which dates back decades, still affects the country.

    Liberian leaders have been afraid to empower their own citizens for fear of losing power. So, they invited Indians, Lebanese, Syrians, Sierra Leoneans, Ivorians and even Guineans to come do business in Liberia. President Tubman was confronted with this question in 1967 by an African Scholar, Dr. Gus Liebenow. His response was “Liberian’s don’t know how to do business,” (Liebenow, 1967). I wish I were big enough to see Tubman at that time. I would have asked “Mr. President, have you trained, empowered and tried Liberians?”

    Here’s what our leaders don’t know. That most Liberians might not even been interested in their government jobs if they had profitable ventures out there. So, until our leaders invest in the citizens of the country with open minds, aggressively, with alacrity, nothing will change. The only other option is to elect new core of patriotic change agents in top positions. Such new breed of officials will probably carve a better future for this OLD country.

  2. Jones Nhinson Williams, human blood is draining from the side and corners of your mouth, and your teeth with your hands stained soak with the blood of innocent civilians, women and babies who were slaughtered upon your orders and supervision within your capacity as the rebel war lord leader of your MODEL REBEL BANDIT GROUP which only purpose for such war crimes was for selfishness.

  3. My dear sister Matilda Witherspoon, one of the problems obstructing Liberians from moving forward after the civil wars, is that former notorious war leaders are allowed to occupy government positions that uses politics to communicate to the public. I don’t see how these people can make progress for Liberia with dark clouds always over their heads.

  4. My dear brother Solomon Sipply (are you one of Lone Star’s legendary all powerful soccer ”defense ministers”?), your legitimate and factual concerns about THE PROBLEMS of war lords have its twin which is THE PROBLEMS of elite politicians (Amos Sawyer, the Charles Taylor’s gang, Joseph Boakai, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, etc.) and their cronies and foot soldiers as Benoni Urey, Abdoulaye Dukule, Gabriel Williams, etc.

    As long as voters or the Liberian people, or at least the majority of Liberians give credence to the criticism of these war lords and their fellow wicked and hypocritical politicians (eg. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Amos Sawyer and their greedy gang WHEN THEY ARE NOT IN GOVERNMENT, your statement ” I don’t see how these people can make progress for Liberia with dark clouds always over their heads” IS AND SHALL ALWAYS BE THE REALITY AND FATE OF LIBERIA!!

    Take for example the cases of Amos Sawyer’s political tools Abdoulaye Dukule and Gabriel Williams, or Benoni urey and Joseph Boakai, or in fact this very war lord or war leader Jones Nhinson Williams.

    For the past nearly forty years of national governance, it has been these very elite groups been in power at one time or the other. And all that was the reality in Liberia was as whether rebel or civilian government leaders THEIR ONLY WORRY OR CONCERN WAS ABOUT THE WELFARE OF THEIR CRONIES.

    A typical example can be seen in the case of Gabriel Williams (as another Liberian has just reminded me in his comment) as after Jones Nhinson Williams the war lord, Abdoulaye Dukule, Joseph Boakai, Benoni Urey, and Gabriel Williams have been the BENEFICIARIES AND CRONIES of all past governments at least SINCE THE 1980S, caring only for themselves and their benefactors, they are now coming to vent their hatred against this government, simply because according to them ”a footballer is not good or fit for the presidency or the mansion”.

    And not surprisingly, this was Boakai’s campaign slogan! But of course, the footballer has proven them wrong, in beating them at the polls, with THE PEOPLE AND THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY ON HIS SIDE.

    And this political capital possessed and gained by this footballer is the result of the great developments including FREE UNIVERSITY EDUCATION he has brought, and which NO WAR LEADER, WAR LORD OR ELITE POLITICIAN AS AMOS SAWYER, ACDL, Charles Taylor nor Ellen Johnson Sirleaf ever thought about!!

    • My dear Sister, sorry for the delayed response to you question. It is due to my inexperience of navigating face book back to the page of our discussion. Yes, your reference about me is correct. I am Solomon Sipply, former soccer player of Lone Star and Barrolle..

      • Wow!! You are Solomon Sipply! Look, Solomon, your comment here is a sharp shooting comment! And this is what prompted my immediate response! I feel highly stimulated and positively EMOTIONAL when I see and read comments from our cherished HEROES of Mighty Barrolle, Invincible Eleven, Bame, and The Roman Catholic St. Joseph Warriors!!!!

        Another of our HEOES I see here with his sharp shooting comments is Christopher Nippy, and also Benedict Wisseh who, in his writings on these fora, rightly frowned on Lone Star players been relegated and treated with disdain in the past by the elite, seems to have tacitly agree with corrupt Joseph Boakai that ”the presidency and the Executive Mansion are too good for footballers” even when the democratic choice of the electorate, the international and diplomatic community, and even the UN and powerful capitals, is a footballer!!

  5. Miss Matilda:

    greetings to you and I must tell you that I am an ardent follower of your writings and I take a lot from it on a daily basis and for that, I say a big thank you.

    You made a comment that I would just like to respond to. you mentioned FREE UNIVERSITY EDUCATION and by that, I am sure you are referring to the University of Liberia and the various colleges in the counties. if you are referring to those, I would like to suggest to you that there is no free education

    A survey was conducted among the schools that are state run and it was concluded that tuition went up a bit, not necessarily a bad thing, because it is still cheaper compared to other universities around West Africa and elsewhere.

    please keep writing. you have fans.

    Peace

    • Thank you Joe. And thank you for the highly commending kind words. Honestly, I am flattered to learn from such an esteemed (and I must confess) and an admirable intellectual as you being my fan. Thanks once again, Joe.

      With regards to the MILESTONE tuition free ( a sum of money charged for teaching by a college or university) institutionalization introduced by President George Manneh at pubic state owned colleges and university, are you saying TUITION ..a sum of money charged for teaching by Liberia’s public and state owned colleges and universities IS NOW HIGHER THAN BEFORE? Please explicate further, Joe, if that is okay and cool with you.

  6. yes, Miss Matilda, that is exactly what I am saying. tuition at Tubman university in Maryland went up a bit. I don’t know if you can include BWI in Kakata and Tubman high in Monrovia, but fees up very high at those institution as well. Bomi Community College, Bassa Community College, The community college in Harbel, all included.

    Again, If you asked my professional opinion – though am not a professional- I would still say tha I am ok with it, because compared to other colleges and universities around West Africa, it is by far cheaper and we all know that education is expensive.

    What I think needs to be done -in my not so professional opinion- is to properly and thoroughly and continuously vet those schools to ensure that guidelines are met and the curriculum is up to par with each other. The talent that we have here is unbelievable and we just need to tap those potentials to their maximum capacity.

    I personally thank the President for such a bold move. There was a sharp decline in school enrollment before that announcement was made, but as soon as the announcement came, increment in schools rose very rapidly and that is a very good thing. Little by little.

    Enjoy the rest of the week, Matilda.

    Peace

    • Thank you, Mr. Moses. No, BWI and Tubman High are not included, since the both are not colleges nor universities, but rather simply high schools with vocational institutions attached.

      Actually, I do not expect enrollment at any tuition free college or university to be contingent on any payments.

      Well, since the principle or standard of SUBSTANTIAL PERFORMANCE has been met as reflected in your conclusion… ”There was a sharp decline in school enrollment before that announcement was made, but as soon as the announcement came, increment in schools rose very rapidly and that is a very good thing”, I should have no bone of contention.

  7. Miss Witherspoon,
    Like Mr. JM, I am a reader of your comments and those of your alta ego Miss Gontee. I am trying hard to put you and Miss Gontee on a hot seat……a run for an elective office. I will endorse you without reservations or preconditions! There’s a guy in our neighborhood who doubts that both of you will never ever run for an elective position. Please make this guy shame! Will you accept my challenge? By saying”yes”, you will make me feel like a good gentleman.

  8. Thank you Mr. Hney. Honestly I have been contemplating on same sometimes recently, but my husband ( an Attorney At Law) has tacitly not been enthusiastic about such political aspiration on my part.

    Here he is sitting by me smiling after I showed him this comment from you. Well, it is said that ”the wise man changes.” So I will not be surprise to see him somersault with enthusiasm in the near future as the ordinary members of the electorate and members of the intelligentsia as you are challenging me to make such national political stride.

    Therefore,, you can take this as an assurance that I shall make this ”guy in your neighborhood shame”! Hence, YES, Mr. Hney, I accept your challenge with supreme confidence and invincible determination!

  9. Hi Matilda,

    If your husband finally makes up his mind for you to run, I hope it would be on the Cummings’ ticket. I am sure he (your husband) would acquiesce to such decision. I hope he doesn’t see my post but give it a try and let me know about his reaction.

    For those who do not know, if you want to do business in the medical area in Liberia, don’t waste your time in the health ministry. Visit the Indians. That domain is theirs.
    For rice, you better go through the Lebanese. I have seen Liberians who came out of their own country frustrated.

    The list is long, yet all our administrations do not even collect 1% of the taxes that should be collected. According to the IMF, the figure is 0.017%.

    My God, please help Liberia.

  10. Miss Witherspoon,
    You see what I mean? First of all, I thank God for you and your husband. I think your husband has forgotten that you’re my sister and therefore, he’s my brother-law! For that, a bullock is needed, but we’ll talk about that later.

    But, someone is hoping that you will get on a train that has no wheels. That’s not you! If your husband and you decide to run for an elective office, you will run independently or maybe run in the CDC camp. You don’t look and sound like a Cummings apologist. Besides, big brother will not allow you to jettison off the CDC into a wheeless train. I am the big brother!

    Lastly, that neighbor of mine (an apologist) has taken my bait all the way in. He stands no chance, but to be plucked out out of the river. I would like to say be care with Joe Moses. He wants to write a book about me. Don’t let bug brother down Your response has poured some iced cold water on my chest. I will be your campaign manager.

  11. Oh no, not bug brother. It’s supposed to be “big brother”, followed by a period.

    Secondly, the C word should be careful, not care.

  12. Uncle Hney:

    Not “want to write a book about me”. it should be, “he is writing a book about me”. like I told you earlier, the train has already left the station. you cannot stop it.

    Miss Matilda, I am happy for your decision as of yet. We need more females in the area. I have always try to convince my mom to contest but for some reason, she always seem hesitant to do. Should you still be consistent in your decision when the time comes, rest assured that you will have my vote. I will not tell you which political party to affiliate with, you are a person of letter judging from the way your pen your comments. What I will tell you without fear is that, as I am an ardent fan of yours, I will be your ardent critic, and will be fair and impartial when I do so. So, my one and only advice to you is this, No matter which side of the isle you find yourself on, be your own person and history will be kind to you.

    Our relationship has now change because of decision made here today. you are no longer Miss Matilda. You are now Aunty Matilda and I will be hard on my aunty. My dad has a good friend(name withheld) who sought my family’s vote when he was seeking elections. I told him what I am telling you, that I would be his ardent critic. He won and he became “untouchable” or so he thought. When I began to point out inconsistencies in his words and actions, he stopped being our friend. When creatures creep, they tend to hide their identities.

    There is so much to do in our country, most especially for us the youths. I advocate for us because we are having the wrong end of the stick. We are massively unemployed or underemployed and we make up over 60% of the population. No adequate healthcare for us, and it goes on and on.

    I always maintain, a nation is judged by the way it treats it citizens at dawn and at dusk.

    Go get them, Aunty Matilda.

    Peace

Leave a Reply