“The banks are not helpful, the interest is too much and the time is short,” says Elizabeth Finda Sambolah, president of the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA)
At the second roundtable dialogue meeting held at the United States Embassy in Monrovia, a group of women entrepreneurs revealed the challenges they faced in doing business both in and out of the country.
According to them, from business registration to acquiring loans and conducting cross-border trade, they found so many difficulties in being an entrepreneur in Liberia.
For most women, the issue of registration is a problem for them ranging from the Business Registry process taking almost a year or two just to get a business start-up in Liberia.
Some of the women further disclosed that they were in a bidding process but later lost a contract after failing to present a valid business registration.
The dialogue, which took place under the auspices of the Federation of Liberian Women Entrepreneurs (FEBWE), with support from the US Government through the State Department initiative to Promote Women’s Economic Empowerment called POWER, is intended to provide an opportunity for business women in Liberia as well as the Liberian U.S. and Canadian diaspora to discuss and identify the challenges of doing business in Liberia and to develop recommendations for improving the business climate for women business owners.
Businesswomen at different stages in their careers blamed poor reception, extra cost, and bribing as serious issues that are endangering their efforts of doing business in the country.
Speaking at the dialogue was Brenda Moore, founder and executive director of the Kids Educational Engagement Project (KEEP). She is also involved in agriculture.
Madam Moore disclosed that many people at the business registry are not employed by the entity. She explains: “I had to pay people who are not employed and if you deal with them, sometimes they lose your documents. Paying expeditors is on the increase; if you don’t, your documents are going to stay long.”
Madam Moore added: “They misplaced documents and the extra cost is so bad. To get your documents faster you have to pay US$50.”
Speaking on the high-interest rate on loans, Marian F.A. Cooper, who operates the Destiny Travel Agency, said the loan process from banks in the country is very frustrating.
“The interest rate is high and you have to start paying for the loan right after you take the loan. No training before taking the loan, people need to do the risk analysis and all of that before taking loans,” Cooper said.
Madam Cooper added: “The ticket in Liberia is more expensive and so people are buying tickets outside. Even the government officials are buying their tickets outside.”
Mai Urey said the issue of training for business women before taking out a loan is very important.
Madam Krubo Nwainokpor is involved in the selling of jewelry and handmade bags. She explains how she wanted to expand her business by taking loans but the loan officer was not fair to her and that caused a serious setback for her business.
"I see the dialogue very well and it really makes me happy to see women coming together to express and talk about challenges and what they are faced with in doing business in Liberia and the way forward.
"One of the major problems is access to finance because the process we face with commercial banks in getting loans is very difficult, especially with the high-interest rate associated with the short term payment is what is suffering us as women in business in this country," she added.
“The guy who was helping me extended the time of the loan so that I can pay more,” she recalled. “I wanted to expand my business. I even paid more than the money I took from the bank.”
Madam Nwainokpor added: “I promised myself that I will not take a loan, I will work with the little I have. Also, the cost of doing formal business is higher, to keep the light, tax regulations.”
At the same time, Elizabeth Finda Sambolah, president of the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA) indicated that there is not much time given to businesswomen to understand the conditions surrounding the loans.
“They can’t give you time to read the documents and the loan officer will make you sign the document. The loan that is given to people is a real problem. The banks are not helpful, the interest is too much and the time is short,” she added.
“I went with my sister and she was taking US$50,000 and the man giving her the loan said he wanted US$2,000. And they even told her to go to the insurance company.”
On the issue of safety during cross-border trade, the LMA president also disclosed that there is no safety in cross-border trade. She also stressed the issue of the language barrier, the exchange rate, and other forms of harassment as issues that are hindering the smooth operation of cross-border trade.
“No safety in cross border trade; language, the issue of payments. Traveling with money is a problem. ECOWAS needs to do something about the borders. Security people and armed people usually harass people,” she said.
“ECOWAS trade was signed by heads of States but there is no monitoring, no regulations. You cannot leave Liberia and have your business enter other countries’ markets.”
Meanwhile, the women are being supported by the United States Government, through its sponsored program, Providing Opportunities for Women’s Economic Rise (POWER). The event was also facilitated by Ms. Maureen Sieh and a host of others.