While the Coronavirus pandemic has come and Liberia is facing the economic consequences coming with, Liberian businessman and politician, Simeon Freeman, has suggested some ways of recovery to the George Weah Administration for consideration.
Sharing his thoughts at the Edward Wilmot Blyden Intellectual Forum of the Press Union of Liberia on Monday, June 29, Mr. Freeman, while recognizing the efforts of government in fighting the disease, warned firstly that the country needs to reconsider the current approaches to devise another one that will quickly abolish the virus because it is gravely affecting the banking sector. “If this continues and the public loses confidence for the next four months in the banking sector experiencing liquidity, the entire sector will collapse,” Mr. Freeman warned.
According to the Economics expert, instead of people depositing money in the bank now, they are withdrawing leaving the bank empty; a situation he says will cost the government and the entire country.
To mitigate this in terms of the COVID-19 fight, Mr. Freeman said the health authorities with the government should move away from the “lockdown” of the whole country and select districts one at a time to have them locked down for education and mass testing to know whether or not Liberia’s low rate of infection is really the reality on ground.
With the restriction in traveling and how gravely the virus is affecting other people around the world, Mr. Freeman said even opening the airport will not bring the needed revenue to the country because not many will travel as the tourism sector has become inactive. He added that the pandemic is a lesson to teach Liberians how to diversify their economy to graduate from import dependency to production, citing, “See China and Vietnam; imported goods and rice from there cannot be much now because they want it themselves, and we who depend on these imported goods are short of them.”Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Dr. Samora P.Z. Wolokollie
Concurring with Freeman, Deputy Minister for Fiscal Affairs at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, Dr. Samora P.Z. Wolokollie, stressed that Liberia is an import-based economy that the COVID-19 is impacting gravely.
On the fiscal highlight of the country, Deputy Minister Wolokollie said: “Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, domestic revenue was projected at US$444 million out of a total of US$505 million of which US$61 million was attributed to external resources. This projection was consistent with the recast budget that was passed into law in January 2020. Major lines informing the domestic resource envelope included taxes on income and profit, international trade, goods and services tax, administrative fees, etc.”
Minister Wolokollie admitted that the economy has turned bad, but justified that, “While the Liberia Revenue Authority was taking proactive measures to ensure that lawful revenues were collected to support the national developmental agenda of the government, the tentacles of the deadly Coronavirus arrived on the shores of Liberia. With the outbreak of COVID-19 came the declaration of a State of Emergency by H.E. the President. As a mitigating factor, the SOE sanctioned social distancing, reduced workforce, reduced hours for economic activities, and a limited curfew. All these measures combined resulted in a precipitous drop in viable economic activities. Considering the fact that the COVID-19 preventive measures inclusive of social distancing will slow down economic activities and lead to low revenue generation, the Government of Liberia, supported by the IMF initiated another recast, known as the COVID Recast. This recast was necessary to adjust prior projections taking into account the prevailing situation. Toward that end, the COVID recast was submitted and enacted into law with a decrease to domestic revenue (from US$444 million to US$395 million).”
Mr. Freeman, furthering his observation and suggestions on the economic matter, took an exception to the surcharging strategy the government has contemplated on introducing in recent days for GSM companies, which he said is not the right approach because if costs of data and calls are increased, demand for the commodities will surely drop. Giving an example, Freeman said: “If you were buying a gallon of gasoline for $5.00 and with the $5.00 you used to buy 15 gallons, and it is later increased to $10.00, the consumer will adjust to purchase one or two gallons instead of 15. Similarly, he said heavy charges on calls and data will only reduce consumers’ demands and they will devise other strategies for communication.
Furthermore, he said the GSM companies and the government will be losing in revenue generation and the same economic decline will persist.
He said the GSM company can liaise with the government to develop an app that will be able to trace people who may not be paying taxes to get them comply with their civil obligation. “If you have 2,000 people not paying tax, for instance, you can get to the GSM companies to fast track them through subscribers’ information and they can be traced later to pay taxes,” Mr. Freeman said.
Mr. Freeman also observes that the government was losing in real estate tax revenue because of poor tax structure coming with poor infrastructures. He indicated that the Liberian infrastructure is such that a rich person wanting to have a good house will have no option but to build in a locality where zinc shacks are surrounding the neighborhood with no road connectivity and, while tax collectors are in the process of collecting taxes, they have to pass by those valueless structures to get to the house that should pay tax.
“If for instance you have the Paynesville ELWA area laid out well that vehicles can take people to their homes, you can develop a tax structure that if people were paying US$100 for real estate, they can now pay US$200 and, by developing this area, only people who have the potential to have the real property for this tax will live there, and government will generate revenue in that direction,” said Freeman.
He said, “We celebrate Ghana, Nigeria and other places in the region, and what those countries did was they structured their taxes in such a way that they would generate the needed revenue, and for the airport vicinity in Ghana, not just anyone can live there because of the tax structure and the kind of infrastructure that should be there,” he added.
Another strategy of the government but prior to the COVID-19 is “Salary harmonization,” an approach Mr. Freeman rejected sternly with an emphasis: “I don’t support salary harmonization.” He said wastage from recurrent expense has been experienced from the days of Charles Taylor when US$28.8 million went to salaries out of US$32 million national budget, and US$206 million going to allowances for experts and others of interest to former President Sirleaf.
Lowering salaries for public servants in this way, according to Mr. Freeman leaves grief in the people; however, he said, saving about US$70 million for investment in the private sector would help because as the private sector boosts, people will leave to go there and the fabulous salaries anticipated to be made in government will not be made in that sector. He said when government is presented as a place for service, people who are desirous of rendering services will avail themselves to work instead of people who want to build wealth.
For collection from vehicle registration, the Liberian businessman said, police officers and agents of Ministry of Transport do not have to inspect throughout the year, but an app can also be developed to scan every car that passes by to ensure that it is registered or has a license instead of causing traffic congestion every time which, according to him, causes setbacks for the same taxpayers too.
The West Point Magisterial Court has commenced an inventory and eviction process of Fallah Business Center, located down Waterside, in order to quit the premises of Farmah Shopping Complex.
“You are hereby commanded to proceed to the premises of Farmah Shopping Complex through its authorized agent, Mohammed Kanneh, in the above-entitled cause of action in these proceedings to recover possession of the real property being situated at Water Side,” the document in possession of the Daily Observer states.
Though Fallah Business Center, owned and operated by John Fallah, sued the Farmah Shopping Complex at the Civil Law Court, Temple of Justice, for US$130,000 damages, the case is yet to be adjudicated.
The Magisterial Court document further calls for the use or exercise of force and violence in the case the defendant (John Fallah) may offer or attempt any form of violence so as to illegally withhold the Farmah Shopping Complex lawful premises.
John Fallah, owner of the Fallah Business Center explaining to the Daily Observer, said his goods were damaged in the area as the manager of the Farmah Shopping Complex allegedly refused to renovate parts of the complex that are leaking.
“I observed that the building was leaking so I informed the Farmah Shopping Complex about the situation and needed to fix the place because I was preparing to travel for goods. Farmah Shopping Complex assured me of fixing the place but, unfortunately for me, I came back and met some of the goods seriously damaged,” Mr. Fallah said.
According to Mr. Fallah, the Farmah Shopping Complex was immediately informed and they transferred some of the damaged goods, valued at US$17,000, to their office and it is currently in their possession.
The Fallah Business Center is involved in selling shoes, Jeans, and T-shirts. Mr. Fallah, a Liberian businessman, said the situation has put him out of business for the past one year and also causing him trauma because of his inability to take a loan to properly take care of his family and even travel for goods.
He said it was unfortunate for Farmah Shopping Complex to sue him at the Magisterial Court to vacate its premises, while also in court at the Civil Law Court.
Fallah, who has run his business on the premises for over eight years said, “I sued Farmah Shopping Complex for US$80,000 damaged goods and US$50,000 for psychological impact, but the court is yet to adjudicate the case because of the Coronavirus in Liberia.”
According to him, after the damage occurred, there was a conference between the two parties instituted by the court, but he rejected the outcome of the conference because the Farmah Shopping Complex proposed to pay only US$3,000 and to auction the damaged goods.
Meanwhile, the West Point Magisterial Court has called for an inventory, which was requested by Fallah’s lawyers in order to take note of the damaged goods.
Mr. Fallah, a father of seven, is calling for speedy trial because the continued delay would lead to some of his children dropping from school.
“All my children are in B. W. Harris, but the lack of money to send them back to their school will lead to a change of school, which will have a serious impact on the entire family,” he said.
Mekki’s Mineral Water, one of the water companies shut down recently for being unsafe for public consumption, has been declared safe by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
In a recent research conducted by the EPA’s Research and Standard Laboratory experts, Mekki’s Mineral Water was found to have 5 milliliter Faecal Coliform counts and 7 Total Bacteria counts. This was an indication that the company was operating in close proximity to a septic tank, from where bacteria could contaminate the water source, or perhaps that the harmful bacteria could enter the water from sources other than a septic tank.
Following some rigorous research and investigation, the EPA, however, has identified the source of bacteriological contamination at Mekki’s Mineral Water Company and the water producer has duly corrected all faults in its quality control system as recommended by the EPA.
“After implementing the recommendations of the agency, a control-run was conducted on the system with bacteriological tests on the finished products at three water quality laboratories including the agency’s ERS Laboratory,” the EPA said in a release.
According to the release, the bacteriological assay at all three laboratories showed no trace of bacteria in the finished products, suggesting that Mekki’s Mineral Water is now safe for human consumption relative to the parameters analyzed.
“Mekki’s Mineral Water is now in full compliance with the EPA and is hereby authorized to resume full scale production while maintaining all quality control measures aimed at ensuring that its products remain safe for human consumption,” the release added.
The control run and validation exercise, according to the EPA, will be conducted at the remaining six sachet water companies while the bacteriological assay will continue for all sachet water brands across the country.
The EPA reiterates its commitment to the general public to ensure a clean, healthy and safe environment where goods and services will be produced for the citizens and residents.
By Tina S. Mehnpaine
The United States Government in partnership with the Joint West Africa Research Group (JWARG) has presented 2,000 face shields and 95 and nose masks, 7,000 surgical tools, 100 bottles of hand sanitizer, and thousands of personal protective suits to the Armed Forces of Liberia to help fight COVID-19.
JWARG is a U.S. Department of Defense funded collaborative initiative that leverages existing research platforms and relationships to improve bio preparedness by strengthening research capabilities in West Africa.
Its aim is to improve laboratory and clinical research capabilities, enable the development of effective infectious disease countermeasures including diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines.
At the donation which was held on Wednesday, July 1, 2020, at the Edward B. Kesselly Barracks in Margibi county, Prince C. Johnson lll, Chief of Staff of the AFL, said the items given will be used to strengthen the military staff whenever they are called to duty, and in that way, they will be able to help.
“We are indeed grateful to the US government. Like we always say, partnership helps to mitigate some of the challenges we faced around the world.”
He also said that the items will be sent out to their installation centers that include the barracks to be used whenever the commander-in-Chief calls upon the military to get involved.
“We can now say that the military is fully prepared anytime they are called upon,” said General Johnson.
He said in times of crisis society will always depend on the Army for protection and when they are not fully equipped, they will not be able to respond actively.
The Chief of staff also thanked JWARG for partnering with the US government to provide the materials to strengthen the AFL for the fight against COVID-19.
Matthew Alden, US Defense Ataché, said the items donated will enable the AFL to stand firm against the pandemic.
“The virus has killed thousands of Americans and multiple Liberians; we will continue to support the government of Liberia until the end,” said Alden.
He said because of the long-lasting relationship between the U.S. government and the Government of Liberia, they will continue to give their support.
“The partnership between the U.S. Government and the Government of Liberia is very strong and is the strongest and best partner for years to come,” he added.
He also said that the items will be used by JWARG through the AFL to find a coronavirus vaccine that will be distributed worldwide.
Candace Eastman, Project Director of JWARG, said her organization will continue to work with the AFL in providing technical support. She said that the donation is a way of preparing the AFL to keep them safe during the pandemic. She noted that the military is the backbone of every society and, when they are well prepared and safe, they will be able to respond to call of duty.