Mass Protest Looms Over Tattered Liberian Economy
Monrovia – Despite efforts by the Liberia National Police and other security apparatus to dissuade a group of Liberian entrepreneurs from abandoning a planned protest, the aggrieved business owners say they will carry on the protest as planned.
Report by Bettie K. Johnson Mbayo, [email protected]
“We are peacefully assembling to petition the National Legislature to address this economic hardship in the country, this is unfair that the current status of the country is not how we want it to be, the National Legislature and all regulating bodies must address this” Prince P.S Haward, Executive Director of the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia
State security officials are citing security risk as a basis to ditch the idea of holding the protests in Monrovia.
The planned protest comes on the eve of the start of voter registration for the 2017 presidential and legislative elections.
The protest at the Capitol, the seat of the Liberia’s legislature, according to the group is to address issues pertaining to the economic hardship in the country.
The prevailing economic condition in Liberia is creating concerns amongst Liberians with low income earners – the vast majority of the population – continue to complain. The country’s currency has badly depreciated as the exchange rate skyrockets, trading at LD$110 to US$1.00 – the worse depreciation in the West African nation’s history.
Liberian petroleum retailers are also decrying the unfavorable market condition, with hundreds of them going out of business. Some of them have accused the government of trying to put them out of business.
And for the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), they are an advocacy group for pushing for the rights of Liberian small businesses.
PATEL Executive Director Prince Howard said the protest at the grounds of the Capitol is to allow the Legislature addresse several issues ranging from the imposition of high tariffs on goods imported in Liberia, the constant inflations of the United States dollars rate, and the police constant harassment of petty traders.
The mass rally is expected to shut down all Liberian businesses beginning Tuesday as the protesters await redress from the Legislature.
The rally was previously scheduled to go on for three days but, the head of the group leading the protest disclosed that if the Legislature address the economic issue today (Tuesday), the three days will be cut off and businesses will be open.
On Sunday, January 29 members of PATEL and the Police met to negotiate the planned protest.
PATEL Acting Chairman, Presley Tenwah said its members have come to the point where they are tire of blames shifting.
“We have come to a point where we are tire of blame shifting, we spoke with Finance and regulating bodies but they all are shifting blames,” he said.
Repeal the laws
Mr. Tenwah said the petition to the lawmaker is to request that they repeal the laws to benefit citizens in the country.
“We are telling them to repeal the law because it is not favorable for Liberian businesses, most of our products are bought in US dollars and we regularly have Liberian dollars, look at the rate it is so high when you are buying US rate and it’s frustrating,” Tenwah said.
He said repealing the laws will bring sanity to Liberian business in the country.
“Also crediting money from the bank with such tariff is like getting us out of the business and the National legislature is the body that will help us.”
Police Inspector General, Gregory Coleman and Deputy Director for Operation, Abraham Kromah, are raising serious security alerts ahead of the protest is ongoing.
“We are concern on the security implication, looking at the repulsion because that is our role so it is cardinal and germane,” Abraham Kromah.
But Tenwah clarified that the rally is not meant to demonstrate but to claim the attention of the Liberian Legislature.
“Our people are not treating us well, but the economic hardship must be address since Liberia is not exporting products and the triggered down effect is on Liberian traders,” he said.
He continued: “We are Liberian businesses and if the Legislature will have one currency for us to pay the taxes mainly Liberian dollars will be commendable to us.”
For his part, Police Inspector General Gregory Coleman previously requested PATEL to go back to the law and follow it.
He cited part III of the act amending the Executive law with respect to the National Police Force.
The law is on public order, duties, rights and conditions of service in which 22.86 (A) and states:
“Any person who desires to hold any special event in the form of demonstration, march, or similar event in any public shall notify the County Attorney in the County where the event is to take place of his or her order intention not less than seven days before the date of special event.”
Col. Coleman also cited 22.86 (B, D, and E) of the Act, saying: “You meant peaceful protest, but these are critical times, there are detractors, and people can misuse your good intention and caused violence.”
The Police I.G disclosed that his trip to Togo was suspended due to the threat the plan protest will have on the state.
“Just the idea of store closure has greater effect on the state, and we know that Article 17 of the constitution give you the right, but also we want you follow the Police act,” he said.
A subsequent meeting was held Monday at the Police Headquarters in Monrovia. Justice Minister Fredrick Cherue, Liberia Revenue Authority Commissioner Elfreida Tamba, Commerce Minister Axel Addy were present at the meeting.
However, details of the meeting have not yet been disclosed, but FrontPageAfrica gathered that top priority of the agenda was to call on the group to refrain from the protest while they negotiate their demands.
Col. Coleman disclosed that they met with the group but all efforts to cancel the panned protest prove unsuccessful.
“We have told them that if they put out their 1,500 people today and violence result from there, the leaders will be held accountable,” the LNP boss said.
It can be recalled that Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hans Barchue described as “unfortunate” the increment in taxes by the legislature on basic commodities including water and he hopes it could be reversed.
“This is unfortunate but it is the reality of the time and we hope it could be reversed,” Deputy Speaker Barchue told journalist. “It has to do with policies, economy and fiscal – the monetary policy has to be look at too because the manner and form prices are going up and we could go back to the drawing board I guess.”
But Barchue admitted that solving the current economic challenge is massive but the policies must impact the ordinary Liberians.
“I am not over the fiscal institution of government; however, we must always take into account the impact that will be held on the people when we make policies. For example, the increase in taxes on water I don’t think it was a wise move,” he said.
The legislature in December 2016 during its extra sitting voted for taxes to be increased from 7% to 10% on tobacco, 35% on imported water and 2% for locally produced water and that taxes on residential buildings are increased from 0.083% to 0.25%.
The lawmakers also voted that taxes be increased on land within city or town limits, which are currently at 2% get an increment to 3.5% and that goods and services taxes increased from 10% and 5%.
A 15% increment was proposed to be levied on hotel services, gambling services and restaurant services.
The protest is expected to be the first post-war protest against economic hardship. The last time there was similar protest was April 14, 1979 when a group of students, university instructors and some ordinary citizens led by Progressives, notably amongst them Gabriel Barcus Matthews.
The protest, however, turned out into riot – The Rice Riot – the saw the death of hundreds of students and citizens.
They were protesting against increase in the price of a 100lb bag of rice from US$22 to US$26.