Monrovia – Lawyers representing Abi Jaoudi and Azar Trading Company have challenged the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) imposition of US$57,000 fine for being in possession expired goods.
MoCI paraded in the media its discovery of several expired goods including food products at the Randall Street warehouse of Abi Jaoudi Corporation (ABJ) and subsequently imposed the fine.
But in a statement that seeks to provide clarity on the matter, lawyers representing the Corporation said Inspector General Josephine Davies had informed management that the ministry had reason to believe that (ABJ) was in possession of an assortment of expired goods that team was there to inspect.
The team was escorted to the warehouse and subsequently though out the facility of the supermarket.
“In the parking yard of the supermarket, the Inspector General, Josephine Davies accompanied by journalists saw a truck which was being loaded and thus had onboard some expired goods that were being removed from the storage to the corporation’s warehouse across the bridge [Bushrod Island] in order to create space for new consignments of goods in light of the limited capacity of the Randal Street facility,” ABJ explained in a statement.
According to the lawyers, the expired goods found on the truck were not for sale, but was rather bound for the Bushrod Island warehouse for subsequent disposition by the MOCI.
They disclosed that there is an arrangement between the Ministry of Commerce and Abi Jaoudi for the removal of the expired products which is still ongoing, noting that the discovery of expired products onboard a truck at the Randall Street facility followed two previous removal and disposition exercises conducted under the supervision of the ministry.
The statement noted the ministry had already issued two certificates of destruction/disposition of expired goods to ABJ on February 13 and 23.
“The removal and disposition of expired goods in ABJ warehouse is still underway and the corporation is continuing to work with the MOC in this regard. However, given the cumbersome nature of the procedures, the MOC is yet to conclude the removal and destruction of the expired goods in the Bushrod island warehouse.”
“The expired goods found were not in the sales area but rather in the warehouse and onboard the truck destined for its Bushrod Island warehouse,” the statement noted.
The lawyers further noted that ABJ is conversant that the law requires a notification be sent to the Ministry of Commerce before disposing of expired goods.
“The corporation did not attempt to change dates on the product or to sell them to the consuming public (had it done so, there would be no issue of expiry dates to identify). It (ABJ) remains very aware that customer base is dependent on the value of its goods/supply, and as such is considerate of its image and reputation built over the years,” the legal representatives noted.
According to them, the US$75,000 fine imposed on ABJ is unwarranted because the MoCI is yet to conclude the disposition of expired at its warehouse on the Bushrod Island, and excessive because the quantity of expired goods at its Randall street facility which is subject of the fine is very little compared to the stock at the Bushrod Island facility.
The statement from the lawyers, “In the letter from MOC communicating the fine to ABJ, Section 26.2 of the Public Health Law and 1.12 of the General Business law were cited as the provisions which the ABJ had breached. However, a review of those sections of the laws cited, proved contrary to the circumstance and assuming the breach even was incurred, the Public Health law regarding adulterated good specifically states in respect of fine that the penalty ought to be 100 dollars and 25 Dollars for each day of the continuing breach.”
They maintained that the “corporation has not sold, is not selling and has never attempted to recycle expired goods.
The meat and other perishable goods had to be kept in the cold storage until eventually disposed of since ABJ, like all other businesses similarly situated cannot dispose of goods on its own, safe with the facilitation of the MOC in conjunction with relevant agencies, including: Environmental Protection Agency (EPA, Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, Monrovia City Corporation. It is important to note that ABJ received a bill of 9,000.00 PLUS USD for the disposition of the expired goods in its possession.”
They disclosed that ABJ supermarket expressed concern over the slow disposition of expired goods in a recent meeting with the Ministry, noting that to date, the procedures for notifying the ministry to facilitate the removal and disposition of expired goods had not entailed writing a letter, rather phone calls and follow-up visitation has been the course of dealing.