Who’s Running Liberia? Ask George Abi Jaoudi

Who’s Running Liberia? Ask George Abi Jaoudi

Lebanese Businessman, already enjoying Semi-Monopoly on everything with a profit margin, from eggs, meat, fish and drinks, to Nissan Vehicles for government offices, keeping everyone else at bay, ruining other businesses.

LIBERIA IS BEING SOLD for peanuts as Lebanese businessman George Abi Jaoudi has his way while getting away with everything and everyone. Virtually no one, not the president, the first family, Supreme Court Justices or the national legislature appear willing or ready to put him in his tracks.

TODAY, MR. ABI JAOUDI is enjoying a semi-monopoly on everything that has a profit margin: From eggs, rice, meat, drinks, and fish to Nissan vehicles to all government ministries and agencies. He even reportedly had a big chunk of the contract to supply crush rocks during the construction of the Mount Coffee Hydro plant.

ON TUESDAY, MR. Abi Jaoudi nearly got his way over plans to finalize a 30-year tax break for his newly-minted Farmington Hotel. But thanks to Senator George Manneh Weah (CDC, Montserrado County), Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence (Liberty Party, Grand Bassa) and Geraldine Doe-Sheriff (UP, Montserrado), that proposal will live to see another day and hopefully Liberians will muster enough anger to rise up against the powers that be with one powerful voice in ending the madness that is befalling us in the crucial election year.

IN MAY, some 34 out of the 73 Representatives on Capitol Hill voted to ratify a 30-year Investment Incentive Agreement between Liberia and the Roberts International Airport (RIA) Hotel Resorts, Incorporated. In that session, there were 38 Representatives present, and 34 of them voted overwhelmingly for the passage of the ‘Tax Holiday’ agreement, following a report from the Joint Committee on Investment and Concession and Judiciary.

IT IS OUR HOPE that Liberians will see reason in this election year to voice their outrage over what is unfolding before our very eyes quietly under the radar.

FOR STARTERS, we find it disturbing that such a bill that puts struggling local businessmen and women at a disadvantage is being left to Senators to decide for the rest of the country.

WE FIND IT EVEN MORE troubling that Senators in a major election year voted overwhelmingly to ensure passage of such a one-sided bill into law.

JUST TO REFRESH your memories a bit. Mr. Abi Jaoudi is the owner of GBK Motors where virtually every government ministry and agency purchase their vehicles.

IT MAY BE RECALLED THAT IT WAS the same Abi Jaoudi who last year loaned out a little over US$1 million in vehicles to some 30 Senators who individually took it upon themselves to take the vehicles on credit from Mr. Abi Jaoudi’s GBK Motors on the condition that they would pay when the budget passes. When the Senators reneged on their pledge to pay and the vendors came knocking on their doors, they went running for the President to join them in breaking the law by breaching the PPCC regulations.

  1. J. NANBORLOR P. SINGBEH, SR., SECRETARY, Liberian Senate wrote at the time: “In view of the above-mentioned, the Members of the Liberian Senate would have me to further inform Your Excellency, that the Body would appreciate highly were you to timely intervene, so that the vendors will receive their payments and save the face of the Liberian Senate in this manner. Please accept, Madam President, the renewed assurances of my highest consideration and esteem, regards”

FAST FORWARD TO 2017, Mr. Abi Jaoudi pulled every punch he could muster in a bid to ensure that his newly-minted Farmington Hotel got the attention it needed in making a major splash on the budding hotel industry in post-war Liberia.

HE MADE THE RIGHT connections to coincide with the just-ended ECOWAS summit in Monrovia when the hotel was used to host some of the summit’s guests. Far away lying in ruins is the Unity Conference Center which could have easily been refurbished and modernize for such historic events today.

NOW COMES REPORT that the government is also contemplating giving him a license for a casino at the Farmington Hotel before the Sirleaf administration leaves office. Mind you, there are not street lights on the Robertsfield Highway. Expect a lot of drunk folks to drive to their death after a night of gambling when that becomes a reality.

WE WONDER what kind of connection this one man has that a government would ignore the plight of struggling businesses just to give this one man a whopping tax break while many Liberian businesses have to go through hell and back just to clear their containers from the port.

IN FACT, MANY Diaspora Liberians who work odd jobs just to engage businesses back home have given up, closed up shop and disengaged from the shipping business because the taxes are just too high for them to even bother.

MANY LOCAL business owners are being railroaded over taxes, media houses are being harassed with the government refusing to pay them but yet requiring them to pay taxes.

BUT THAT IS just a tip of the iceberg of Mr. Abi Jaoudi’s evil empire that he has amassed to the detriment of a struggling masses.

PRIOR TO THE OPENING of the Farmington, Mr. Abi Jaoudi gave the government the impression – or perhaps certain members of the powers were aware – that part of the reason why he needed the incentives was due to the fact that he would be opening doors to employment for many.

SADLY, WHEN the lights of the ECOWAS conference had gone down, Abi Jaoudi showed his real hand by laying off 40 of the 180 employees he had hired to operate the Farmington Hotel near Robertsfield, Lower Margibi County.

THE DAILY OBSERVER first reported that the massive downsizing took place on June 22, two months and three weeks after hiring and giving hope to the employees, many of whom claimed they left their previous jobs in Monrovia and other parts of the country.

IT HAS BEEN the government’s contention that the hotel or tourism business is a struggling industry in Liberia, and should, therefore, enjoy a tax holiday. But so are many other Liberian businesses who are barely getting by and getting the short end of the stick. Even at the height of the deadly Ebola virus outbreak when many businesses were being shut down, a loan scheme set up to assist those on the verge of collapse, was simply set aside for the well-connected – already enjoying the benefits of being in government and having access to loans the rest of the country were shut out from.

WE HAVE NO idea why Mr. Abi Jaoudi is so powerful in Liberia today and why he and his gang of businesses appear to be untouchable.

MAYBE IT IS a repayment of an old debt President Sirleaf feels she owes the Abi Jaoudi family for giving her a job as a clerk in their garage so many years ago. “They had a big garage, and I went there and, again, limited skills, but the Abi Jaoudi people were quite close to my father, and they were running that garage, so I went there and was made a Clerk, an Accounting Clerk to a French Accountant who was the Finance Director of the company,” the President told state radio LBS in an interview a few years ago. “That started my career in the area of business because, working with him, I learned how to keep books, how to do balance sheets, how to do financial records. That propelled me in the way of finance.”

MAYBE ALSO, it could be the perceived notion and unspoken fear that Mr. Abi Jaoudi’s close ties to the President’s sister, Jennie Bernard that has every business owner in Liberia running for cover and everyone simply afraid to step on his toes.

IN A FEW DAYS Liberia will turn 170, the only country in Africa to reach that age. On April 14, 1979, what was once one of the peaceful nations in the world woke up to a riot over the price of rice. A year later, on April 12, 1980, that nation again woke up to a coup d’etat which ended decades of Americo-Liberian rule.

LIBERIA HAS NEVER recovered, it never did from the rice riots, it never did from the war and may simply just never come to its senses even after all the horrors of war, the flight into exile and the frailties that continue to plague a nation on the rebound from war.

THESE ARE THE VICES bordering conflict of interests the late journalist and pamphleteer, Albert Porte wrote about in his famous Liberianization: Or, Gobbling Business? as he took aim at President William R. Tolbert and his Family’s quest to control the fishing industry while squashing local businesses in the mud:  “And now, believe it if you will, the gobbling tentacles of the Mesurado octopus are so firmly gripped around the neck of another growing and promising real Liberian-owned and –controlled business that has been in the making since 1966 . . .”

THIS IS TRUE OF today’s Liberia, so old a nation that has come so far with too few people benefiting from the massive wealth in resources and minerals.

IT IS IMPORTANT, THAT IN this election year, those eyeing the highest office of the land, prioritize the importance of not just giving local businesses a share of the pie; but also making the business environment fair and equal for everyone to reap.

WE AGAIN thank Senators Weah and Karnga-Lawrence for standing up to the Abi Jaoudi family while the rest of their good-for-nothing peers shamelessly put up their hands in support of tax break that will do nothing to benefit Liberia but only rich Mr. Abi Jaoudi and his business partners in high places.

THE SENATORS voting in favor of this tragic tax break has shown no regards to the Liberians who no longer have a job because of this scheme. They are voting out of fear that GBK Motors will come knocking on their doors for their car loan payments when what they should be doing is recusing themselves from this process because a lawmaker cannot give tax break to a business to which it is indebted.

IF LIBERIANS FAIL TO STAND up to this, we are poised for doomsday.

EVERY CANDIDATE running for President, particularly Benoni Urey, Charles Walker Brumskine, Alexander Cummings, Mills Jones and even Vice President Joseph Boakai, should follow the example set by Senators Weah and Karnga -Lawrence in saying no to Farmington; and no to Mr. Abi Jaoudi’s semi-monopoly of our beloved Liberia.