Monrovia – Normal activities at the Free Port of Monrovia were disrupted on February 8 when members of the custom brokers association begun protesting against “the many unfair trade practices, inhumane unnecessary trade regulations.”
The National Custom Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL) said in a release on Thursday, February 8 that it blames the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) for unfair trade practices, which it said, include recruitment and training of individuals of desiring to become custom brokers.
“These are unfair trade practices which are causing serious problems for both the business community and the consuming Liberian population,” the NCBAL said in its press release.
The NCBAL operates under the laws of the Republic of Liberia and serves as liaison between importers and ports and revenue collectors by clearing and forwarding of goods at various ports of entry across the country.
The group claims the revenue authority is overstepping its bounds by performing tasks that are not part of LRA’s statutory responsibilities.
NCBAL is also accusing the Ministry of Commerce, APM Terminals, BIVAC and shipping lines in the country for violating trade agreements at the detriment of the union.
The NCBAL acknowledges that the statutory role of the LRA in accordance with Section 7 (1) of the 2013 Act that created the agency includes the licensing of customs brokers and tax practitioners.
But the brokers’ association argues that the LRA does not have the right to recruit and train custom brokers.
The custom brokers union insists that it has the mandate to “organize, conduct, administer, and evaluate candidates or applicants” opting to become brokers and present said individuals to the LRA for professional licensing.
FrontPageAfrica also gathered that on Thursday the brokers were also contending that the LRA is recruiting and training non-Liberians as custom brokers, something they claim undermines the interest of Liberians brokers.
Kaihenneh Sengbeh, Communication Director at the LRA, said the training is “solely for Liberians and only Liberians are being trained”.
“Our Announcement to the public for the training required only Liberian citizens."
"Therefore, any report that foreigners are part of the training is mere fabrication and lacks the least iota of truth,” he said.
Sengbeh said the LRA also involved the custom brokers association in planning the training adding that - “the leadership of the National Customs Brokers Association of Liberia (NCBAL) attended and the President, Mr. Ivan Tumbey delivered opening remarks commending and lauding the LRA for offering the training to members of the NCBAL as a way of building their capacities”.
He said on day two of the training NCBAL members were ordered by their leadership to boycott the process, leaving the LRA to continue recruiting and licensing citizens interested in being customs brokers.
While normal activities were on stand still at the port on Thursday due to the brokers protest, the management of the National Port Authority said it was working to resolve the issue.
As the country’s major seaport dubbed ‘Gateway to Liberia’s Economy’, shutting down operations for a day might have adversely affected the already dwindling economy that largely relied on imports.
Malcolm Scott, Public Relations Manager at the NPA, told FPA on Thursday evening that NCBAL president, Alvin Toomey, had resolved to cut off the protest while talks will continue to address their grievances.
Scott said the decision to halt the protest came after a roundtable dialogue with the NPA management on Thursday.
“So, the brokers president announced in the meeting and assured the management team that beginning tomorrow (Friday, February 9) brokers will return to normal business,” Scott said.
He said officials of the NPA initiated the dialogue with the brokers to ensure they reversed their decision.
The protest could have caused instability at Liberia’s main seaport and further hurt the economy.
The brokers don’t want to consider such action that would paralyze the economy but want their grievances addressed, he said.