Liberia: Customers Are Forced to Purchase other Items Before Being Allowed to Buy Rice

MONROVIA – “Rice is sold at L$3,500 [US$23.00]. The businessman told me before I can buy a bag of rice, I must buy L$1000 (US$6.50) worth of other items that I do not need. Can you imagine that?” said Elder Dee Zoe Lake, via mobile phone.

The trending noise of rice shortage is becoming a reality as people are seen standing in long queues in front of Fouta Corporation just to buy few bags of rice. In spite of this reality, President George Weah said he believes there is no rice shortage on the market.

Reported by this newspaper recently, President Weah who was quizzed by journalists, addressed the situation as street noise.

“We need not always listen to the street gossips. This is not the first time it has happened. Those responsible for importing rice say we have rice up to next year. I don’t believe there’s rice scarcity. I believe there is rice. We will verify it again. Don’t listen to the noise in the street.”

However, many businesses in Rally Time Market on the UN Drive, do not have the regular 25kg bag that was sold at US$13.00 (L$1950) before this reported shortage. Now, when one finds a bag to buy, it is sold between US$18 to $23 per bag.

Mohammed Barrie of Rally Time Business Center said the Lebanese importers are not selling the rice to them. “We have to stand in a long queue, and sometimes we even sleep there just to be able to buy rice. They are only serving 10 bags per person,” said Barrie.

Displaying a receipt of one of the importers, Barrie bought 500 bags of IR64 25kg bags of rice for US$13.00 per bag. He alleged that before he was allowed to get that quantity of bags, he was forced to purchase 100 bags of flour for US$45.00 each. He didn’t set out to go and buy flour.

“I sold each bag for US$14. But I, too, made the customers to buy four Era Paint buckets of flour along with each bag of rice. All the rice and flour bags I brought were purchased. I believe there is a shortage of rice. Some of the importers told us that if they sell the rice at US$13, they will be loss in profit. So, I think that is where the issue is,” Barrie said.    

When contacted Fouta Corporation, one G. S. Ballah told this newspaper via mobile phone that Fouta Corporation is selling rice at US$13 per bag. He denied the allegations that they (importers) are forcing customers to buy other commodities along with rice. “All is required of the customers is for them to pick up the rice,” he said.

However, Fouta said they have many businesses which buy huge quantity of rice, and those businesses also sell other commodities at their business centers, and maybe they are the ones selling the flour and other goods along with the rice.      

As for selling 10 bags at a time to customers, he said the Ministry of Commence told them to only sell to registered businesses. According to him, in the past, they used to sell up to 1000 bags to one individual but now, in order for everybody to be served, they sell 30 to 50 bags per business so everybody can be served.

According to a press release from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry dated April 5, 2022, “It has been observed that retail businesses are still increasing the retail price of rice on the market despite they are purchasing at the wholesale price of US$13. The Ministry of Commerce wants to make it crystal clear that the approved Government of Liberia’s retail price of rice is US$13.50 to not exceed to US$14.00

“Unfortunately, we are receiving reports that instead of Government of Liberia’s retail price of US13.50, some businesses are selling a bag of rice up to US$22. This is illegal and totally unacceptable and must be stopped now.”

Mariama Cummings of KUMBACO Business Center, located Rally Time Market, also said there is a scarcity of rice on the market. “Because when we go to buy rice, the importers tell us that we must buy other commodities along with the rice. If we have to buy like 55 bags of rice, we have to also buy at least 15 or 20 bags of flour and other goods. So when we bring the rice and flour to our various business centers, we have to impose it on the customers because the flour and other goods are not going like rice. If we keep the flour, we will lose,” she said.

Speaking about the Nobel and Delta Star rice she sells, she said they are products from the USA.

“I sell the 25 kg for US$45 and when we buy the 50kg bag for US$45. We sell it for US$85. I would like to tell the government in order to step up their game and put their foot down to settle this whole rice issue, because you can play with anything from Liberian people, but you can’t play with their rice business,” she warned.

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