Liberia: Businessman Amin Modad Laments Declining Environment; Unfair Bidding Practices for Spots At New Terminal At RIA
Monrovia – As one of the leading business owners in Liberia, Mr. Amin Modad, Chief Executive Officer at the Bella Casa Hotel, the Atlantic Foods Company, and Atlantic Construction & Energy, never doubted his abilities to successfully bid for one of the few prime spots at the new-look Roberts International Airport scheduled to open at the end of March this year.
Report by Rodney D. Sieh, [email protected]
Moved by President’s Inaugural Pledge
Says Modad: “Honestly, I did not vote for President Weah, I was one of those who did not feel he had the dynamism for Liberia had at this time but when I attended the inauguration at the SKD, he stated that Liberians would not be spectators – the tone of his voice, I felt it. I left from there positive about the way forward. Whether he had the experience or not he had the experience – and I had personal relationships with other candidates, I said to myself I will move on and support this president because I felt the success or failure of any administration is the success and failure of all Liberians.”
During his speech, President Weah declared to the private sector that Liberia, under his watch would be open for business.
Said the President: “We want to be known as a business-friendly government. We will do all that is within our power to provide an environment that will be conducive for the conduct of honest and transparent business. We will remove unnecessary regulatory constraints that tend to impede the establishment and operation of business in a profitable and predictable manner. As we open our doors to all foreign direct investments, we will not permit Liberian-owned businesses to be marginalized. We cannot remain spectators in our own economy. My government will prioritize the interests of Liberian-owned businesses and offer programs to help them become more competitive and offer services that international investors seek as partners.”
So, when Mr. Modad learned that authorities at the Liberia Airport Authority were in the process of opening a bid for the business lounge and other spots at the new terminal, he saw an opportunity as one of the leading Liberian-owned hospitality business to step in and give it a shot.
Mr. Modad explained in an interview with FrontPageAfrica that he started engaging the airport authority more than two years ago for the management of the VIP lounges but says he and the management had some disagreements on a particular figure. “I felt that what was allotted to contractees – I think it was around six or seven dollars, that each airline that use the lounge would pay toward the utilization of the lounge was too small and what was coming back to us was insufficient to enable us to provide the kind of service we wanted to and I think they gave the contract to someone else.”
Mr. Modad says his communication to the LAA was clear. “I had planned on bringing quality service that would surpass all of the restaurants that was already existing at the airport. They(the LAA) were quite disappointed. I don’t mean to discredit the other Liberian businesses that were there, but they were not to the standard that any Liberian would be proud of at the airport.
Modad says he brought in furniture and other things to convince the authority that he meant business. “I showed them furniture – in fact once we reached to a point where we had a contract drawn up, I brought in a container and I showed to them. I brought leather chairs which I ended up putting into my lounge here at the hotel. I was ready to take it to another level.”
It was Logical to Wait
But after the talks broke down, Modad says he went back to the airport authority and spoke with them about his interests but again considering that they were doing the new airport, he explains that it was logical to wait for the new airport because they could only offer him a one-year contract. “It was mutually, not formally found feasible that I wait until the new contract come out or the new spaces because it wasn’t worthy again temporarily doing anything and doing it half hazard.”
The businessman says he at least expected to have been contacted when the new airport terminal bid was out – but he was not.
In fact, he says, it was not until some four days toward the end of the bid that he got to know about the process from an airport insider. “I got to know from an insider who told me, “look, I knew you wanted something at the airport but we haven’t seen anything from Bella Casa – and the bid is about to expire. So, I don’t know whether it was published or not but again, I did not know about it. But within four days, I contacted a firm because one of the requirements was to submit an audited financial statement, and within four days I spent about three thousand, four hundred United States dollars getting ready. We hired a procurement expert. We did this thing to make sure it was to the letter.”
The businessman says he even sent a formal communication to the RIA but soon realized that the minimal prices/cost they were demanding was unrealistic. “For example, US$20 dollars a square foot, a small lounge would have cost us 20,000 a month. It wasn’t feasible anyway whether you in the US or here(in Liberia), for a new airport that doesn’t have traffic, we only have about five planes to pay US$20,000 or even US$10,000 a month. It was unrealistic.
Mr. Modad says he again wrote the LAA but did not get any formal response. “This is some of the problems I’ve had, you will send in a formal request and you will get a verbal communication.”
The businessman explained that he was advised by LAA staffers to go ahead with his submission because the terms were negotiable. “They told me “just go ahead, this thing here you know, we know it’s high but we will end up negotiating on this.”
But Modad says because he had some reservations, he took precautions. “So, because I knew we were set up to fail – even the $US20.00 they were asking for, I bid $21.00 ok, because it was marred by suspicion. I was very suspicious about it. We submitted the bid in fact, they came and extended the bid for another week. We recovered, we submitted it, and we did not hear back from them for more than two months.”
Modad says he then communicated with the LAA via email which was the only means available to inform them that he had not heard back from them since submitting his bid.
He finally got a reply and was invited to a meeting. “I went in there with my lawyer Neto Lighe from Sherman & Sherman, we went there and met a lady, Angela Gerdau she received us well, she said you came in second on two of the bids but yes, you lost all three.”
Mr. Modad explained that he then inquired how come he had lost all three of his bids and was informed that he lacked the experience as compared to the others and also did not have a clientele list.
Mr. Modad says he explained to the lady that Bella Casa is the foremost Liberian hotel which has been in operation for twelve years. “Even before that, we were a smaller hotel we just renamed it Bella Casa. We have over fifteen years of experience. We have had restaurants, we have had event halls, we’ve had night clubs, we’ve had bars and lounges. US3.6 million investment I just don’t know what kind of experience you want; we do not have a mediocre setup. These firms that won demonstrated that they are in other countries and they have other branches.”
It was then, Mr. Modad explained that he asked the lady where the firms that had been declared the winners came from and was told, from Ghana.
Mr. Modad then went on to ask whether one of the firms which had won was the same as the one that had been reported in FrontPageAfrica to which he received an affirmative response.
“I said, I’m not going to say it here but are these firms owned by what has been reported? She said, yes. I said what about the third one was one by a company called Newest and Newest is already operating in the airport and they are a Lebanese owned and they have backing from another international firms.”
Big Win for Angela List
FrontPageAfrica, it can be recalled, reported during the bidding process that the LAA had received instructions from the presidency to grant his long-time friend, the Ghanaian businesswoman, Ms. Angela Diala List, the Business Lounge and two stores at the new terminal at the Roberts International Airport.
Last September when the LAA announced a Request for Bids in keeping with best International Competitive Bidding for the rental of Roberts International Airport Terminal Stores/Outlets). FPA has now learned that instructions from the presidency has left the LAA with no alternative but to grant List the business lounge and two shops.
The bid sought interested parties seeking to lease stores and outlets in the new airport terminal.
The LAA–RIA announcement requested bids from interested and qualified firms with vast experience in operating the new Business Class Lounge, two high-end restaurants, three duty free shop/outlets and four shops.
Despite assurances from the LAA that the bidding would be conducted through the National Competitive Bidding (ICB), FPA gathered and reported that the ICB Act was amended and approved on September 11, 2018, specifically to allow List an opening with emphasis that the bid would be open to ‘‘all bidders from eligible source countries as defined in the guidelines.’’
FrontPageAfrica has also learned that contrary to the guidelines of the bidding process which states that interested firms must demonstrate a strong commercial vision, expertise, outstanding shops and customer service program, and provide a passenger experience at RIA that is competitive with the world’s leading international terminals and have at least five years’ experience in Airport Lounge Management or other private lounges and a minimum average annual turnover of US$250,000.00 for the last three (3) years, List’s interest has been in the mining sector and not airport lounge management.
List is currently the Finance Director at BCM Ghana /International Ltd founded by she and her husband, Paul List. She serves as Non-Executive Director of GoldStone Resources Limited since November 27, 2017. She is a Director of BCM Investment Limited (“BCM”). She joined the BCM Group in 2001 as Finance Director. Prior to this she was a Member of the audit team at KPMG Ghana Limited. According to her Linked-in profile, she current holds Directorships / Partnerships with Bayswater AG, Bayswater Capital Partners AG, BCM Ghana Limited, BCM International Limited and BCM Investments Limited.
‘It is Very Worrisome’
For Modad, his experience with the process is one of the many reasons why businesses like his are finding it difficult to break even under new government. “The business climate is very frustrating, there are economic challenges, more real than what is being portrayed.”
He says there is a critical fundamental issue is the empowerment of Liberian enterprises and doing what is right.
The businessman explained that a lot of what is unfolding did not happen overnight, but goes back to the era of former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. “There were external and internal issues. But the challenges have increased ten folds – even more in the last few months. I as a businessman have not been able to break even in any of my businesses since last March. I have over twelve million invested here and none of them are breaking even – since March. Smaller businesses are even crying more. That larger businesses – even the foreign own businesses – some of them cannot stand this and it goes into the point where I say empowering Liberian entrepreneurs is more sustainable and it provides more security because the foreign-owned businesses will pack up and leave and some of us can’t. If I had the means of saying right now; If I had the means of just selling right now I would but I can’t right now. So, it is very worrisome.”