Liberia: Citizens Complain of Economic Hardship amid 171st Independence Celebration
Monrovia – July 26, which is Liberia’s Independence Day, fast approaches. It is supposed to be festive. Mechlin Street, connecting Waterside Market, is very busy again not quite as previous 26th celebrations. However, the street is still jammed; everybody is moving ahead of their own businesses with some trying to grab something for their families.
Report by Mae Azango, [email protected]
Sellers can be seen standing and ringing bells over their goods and calling out loudly for people to buy; while some sit and on the sidewalks calling the attention of potential buyers. The ones walking on the main road with their wares in their hands are the most visible.
This newspaper encountered some of these sellers, who are calling on the Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC)-led government to postpone the July 26 independence day. In those sellers’ words: “No money.” FrontPageAfrica also spoke with some of those who were seen trying to buy. They, too, expressed similar sentiments. However, they mainly blamed it on the present bad economic crisis, including the high exchange rate between the US and Liberian dollars, high increase in the prices of basic commodities and high transportation cost.
“The market is very hard; sellers are even more than we the buyers. The US rate is still high and the prices of things are high. People are not really buying because prices are high. Moreover, it’s hard to get money because there are no jobs. Everyone wants to sell in order to make some money; this is why sellers are more than buyers,” complained Perry Sallay, a seller of lady’s blouses.
Perry said they elected President George Manneh Weah because they believe he can improve the economy. According to him, Liberians are going to be happy with their President when the exchange rates drop to at least L$80 to US$1.
He also stated that the Liberian Petroleum Refinery Company (LPRC) has reduced the price of a gallon of gasoline from L$590 to L$540, but transportation costs remain the same with no reduction.
Elizabeth Payne, selling children hair accessories, also expressed her frustrations that the market is very slow because her goods weren’t being bought much.
“Many of the people you see passing are called ‘how much people,’ because they can just come and play with your market and not buy anything from you. The market is very slow; people are not buying. Most times after selling the whole day under the hot sun, we make less than L$1,000 (US$6.75) a day.”
Elizabeth appealed to the government through the Ministry of Commerce to have the Lebanese businessmen accept Liberian dollars from them (retailers) when they go buy their goods.
Just as she concluded speaking to this newspaper, a group of her friends interrupted and started shouting, “Let the Government postpones the Independence Day celebration, because things are hard.”
Not only is the economic hardship affecting sellers alone, buyers, too, are feeling the pinch.
Chris Browne was trying to purchase something from a wheelbarrow when this newspaper caught up with her.
She complained as equally as the sellers on the high prices and the fluctuating exchange rate.
Chris, who does cross-border trade, further complained of facing tough times to collect her money when she had distributed her goods on credits, especially to employees of the Liberians government, who usually pay at the end of the month.
“I need money, too, to buy my children’s 26 clothes, pay their school fees and feed them. I am in a jammed situation; these government employees are my customers, too. I cannot force them to pay. We are just begging our President to do all so that the US rate can drop so that prices can follow, too.”
Jackson Derrick, selling lady’s shoes, also complained badly about the high exchange rate.
“For example when I buy my goods at US$150 for the bale of shoes in the store and I want to sell a pair of shoes for L$750, customers cry and say that I am overcharging them. They forgot to know that I bought the bale expensive. This is a serious problem for us.
“We want the government to enforce a particular rate that will remain fixed and anybody changing above or below should be arrested.”
Irene Jacobs, selling lady’s handbags, too, stated that wholesalers are still selling at the same high rate before the purported reduction in the exchange rate between both currencies. He also complained that people who go to buy for this 26 season are mainly just looking at their goods and aren’t buying.
“For example, if I buy one item at L$750, customers will want to pay that item for L$500. I will be operating at a lost. It is affecting me. When I buy my goods at a high rate and bring it outside to sell, customers can want to buy my market at a low rate.”
Irene joined others to call on the President to work on reducing the exchange rate.
He insisted that because things are so hard now, the 26 celebrations should be postponed.
Joseph Darbie, also sells lady jeans, too, urged the Liberian government to do all to work on stabilizing the exchange rate.
“I think our government should deal with the Lebanese and other foreign businesses to accept the Liberian dollars when we go to buy our goods. We want our government to send inspectors from the Ministry of Commerce to monitor these foreign businesses because they are the ones causing the economic crisis in our country.”
He also called for the Independence day celebrations to be postponed as times are hard on ordinary Liberians.
Sam S. Yarpah sells jeans. He thinks citizens should look to God and pray for the leadership to succeed. Unlike his colleagues, who threw all the hardship blames on the government, he was more sympathetic with the government.
“The US rate issue is not the government’s fault but business peoples’,” he charged.
Sam disclosed, without proof that the exchange rate was climbing because the market was flooded with counterfeits by many businesswomen.
“Our Liberian sisters want to get rich overnight, so they go and print bad money and put it on the market thereby increasing the rate. This is why the US rate is going high. I can tell you that our Liberian sisters are truly into printing counterfeits; they are even braver than men; they are 100 percent brave when it comes to doing that business.”
“I think this is their way of trying to make this government fail, by putting so much bad money on the market, but by the grace of God, this government will succeed and we will overcome this issue.”
In his recent address to the nation on the state of the economy, Pres. Weah said finding lasting solutions to the present macroeconomic challenges will take some time because nothing less than the structural transformation of the Liberian economy will produce sustainable recovery and growth.
“The key to success in this endeavor is for Liberians to produce more goods and services locally, so that we reduce our importation of goods and services from abroad, whilst at the same time increasing our exports and adding value to the raw materials that we ship to the world. In this regard, our Government intends to embark upon a major push to ensure that Liberia becomes more competitive in terms of domestic production. And in so doing, we intend to encourage and empower Liberian businessmen and Liberian-owned businesses to lead the transformation of the Liberian economy. We will enable them to become more competitive, by providing affirmative policies and support, including ready access to finance and expertise,” the President emphasized.