Liberia: Commerce Minister Accused of Creating ‘Monopoly’ on Frozen Foods As Several Businesses Complain of Strangulation

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MONROVIA – The Minister of Commerce, Mawine G. Diggs, is refusing to grant Import, Permit Declaration (IPDs) to several local and foreign businesses for the importation of frozen foods in a bid to afford a particular foreign business time without competition to sell their products which are on the verge of expiring.

Her action, FrontPageAfrica gathered, is not only strangulating these businesses and risking the jobs of Liberians in their employ but also by extension strangulating the country’s economy by depriving the country of much-needed revenue.

“Go to the minister’s office, you’ll see several applications for IPDs for frozen foods on her desk. She is refusing to sign them. Why? Does she have any idea what she is doing to our business? Of course, she does. She knows exactly what she is doing. Strangulating us to benefit a single individual. This is what discourages investors from coming to Liberia. They do it to us all the time,” one of the aggrieved Liberian entrepreneurs and a victim of the monopoly who asked for anonymity said to FrontPageAfrica.

Frozen foods like chicken feet, pig sheet, chicken, turkey, turkey wings, chicken wings, sausage, etc. These foods are part of Liberians every day food, therefore, making the demand for them on the market very high.

“We have received sufficient information among our partners and confirmed with our sources within the ministry of commerce that Minister Diggs is deliberately refusing to grant us the IPD because a particular company has tons of goods that they are on the verge of expiring. So, in order to clear it off the market, he needs monopoly – that means, he must be the only supplier and there will be a big rush to him and all his products will be cleared. That is the game they are playing at the Ministry of Commerce and the Minister, I am aware, has signed up to this,” another businessman said.

Multiple attempts to get comments from Minister Diggs did not materialize. When she was first contacted on the matter last week, she said she could not comment as she was away with the President on his county tour. The Minister did not respond to follow-up messages after the tour even though WhatsApp messaging app indicated that she read the message.

The issue of restricting and selectively giving out IPDs has been an age-old problem at the Ministry of Commerce as it seems to be gap for exploiting businesses and create unwarranted monopoly to the advantage of a few businesses while the vast majority struggle to stay afloat.

This creates unfair market conditions and, in many cases, and leaves the market without competition leading to unfair market prices, low-quality products, and limited choices for consumers.

Sources at the Ministry of Commerce further informed FrontPageaAfrica that Minister Diggs who is not frequent at work has reportedly refused to collaborate with her principal deputies at the Ministry who are against her action.

“We have been contacted by several businesses that they are not getting IPDs to import their frozen foods and that is true. We have made several attempts to see how best we can get the Ministry to see the need to grant these IPDs especially for this Easter who has been resolved not to grant these IPDs. Are we happy about it? No! but she is the Minister and nothing we can do about,” one of the ministers at the Commerce Ministry told FrontPageAfrica when contacted for comments. The Minister asked not to be named.

The minister went on to acknowledge that the restricting IPDs is counter-productive to commerce in Liberia and has been a major issue confronting the Liberian market.

“Creating an unfair market condition is completely against the President’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development,” the minister added.

Over the weekend, President suspended the Assistant Minister for Commerce and Trade and Industry with immediate effect.

According to the Executive Mansion, he was suspended for administrative reasons and has been asked to the report to the office of the President’s Legal Advisor.

Credible information obtained by FrontPageAfrica indicate that Assistant Minister Somah went on to process IPDs in absence of the Minister Diggs when the she was on tour with the President.

Rice Shortage Looms

Meanwhile, rice importers in the country are holding back on the importation of new consignment until they are permitted to increase the price of rice on the local market.

Some of the importers informed FrontPageAfrica that they continue to incur high costs in importing rice including high taxes at the Freeport of Monrovia, among others, therefore, making them to run at loss when they continue to sell rice at the government’s stipulated rice.

“Even where we are buying the rice from the price is going up there, so we are buying at a higher price which now makes it impossible for us to sell at the government price here. It makes it difficult for us to do business, we cannot afford to import,” a local businessman said.

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