Liberia: Ministry of Commerce Bars Media Coverage of Contaminated Rice Disposal

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Monrovia — Journalists covering the Ministry of Commerce and Industry were left stunned on Tuesday, March 2 when officials of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry blocked them from covering the disposal of a huge quantity of contaminated rice it claimed to have seized at the Freeport of Monrovia.

The press had been invited by the Ministry to cover the exercise but when the team that accompanied Inspector General Josephine Davis arrived at the warehouse belonging to one of the major rice importers, K & K Trading Corporation, the press corps was informed by the ministry’s Communication Director, Jacob Parley that all coverage of the exercise was suspended until further notice. Parley promised to invite the media to provide coverage if all of the protocols were put in place.

Earlier on Monday, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced in a release that it has seized and quarantined a consignment of a considerable quantity of rice at the Freeport of Monrovia following verification that water had entered a shipping vessel that brought the rice into the country, thereby contaminating it.

The Ministry further stated that it would begin the disposal of the rice at the Wein Town disposal site in Paynesville on Tuesday March 2, at 8:00 am, adding that it was working with all line ministries and agencies to ensure proper disposal of the damaged commodity. It then promised to provide further updates throughout and at the conclusion of the disposal exercise.

However, FrontPage Africa has gathered that the Ministry of Commerce & Industry has begun disposing the contaminated rice behind closed doors for the past two days. When asked why the press has not been invited, Parley said the process is hectic and it would take a huge toll on reporters providing coverage as the disposal team takes an entire day dumping the damaged rice.

The Ministry of Commerce’s refusal to invite the press to the exercise comes in the wake of its failure to disclose the actual quantity and type (s) of contaminated rice at the Port. There have been conflicting accounts giving by officials of the Ministry, with some putting the quantity at 45,000 25kg bags of rice that were contaminated, while others say the damaged rice amounts to more than 50,000 25kg bags of rice.

It is also the first time that a major event conducted by the Ministry, through its Division of Inspectorate under the supervision of the Inspector-General, Ms. Josephine W.A. Davies to be shielded from the public glare.

Ms. Davis, during the leadership of former Minister Wilson Tarpeh was proactive and robust in raiding the market with expired and contaminated goods. On her many inspection tours, largely covered by the media, she can be seen shutting down businesses for selling expired commodities.

Rice is Liberia’s staple food, but most of the commodity is imported. An Unofficial estimate puts the total quantity of rice imported in 2020 at 370,000 tons. Price for a 25kg rice ranges from US$15 to US$37.

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