The Liberia Marketing Association: An enabler of Economic Growth
MONROVIA – The Business Climate Secretariat at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning on Friday 7 August organized a one-day working conference with the Liberia Marketing Association (LMA). The meeting with the theme: Addressing issues and challenges within the LMA, which took place at the Paynesville Town Hall brought together farmers, marketers, municipal governments including the Monrovia City Corporation, the Liberia Business Association, and Officials of Government.
The meeting was organized against the backdrop that the LMA has been embroiled in a power struggle that is detrimental to a business-friendly climate. Other matters that triggered the conference included the LMA’s lack of support to the PCC and other municipal authorities in the collection and disposal of garbage and issues surrounding ‘price-fixing’ at the Gorbachev and other entry points markets.
Speaking on the topic: The role of the LMA as an enabler of economic growth, development, and peace, LMA Vice President, Mr. Barchue, noted that the LMA is a sleeping giant and needs to awake from its slumber and cater to the needs of the population. Since the establishment of the LMA in 1976, there had been no peace but struggle for power, thereby undermining the LMA’s objectives.
Once the LMA is given a breathing space, we will generate enormous financial resources to address food and other crisis in the country. According to Mr. Barchue, some government officials are in the habit of appointing marketing superintendents without the LMA leadership’s consent. “We cannot have two leaders in one country.” He then appealed to the Finance and Development Planning Minister to help resolve the long-standing imbroglio in the LMA.
For their parts, the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Justice said that they were willing to work with the LMA to resolve their impasse. Assistant Minister Meo Beyan noted that as an autonomous agency, the Ministry of Justice could not interfere with the LMA. However, when a crisis arises, it affects the entire country, thereby prompting the MOJ’s intervention.
Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Collins explained that there is nowhere in the LMA Act that allows Officials of Government to intervene. He pointed out that the intervention by former presidents is no basis for continuous interventions in the affairs of the LMA. “Not because former President Sirleaf asked former VP Joseph Boakai to intervene means that the office of the VP is a part of the LMA and neither is the Ministry of Internal Affairs a part of the LMA. We are only engaged to ensure peace and not muddy the waters of the LMA, Deputy Minister Olayee Collins noted
For her part, Paynesville City Mayor, Madam Pam Taylor noted that the Corporation was faced with challenges in cleaning up the city, especially the markets. The lack of cooperation from the LMA is a significant setback for the PCC. Daily cleaning of the markets is a real headache, especially with no or limited financial support coming from the LMA. The Mayor wants the LMA to give the Corporation a percentage of the money collected from marketers daily to help with the cost of garbage collection and disposal.
Several marketers, including the cross borders women association, noted that they face consistent problems from the LMA and farmers. They indicated that they are paying too much money to the LMA, thereby eating into their limited profit. Said Kuma Zayzay, head of the Pepper Association at the Gorbachev Market, “we pay ground, warehouse, table, and wheelbarrow fees on every given day, and this is too much.” The group called on the Government to assist in the construction of warehouses to store their goods. “We are paying too much money for storage every month. We do not want free money, we only want Government to help us, and we will pay back”, said Madam Sangay Dunbar, head of the cross borders women association.
The meeting took a rather tense moment when sellers and farmers accused each other of dishonesty and price-fixing. Under an implied arrangement, sellers provide financial support and the needed tools to rural farmers hoping that after harvest, farmers will sell the crops to them at a discounted price. But marketers noted that farmers were selling their produce to different buyers without concerns for their investments.
Some farmers noted that marketers were always fixing prices, thereby undercutting whatsoever profit there was. “Yes, we agree that you can give us money to start the farm, but when we are ready to sell, your can reduce the price to the extent that nothing can be there for us. So, we can look for the highest bidder and sell. Everybody is looking for profit too now”, some farmers noted.
Marketers noted that farmers did not consider the cost of transportation and prices of the same products coming from across the borders. “As marketers, we can pay almost LD$2,200 to transport one bag of pepper to Monrovia. So, we have to remove the transportation cost from inside the price, but the farmers don’t want to understand this. Even when they sell their harvest to other buyers, they can refuse to pay our money, and this is unfair and is discouraging us from doing business.”
In his remarks, Finance and Development Planning Minister Hon. Samuel Tweah noted that he was unaware of most of the explanations he was hearing. He said that if the LMA put their house in order, they could be a storehouse of wealth and job creation. “Assuming that there are 10,000 marketing tables and each pays LD $ 15 daily, do you know how much money you will be collecting weekly, monthly, or yearly? You can use that data to take loans from commercial banks to expand into other profitable businesses,” Minister Tweah said.
Minister Tweah noted that not only was the LMA a ‘sleeping giant,’ but the whole nation has been sleeping since its founding and was glad that the administration of President Weah was keen on awakening the country through actionable development initiatives. He promised that just as the Government of Liberia was able to solve the age-old problem of wage disparity, the administration of President George Weah will also resolve the LMA conflict, which started since its founding in 1976. “We as a government will not cast blame but will instead work to address the challenges that have kept us from working as a unified people; Minister Tweah told participants. He said that the Government would work with the LMA to ensure the use of mobile money to pay daily fees.
For the part, the President of the LMA, Madam Alice Gorpu Yeebahn thanked Minister Tweah for calling such a meeting of national concern. She used the platform to apologize to individuals she had wrong directly or indirectly openly. I sat here and refused to say a word because in-fighting will not solve our problems, but if we come together as one family, we will make progress in the LMA,” Madam Yeebahn noted. She also called on Solicitor General, Cllr. Syrena Cephus to lift the embargo placed on their bank account to enable the LMA settle its financial obligations.
At the end of the meeting, four technical committees were established. They included: Technical Committees on Leadership and Political Crisis, Garbage Collection and Mobile Money, Warehouse and Transportation, and Farmers and Sellers relations.