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Back-Door Tax Rackets Hurting Liberia

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IN THE MIDST of a rapidly-shrinking economy and the George Weah-led government’s well-documented struggles to raise money and steer the affairs of the state, some businesses and individuals are getting a break on paying taxes that could go a long way in alleviating the pains and sufferings adding misery to those languishing at the bottom of the economic ladder.

FRONTPAGEAFRICA RECENTLY reported that Sabaru Enterprise located in Redlight, Paynesville, obtained permit from the Ministry of Commerce and BIVAC to import a huge consignment of flour into Liberia.

SABURU REPORTEDLY sought IPD from the Ministry of Commerce to import 15 containers (7,500 bags) of flour into Liberia even though, our investigation has found that the company has no business registration.

FPA HAS GATHERED THAT Sabaru and its cohorts criminally brought in the flour under the guise of medical supplies with the bill of lading indicating the importer as UNICEF under a duty-free arrangement.

The Liberia Revenue Authority confirmed to FrontPageAfrica that it has launched an investigation into the matter and has therefore invited the Safeway Cargo for questioning and to submit all documents relating to the consignment.

In January this year, the Minister of Commerce and Industry, Prof. Wilson Tarpeh, disclosed that through an intensive investigation, the Ministry discovered an active and illegal practice involving the illicit issuance and/or manipulation of Import Permit Declaration (IPDs) by local importers, which is seriously reducing GoL’s revenues and undermining the visibility of local manufacturing companies.

According to Minister Tarpeh, these illegal IPDs have resulted in the flooding of goods on the local market with low quality, thereby impacting flour, nails, eggs, biscuits and other essential commodities; goods with under-declared value as well as smuggled flour, all of which are depriving the government of legal revenue.

He noted that many of the imported flour are also being illegally brought in with expired IPDs.

“As part of the determination to protect government’s revenue and support job creation in the country, local enterprises, in this case the two local flour milling corporations, as well as other local manufacturers of nails, biscuits, candies, insecticides and detergents, and the public are informed that all outstanding flour IPDs, both expired and unexpired, should be returned to the Ministry for renewal and re-authenticated where appropriate,” Minister Tarpeh said at the time.

He said inspectors from the Ministry will begin a thorough inspection of all import and other documents relating to the flour importation as well as nails and other locally-manufactured items.

At the inception of the Coalition of Democratic Change-led administration in January 2018, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry’s Inspector General, Madam Josephine Davies was very pragmatic in her duty. Various news outlets, including this newspaper, followed her as she went from various business places in Monrovia carrying on her duty without fear or favor.  

The 39-year-old, who became the youngest to be Inspector General of Commerce at 38, rapidly made headways in her performances. She began to make sure that expired goods were pulled off the market and booking business houses. Those entities, which were found guilty of certain breach of the law, were fined thousands of United States.

Her first initiative in tracking down those involved in the selling of expired goods to the public took a dramatic turn when one of Liberia’s largest supermarkets, Abi Jaoudi Supermarket, was fined US$75,000 for selling expired products.

Ms. Davies’ move to rid Liberia out of expired goods was welcomed by Liberians who applauded the efforts of the Ministry through her works.

In an interview with a local news outlet sometime in 2018, she listed some of her Inspectorate Division’s achievements, including the Founi Brothers Corporation, Abi Joaudi, Azar Trading Company, the Three Stars Business Center, Exclusive Supermarket Branch 44-3, Monoprix Supermarket, amongst others, as businesses that were fined for breaching the country’s business regulations, collecting from those business entities thousands of very needed United States dollars as revenue for the government.

She had achieved this in a relatively short period of time.

“Right now, we have our inspectors in seven counties, and some of them are carrying out inspection of businesses in Margibi, Nimba, Bong, Montserrado, Grand Gedeh, Cape Mount and Grand Bassa,” Ms. Davies had told the news outlet. We don’t know what has come out of those inspections in those places. But we think, that was part of the right ways to begin to raise the needed revenues for the government’s coffer, which badly needs the foreign currency.

We think, the inspectors at the Commerce Ministry and the inspectors at the Liberia Revenue Authority need to step up their game and begin to vigorously carry out their duty. But doing this, they will continually bust back-door tax evasion from outsiders or/and even from within and among themselves like they did with Lee Taylor, an Enforcement Officer at the LRA, who was arrested in Accra, Ghana in what investigators told FrontPageAfrica was part of a major syndicate resulting in the theft of thousands of United States dollars in taxes paid into government accounts.

The exact amount Taylor reportedly defrauded the state of remained unknown; however, one source at the revenue house put the amount around nearly half-a million dollars.

He had reportedly been on the run after escaping with thousands of dollars in taxes paid into a statutory account at the United Bank for Africa. The account serves as depository for the Liberia Revenue Authority, the Ministry of Finance and the TIA Gateway operations.

We can’t conclude this Editorial without speaking to government officials who are in the habit of evading taxes, too, only because they see themselves as “bigshots.”

You can’t only expect taxes to come from business houses or others while you are part of the back-door tax racketeers. Liberia needs the taxes for some of the very good lives that you lead now at the expense of others. So, pay, too. 

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