LIBERIA: What’s Really Behind the Import Permit Declaration (IPDs) Quagmire

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Monrovia – Last month, Commerce and Industry Minister Marwine Diggs sent out a communication to local importers, requesting all to submit import documents for the period; October 2020 to present, for the importation of goods which include but not limited to copies of INF Forms, payment invoices, Bill of Lading, Port charges and all payments related to the clearing of your goods from the free port of Monrovia to the warehouses of businesses.

The communication, in possession of FrontPageAfrica reportedly became necessary following months of concerns that there was active and illegal practices in existence involving the illicit issuance and/or manipulation of Import Permits Declaration(IPDs) by local manufacturing companies. FrontPageAfrica has however learned that a senior official at the Ministry may have signed a few IPDs without the knowledge of the minister, which prompted the brouhaha over the IPDs.

According to the Ministry, the alleged illegal IPDs have resulted in low quality, imported eggs, biscuits and other essential commodities and goods with under-declared value, all of which are depriving Government of legal revenues.

However, some businesses have complained that BIVAC has not been carrying out inspection. it is the duty of Bureau Veritas (BIVAC) to inspect imported goods and the Government of Liberia through the Ministry of Commerce have an agreement with BIVAC to inspect.

Business contend that it is BIVAC who determines goods are low quality and should not be the responsibility of the Ministry of Commerce.

In her communication obtained by FrontPageAfrica, the Minister wrote:

I present my compliments and wish to inform you that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has observed that your entity is involved in the importation of goods into the Commerce of Liberia which may not have been approved by the Ministry of Commerce.

In view of the above, the Ministry is requesting you to submit import documents for the period; October 2020 to present, for the importation of your goods which include but not limited to copies of INF Forms, payment invoices, Bill of Lading, Port charges and all payments related to the clearing of your goods from the free port of Monrovia to you warehouse.

Please note that the Ministry is working closely with the Management of BIVAC to ensure compliance with this measure. You are kindly asked to promptly submit these documentations to the Ministry no later than the close of business on Monday, April 13, 2021. Submission of these documents will help to speedily facilitate the investigation into these allegations.

All these documents are to be submitted to the office of the Minister, Ministry of Commerce & Industry, Ministerial Complex, Congo Town, Liberia.

According to the ministry’s guidelines, if consumer goods an importer is required to obtain an IPD for are found, after testing or analysis, to be non-compliant with national or internationally accepted standards, those goods will be treated as a prohibited import and will be subjected to seizure or destruction action by Customs, modified to become compliant or re-exported under Customs supervision. Any action taken shall be at the cost of the importer.

The goods listed include: Fresh or frozen meat and meat products, excluding canned products, poultry and poultry products excluding eggs and bird eggs, fresh and frozen fish and crustaceans, fresh and frozen vegetables and tubers, excluding canned, preserved or dried vegetables, fresh fruits and nuts, milk, dairy and cheese products, perishable foodstuffs, and foods and beverages requiring refrigeration or other environmental control, bottled and bulk water including mineral water, products of the milling industry, including grain and rice, plant and plant materials including cut flowers and medicinal plants, live animal, including livestock, processed or unprocessed dead animal including insects, animals and animal products including bush meat and animal semen, wild life products, skins, endangered wildlife species and their product, including raw ivory and goods covered under the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species(CITIES).

Despite the ministry’s concerns, the IPD debacle continues to put a lot of businesses in dire straits, prompting a decline in the importation of goods and businesses in jittery.

This was part of the reason President George Manneh Weah in December 2020, issued Executive Order No. 103 in an effort to stimulate economic growth.

Executive Order Ignored

The goal of the President was exempt all commercial importers of goods into Liberia from seeking Import Permit Declaration (IPD).

A recent FrontPageAfrica investigation has however found that the ministry is still requiring businesses to process IPDs.

The Executive Order stated, “All Commercial Importers of goods into Liberia are exempted from seeking Import Permits and filling Import Permit Declarations. In lieu of the Import Permit Declaration (IPD), the Import Notification Form (INF) is now being used as an administrative document to collect trade statistical data to monitor the inflow and outflow of goods and facilitate trade in the Commerce of Liberia.”

The lack of adherence to the President’s mandate at the Ministry of Commerce, have compelled businesses to seek IPD as the Ministry of Commerce has been reneging on the issuance of the IPD.

Some businesses affected by the IPD saga are concerned that the Ministry’s action is deliberate and intended to create an unfair market situation and stifle some businesses.

Businesses contend that the ministry which is insisting on the IPD is at the same time refusing to approve IPDs for the importation of frozen foods is intended to afford a particular foreign business time without competition to sell their products which are on the verge of expiring.

The saga is being complicated by the fact that the Ministry is reportedly still issuing IPDs to some businesses.

Documents in possession of FrontPageAfrica indicate that the ministry is still issuing IPDs in spite of the concerns that it is not.

For now key commodities like eggs, onions, frozen fish, meat and other staple food are running out of stock on the Liberian market due to the Ministry of Commerce’s refusal to sign Import Permit Declaration to allow businesses bring in their goods.

Job Losses Likely

In the same vein, FrontPageAfrica recently gathered that while nearly 800 containers of staple food are stuck at the Free Port of Monrovia due to the Ministry’s IPD saga, there appears to be no end in sight as businesses continue to find it difficult.

Additionally, as a result of the saga, some businesses say they could be forced to lay off workers and shut down their frozen foods department due to the ongoing issues associated with the IPDs.

The issue has been further compounded by the inconsistency of the implementation of the process. In 2019 for example, the government through the Ministry of Commerce and Industry (MoCI) banned the importation of nails, biscuits, and flour into the country.

With the IPD situation still unsettled, businesses are struggling to break even especially amid reports that there is only one working forklift at the National Port Authority, the gateway to Liberia. Businesses due to this, the company has been unable to properly berth all vessels coming into the country.

For the immediate future, observers say unless the Weah administration find a lasting solution to the problem, a lot of businesses will continue to feel the pinch.

Even more troubling, business observers say, Liberia is not a rice, poultry or meat producing country. Thus, it is growing increasingly weary that attempts to delay IPDs will risk food shortage, especially in the wake of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic when shipping business has taken a hit as major exporters like India is now experiencing.

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