Monrovia – Local and foreign business leaders and owners in Liberia were divided Monday over a planned protest by the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL).
Report by Henry Karmo – [email protected]
Most of the stores that fell in line with the PATEL mandate Monday were owned by Liberians while foreign-own businesses went about with business as usual.
Local business owners have been feeling the bulk of the pinch amid high tariff and taxes on the goods as compare to their foreign counterpart who have monopoly over the importation of major commodities including, rice, the country’s staple food and flour.
Local businesses ignored threats from government although Monday’s slowdown failed to make the impact as a similar one held in February.
Officers of the Liberian National Police under the mandate of the Justice Ministry were seen in strategic marketplaces with whips and batons to implement mandates declared in a bid to prevent or resist businesses or individuals looking to cause problems.
Marketers that spoke to FontPageAfrica Monday in the Commercial districts of Paynesville and the famous waterside market lamented that they were placed in a dilemma whether to honor the called protest by its leadership or open their businesses since in fact Lebanese, Chinese and Indian businesses were all in violation of the called protest.
Marie Kollie, a local business woman wailed: “I don’t know what to do. We see the foreigners opening their businesses and this was an agreement amongst us business people to shut down our business so I don’t know what to do. We are waiting to hear from our leadership but to be frank with you if it continue like this I will open my store.”
Many of the businesses declined to be photographed over fears of reprisals from the government who had warned them that any attempt to shut down their businesses, will lead to permanent closure.
Over the weekend, the government through the Ministry of Information said, it was receiving information that individuals representing the PATEL group were engaged in the act of intimidating and threatening owners of businesses across Monrovia as a means of coercing them to join a reportedly planned demonstration and strike.
“This act by PATEL is in conflict with the laws of Liberia and the Government strongly warns the group to immediately desist.
The government will not countenance any illegal act by individuals or groups including PATEL that portends to breach the peace and disrupt normal activities while stagnating the economy,” the statement said.
The stamen from the Information ministry also stated that during the past months and up to as late as Friday, April 7, 2017, the Government had been engaged in series of discussions with the PATEL leadership and that the group’s initial concerns and contentions regarding the ECOWAS Common External Tariff, Pre-shipment Inspection of Imported Goods, Inspection Procedures at the Free Port of Monrovia, the Payment of Taxes in United States Dollars only and the One Cent Telecommunications Tariff, have already been addressed.
Major businesses and stores were shut January 31, 2017 in solidarity of a go-slow action by Liberian businesses.
The action was to draw government’s attention to the prevailing economic hardship Liberian are enduring coupled with inflation of the exchange rate and the imposition of huge taxes on goods imported to the country.
And for the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia (PATEL), they are an advocacy group pushing for the rights of Liberian small businesses.
PATEL Executive Director Prince Howard in January said, the protest at the grounds of the Capitol was to allow the Legislature address several issues ranging from the imposition of high tariffs on goods imported in Liberia, the constant inflations of the United States dollars rate, and the police constant harassment of petty traders.
In a statement issued last week, the PATEL leadership informed the public and its members that all businesses under its banner, including but not limited to members of the Liberian Business Association, Custom Brokers Union, Truckers Union, used car dealer association, and the National Petty Trader Association amongst others would be closed until issues affecting the business community can be addressed by the government.
Among many issues, PATEL is claiming that the continuous hiking of the US dollars against the Liberian dollar, high tariff placed on goods being imported by Liberian businesses and the taking of Yanna-boys, petty traders goods by the city police as well as reports that the Liberian National Police without any redress as among the many challenges affecting its members.