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Liberia: Opposition Figure Telia Urey Claims Political Witch-hunt in the Shutdown of Her Business

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MONROVIA – Fresh from a hotly contested by-election, uprising opposition figure, Telia Urey, believes the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) is power and tools in government to strangulate her business, Fuzion D’Afrique, a continental restaurant on 14th Street, Sinkor.

“No one is above the law. If you’re government in waiting… it’s not about politics, once you’re doing business in the commerce of Liberia it’s your responsibility to abide by the laws and rules.” 

– Josephine Davies, Inspector General, Ministry of Commerce

Fuzion was closed by the Ministry of Commerce Inspector General, Josephine Davies, on Monday afternoon under heavy police presence.

Ms. Davies told reporters that Fuzion had failed to pay a fine imposed on them for obstructing inspection when inspectors visited the restaurant in August this year.

The fine, according to her, was imposed on August 28, 2019 after a staff of the restaurant denied inspectors access to inspect their facilities. Ms.  Davies explained that after the fine of US$3,000 was imposed, irrespective of the two-day ultimatum, the management of Fuzion was given up to a week to make payment.

However, after the expiration of one week, the management was given an additional two days to pay the fine but refused to.

Ms. Davies distanced her action from being politically motivated, noting “No one is above the law. If you’re government in waiting… it’s not about politics, once you’re doing business in the commerce of Liberia it’s your responsibility to abide by the laws and rules.” 

The Inspector General said refusing inspection is graver than being caught with unwholesome products.

However, Ms. Urey wondered why the Inspector General would decide to carryout random inspection without any prior notice as required by the law, at her restaurant that has a current inspection certificate.

She viewed the closure of Fuzion as “an act of political harassment and witch-hunt against me”. 

She contended: “I have run this business for over five years with no compliance issues and today, GOL is attempting to damage our good image and destroy this business that employs over 60 Liberians.”

Explaining the incident that led to the fine in sequence, she disclosed that commerce inspectors including the Inspector General went to the business center on August 28 and met the cashier, Bendu Dennis, who asked them to hold on with the inspection until the arrival of the customer relations officer, Abel Zeegar.

According to Urey, when Zeegar arrived, he asked the inspectors to go ahead with the inspection, but they said they could not go ahead in the absence of the Inspector General who had already left the scene.

“He then called her and she told them not to go ahead with the inspection and that she would be coming back to ‘shut the restaurant down’,” she explained. 

The Inspector General, according to Urey, handed Zeegar a document to sign, but he objected on ground that he needed their lawyer to advise him before going ahead to append his signature. She then left the premises of the business center.

However, a fine of US$3,000 from the Ministry of Commerce for “hindering authorized inspection” was sent to FUZION on September 4.

The management of Fuzion and their lawyer held a conference with officials of the Ministry of Commerce on September 9 in order to plead for a reduction of the fine to a maximum of US$500.00.

“Considering we have been a compliant business for over 5 years and did not want to go into the legality of the fine, as long as we could get it reduced. We wrote the Ministry, as requested, on September 12th.”

“I have run this business for over five years with no compliance issues and today, GOL is attempting to damage our good image and destroy this business that employs over 60 Liberians.”

Telia Urey, CEO, Fuzion D’Afrique

The letter signed by Cllr. Matthias Omejia, Jr. and addressed to Mr. Nyemah Wisner reads:

Dear Minister Wisner,

On behalf of my client, FUZION INC. located on 14th Street, Monrovia, we hasted to inform you that the Inspector General of Commerce paid an “unannounced” visit at the business premises on the 28th August 2019, and did not meet the management nor his deputy present.

The inspector general and her team were informed that the Manager was out, across the Bushrod Island’s Bridge and was, on his way to the business premises immediately.

However, she refused to acknowledge, insisting that FUZION INC. hindered authorized inspection from the Ministry.

On September 4, 2019,  the Inspector General served the business a fine of US$3,000. This fine we feel is very exorbitant and does not encourage Liberian owned business to fight to remain in business like other entities.

Sir, we humbly request said fine be reduced to a bare minimum such as US$500 which the business can afford to pay; considering the economic hardship business and our national economy is faced with.

Kind regards. We humbly await your response.

According to Urey, though her letter was never responded to or acknowledged, yet, “Davies came to the restaurant again with police and media and shut the business down,” she said.

“We did not receive any response to our September 12 letter or any warning that the request was denied,” Urey added.

She added: “Finning a business an exorbitant amount of $3,000USD because one was asked to wait a few minutes, followed by shutting the business down is a total affront to the government’s agenda of encouraging investments and building investor confidence in Liberia. The Ministry has not taken into account the number of families that are dependent on this business.”

It can be recalled that Ms. Urey contested the District 15 representative seat going neck-to-neck with the ruling party’s candidate, Mr. Abu Kamara. The hotly contested by-election was tensed with two riots occurring in the district. The latter riot saw the armored vehicle of Ms. Urey being damaged by supporters believed to be loyal to Mr. Kamara. The headquarters of Ms. Urey was also attacked.

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