FrontPageAfrica (Monrovia)

Liberia: A Tough Christmas in Liberia Has Many Holiday Shoppers Singing the Blues

Monrovia — Walking down under the hot blazing sun with sweat pouring down her face on Mechlin Street, Fatu Sirleaf, 30, a merchant of women's used clothes has one thing on her mind: "Business is not running because there is no money in the Country".

Says Fatu: "The people working in the governing do not have their family here, so how will the money stay in the country when they are sending it abroad? "I am appealing to the government to pay the other people with family here so they can be able to buy from us," the marketer laments.

This holiday season, many marketers and consumers like Fatu are feeling the pinch amid fears of a looming economic collapse that is seeing many businesses fall on hard times and many unsure how the holiday season will come to pass.

"I voted for Ma Ellen because I felt as a female, she was going to make things easy for us. So I am vex with her because the hard time is too much. I though as a woman, she was going to bring some changes but the same old thing is happening just like when the men were presidents," Fatu laments.

'Money Not Circulating'

A bystander hearing Fatu vent her frustration jumps in: "How we will make money when our pot not boiling"

Fatu says there are a lot of sellers on the street but no buyers because government employees are yet to take pay for the Christmas.

Pressed how she could tell that government employees have not taken pay, Fatu answers: "People take pay, we can see new new money circulating, but we are still seeing the same old, from me to you, money turning around here. There is no sign to show that the season is coming because the people are not buying."

The upcoming Christmas celebration has transformed Monrovia into a jungle in where passengers are fighting for any moving object to get home and Thieves hunting to rob the next possible victim.

Despite the hardships, both the Central Bank of Liberia and the Ministry of Finance insists that the economic prospects look good for Liberia, a low income country heavily reliant on foreign assistance for revenue. In fact, Finance Minister Amara Konneh during a tour of downtown Monrovia to chat with petty traders, declared that he has infused about US$78m into the economy to spur economic activities.

In a bid to boost the outlook, Konneh said the government will be holding a two-day high-level retreat with the Liberian business community in early 2014 to brainstorm on some of the constraints facing the business people and at the same time craft solutions to those problems for the economy to bloom.

Walking down a jammed-pack Mechlin Street and seeing the crowd, is like seeing sardines packed in a can as people are seen stepping on one another, looking for way into the huge crowd to shop down the Water Side Market.

'Passers, No Buyers'

"I am selling lady blouses but business is rough", says Junior Kromah, 22, a vendor.

"We cannot even see buyers. All these people you see are only passing but they are not buying. This is the poorest Christmas I have ever seen in my Liberia, if there is a way, I want the government to postpone the Christmas."

Kromah, who attends the St. Phillip School and has been selling female blouses for two years, wants the government to drop the US exchange rate so that things prices would reduce.

"Business is rough because the government has not paid the people yet for the season so how will the people buy when they don't have money? I Know because I have some friends working Maritime and they told me that they have not taken pay yet for the season."

'Looking Town People'

Emmanuel Wiles, another vendor of female blouses, adds that he is frustrated over the slow way business is running.

"Since government stop the motorbike boys from riding in the city, business has gotten harder. All these people you see passing are not buying but just asking how much, how much, whole day but they are not buying. They are called "Looking Town" people because whole day they are just looking in your market but not buying," Says Emmanuel.

Teta Johnson a buyer disagrees: There are also many buyers on the street, even though, the value boys say they are called looking town people, but "I am buying but it does not mean I have money. My husband is working Immigration but the government has not paid him yet. But any little amount I get from my man, I buy small thing. But I don't have money. Money business is hard, so I want the government to pay my husband so we can eat, because it is not easy on us"

Marcus Tolbert , another vendor laments that business is hard this holiday season. "All these people you see passing just came to the market to satisfy themselves but they are not buying, they are called pick and drop people, because whole day they play in your market and don't buy anything," Says Tolbert.

'Not Looking Like Christmas'

Continue Tolbert: "The way I expect the Christmas to look, it is not looking like that, because money business is hard. The government is only making things hard for us the marketers, because the US rate is so high so prices are up and we can't make anything."

As many lament the lack of pay to civil servants, Finance Minister Konneh acknowledged during his chat with petty traders this week the urgent need to pay vendors and civil servant salaries especially during the festive seasons to give more purchasing powers to the people, which will ensure revenue for government in return.

In the meantime, the Central Bank of Liberia insists that it is committed to the transformation of the economy especially the private sector . . . implementing policies that promote microeconomic stability . . . remain focused in keeping inflation in check.

But even CBL Governor Mills Jones acknowledges that since the beginning of 2013 the exchange rate has come under pressure with a depreciation of more than 8% (reduction of or decrease in value) due largely to 17% deterioration in Liberia's Terms of Trade and increased demand on (or for) imports".

All this coming at a time when the International Monetary Fund(IMF) recently approve for Liberia, the Special Drawing Rights (SDR) of 7.382 million (about US$11.4 million). This was however followed by an assertion by Mr. Naoyuki Shinohara Deputy Managing Director and Acting Board's Chair, the International Monetary Fund(IMF) who made a rather conflicting revelation, that "Liberia's economic growth remains strong and the medium-term outlook is positive, provided new projects in the mining and plantation sectors come on stream". This non-resource real GDP growth, according to Mr. Naoyuki, is expected to continue and pick up in 2014-15, depending on the implementation of large energy and road infrastructure projects in line with the government's Agenda for Transformation.

Hope amid despair however remains a complicated proposition for many, including Chris M. Davies, a vendor, who attends night school, says it is difficult to understand the December month. "It is not that we hate the government but we want government to drop prices because we want to understand our status in life, because we are selling every day and cannot get anything good. This whole business, is dig hole, and cover hole business, because the small money we make, we have to use it to buy food and paying rent."

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