By Cheechiay Jablasone
Giving it a thought now, I just think Elfreda Tamba, the head of Liberia Revenues Authority (LRA) needs no second chance. I may be wrong and my suspicion about her managerial skills and earnest work and honesty may only be circumspection of her very lavish lifestyle which I've found unbecoming of an honest tax collector in an impoverished nation. That would be just me looking at the good side of this woman, jewelry laden, often, and think that's not a good sign for someone who collects taxes. But should the tax collector of poor people become one of the riches of them?
I'm not totally familiar with all that Mrs. Tamba did at the LRA, but I will give her the credit for attempting to digitize the collectorate of Liberia. Like Mrs. Tamba, I strongly believe the best way to increase collection year over year is to ensure that not only do we not allow people to handle cash, we need to standardize the collection system so that charges and payments are not determined and collected by a single collector manning a post. That was a job well done, but that was something that was also a no brainer since most countries around the world have since adopted automation in their revenue collection system.
The outcome has been huge everywhere. It has immediately dealt with abuse and theft as well as increased customer satisfaction and boosted yields in the collection of revenues. Since revenues are the direct sources of support of the national budgets for all countries, those who have modernized and standardized their revenue system have seen growth in their year to year control in their collectors, which may inch the national budget eventually upward.
No doubt, the Liberia revenue collection in recent years has looked better from previous. Remember the era under Charles Taylor when Oriental Timber Company harvested logs in Sinoe, Rivercess, Grand Gedeh, and Grand Bassa? That company hauled logs 24/7 and shipped nearly daily recording nearly US$1 billion in sales per annum from our logs. But all the revenues combined in the county, then still stood below US$100 million, as the national budget was barely US$100 million. Compared to over US$400 million today, maybe we need to thank Mrs Tamba and her current team. But that number can still go higher.
Mrs Tamba must be retired. The President has the final saying and he should make that decision. My suggestion is far too insignificant from a non-Cdician and non-loyalist or praise-singer, those numbers have grown astronomically for the president in recent months, I just wanted to make a point.
I've not heard the argument from the other side supporting the renomination of Mrs Tamba to the post of Commissioner of LRA. I'm not going to wait until I hear them as I've got a most likely pointer from the horse's mouth. Read the 'FrontPage Africa's July 3 edition and the story: No Second Chance for Elfreida Tamba at Revenue Authority; Central Bank Weeks 'Under Pressure to Resign'. That writer makes a strong case for Mrs Tamba's renomination. Growth in the collection of revenues in the twilight of her tenure and resistance from the little criminal sitting at CDC as chairman in the person of Mulbah Morlu to deploy his agents at the LRA so as to gain access to national resources.
If you don't know, there is a pending criminal case against Morlu in Ghana for extortion. As a refugee, he ran a scam called 'Queen Sheba' that was supposed to resettle refugees in the USA. Don't you know, this man, who claims to be in the interest of poor people, took money from destitute Liberians and lied that he'd take them to the US for greener pastures. He deceived many, collected thousands of US dollars and lived a lavish lifestyle at the expense of fellow Liberian refugees as he's doing now at the expense of destitute slum dwellers and villagers! Thanks Mrs Tamba for not giving this money mosquito a window to suck from our national revenues.
However, Mrs Tamba should not be renominated anyway. Standing up against a Mulbah Morlu is no feat. If the next Commissioner at this entity will not have the guts to stand up to smaller fishes as Morlu or Koijee or Tweah, then they needn't venture into this job. I can assure you the real test will come from the big fishes like Emmanuel Shaw and Charles Bright ('hands of the President'). I have the feeling these people might ask to understate revenues by some percentage to make that unreported revenues their annual gross take home pay, as was with the Taylor's gangsterism 1997 - 2003. I think Mrs Tamba could have stooped than stood up to this mafioso. Not many among us can stand up to the schemes of these two.
Remember Shaw -- Samuel K. Doe's buddy who, along with the former president in the 1980s, created the Liberia National Petroleum Company (LNPC) using Liberia Petroleum Refinery Corporation (LPRC) tanks? They decided to import refined petroleum products and began the end to oil refinery in the country. Later, as Minister of Finance in 1989, Shaw was reportedly the architect of a policy to increase the price of a gallon of gas to US$3.50 and rice $35 per bag. He was reportedly behind rice importation as well. He encouraged the former president to purchase a presidential jet, apparently had a hand in the flight crew selection and at the height of the war, apparently instructed the crew to fly the plane to London, England. The then Finance Minister sued Liberia for owing him the same amount as the plane, US$20 million, in a London court. He sold the plane and pocket that money as the country sank into chaos due to some of his bad policies. Interestingly, as the war intensified, then President Doe reduced the prices of gas and rice. Gas was priced at $2.25 and rice at $25. What a shame!
Back to Mrs Tamba. So why do I insist that Mrs Tamba should not get President Weah's confidence to run the LRA until 2022? If you have read the article in the FrontPageAfrica on 7/3 and did with a second thought, you'll be thinking like I'm doing; get rid of this woman. Her antics were cheap and unprofessional. The numbers were hardly convincing and the pointers too weak. She claimed to have exceeded projections in May 2018, the same time that tariffs were cut for some widely sold commodities. So I understand you will project revenue fall with possible low tariffs. But how did you calculate the projection for May 2018 then? You cooked the numbers just to sell us your success?
FPA reports: "Projected collection for the month of May was set at US$34.68 million, but the actual collection for the month rose to US$41.48 million." A rational person reading that quickly jumps at the conclusion that maybe business activities went up in May. Why? Could that be the time business people bring in goods for July 26 celebrations? That's Independence Day and many love to merry make and the government usually stages its own stately parties. So, did Mrs Tamba who has worked in the revenue sector for the last 10 years know that importation of goods would have increased and so too collection of revenues? If she was aware of May as a heavy traffic month and peak period in revenues collection, why lower the projection? This was too disingenuous, too distasteful, too unwarranted. Numbers don't lie.
So here comes my biggest fear. Why would Mrs Tamba cook the numbers to keep this job? If she's cooking this one time, then how many other times did she cook other numbers? This is a lack of condolence in this woman of whom I've already felt so badly suspicious of being a tax collector and at the same time a wealthy person. Meanwhile, unless I'm missing something and if I do, I'll accept that correction, neither this woman nor her husband for many years have any known businesses in the country that bring in high cash inflows. So where is their source of wealth? Our money?
Better don't argue that the Tambas were already rich. The wife previously worked at the Liberia Bank for Investment and Development (LBDI), very known corrupt bank on inside loaning. It is still that way today. Loans go to employees, management, buddies and influential politicians. The husband worked for the then National Bank -- now Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) -- all government financial institutions. Hey, a few people cannot live off the rest of us forever!
I may sound envious of the Tambas but, no, not! I'm shocked at what I read in the newspaper two days ago and those numbers scared me. If you can play with the numbers to keep a job, what will keep you from playing with those same numbers to acquire wealth if that is what it would take? Please recognize I'm using "if" to stay off impeaching on the character of Mrs Tamba. She has had long years in public service and deserve an honorable retirement.
I think we are looking well beyond the Tamba era at the LRA and we need to be looking at who the next person in the job should be and what they should do. I hope the President can make better decisions at the LRA and the CBL. We don't just need some of his underqualified and incompetent loyalists -- yes-men. We need people of competence, experience, qualifications and character. But I have strong inclination the President might need good midfielders who are distributors of the ball and are able to string together several passes at a time.
About the author:
Chief Editor and Co- Founder of The Ducorpost Newspaper
MSc: Telecommunications Management
University of Denver, Colorado
B.A. Mass Communication, University of Liberia
Email: [email protected]