Monrovia — High import duties and hefty fees and tariffs including a recently introduced US$175 per container agreement appear to be forcing more and more Liberian businesses and individuals to bypass the Liberia Revenue Authority and the National Port Authority by using poorly-manned borders between Liberia and next-door neighbors Guinea and Sierra Leone to bring goods into the country.
The most recent involved a consignment of Heineken beer discovered on a broken-down truck in the Gardnersville area.
Photographs of the consignment and a statement from Commerce Inspector Floyd M. Jallah, obtained by FrontPageAfrica showed several cartons of Heineken on a truck reportedly out of Guinea.
When authorities were called on the scene, it was revealed that the consignment belonged to an unknown business entity and not Abou Jaoudi & Azar Trading Company which is the only company the company licensed to import Heineken in Liberia.
Mr. Jallah wrote: "Based upon credible information from the market concerning a truck loaded with Heineken beer from an unknown border using the Gardnersville route, we proceeded at once to ascertain facts as it relates to the said commodity which is duly registered by the Industrial Property office owned by Abou Jaoudi & Azar Trading Company. We discovered that said truck was parked at a garage on the New Georgia Estate Road due to mechanical breakdown. In this regard, the management of Abou Jaoudi & Azar Company was contacted along with the consignee who appeared later. We noticed that 1,000 thousand cartons of said goods was loaded from my boss to turn over said product to Aja pending investigation on Monday, Feb. 4."
Section 11.8 (a) of the Act Adopting A New Copyright Law of The Republic of Liberia Approved July 23, 1997; And The Industrial Property Act Of Liberia Approved March 20, 2003 states:
"Only producers carrying on their activity in the geographical area specified in the Register shall have the right to use a registered geographical indication, in the course of trade, with respect to the products specified in the Register."
Section 10.18 also states: All goods unlawfully bearing a trademark or trade name contrary to this Part shall be subject to seizure upon importation pursuant to customs laws and regulations, and the civil procedure law of Liberia.
Attempts by FrontPage Africa to reach the Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority for comments did not materialize.
However, when grilled on Monday about the incident, Deputy Commissioner General for Technical Affairs, Decontee T. King Sackie of the Liberia Revenue Authority confirmed that the consignment was busted, but declined to speak further on the matter as it was under investigation.
In a media engagement meeting last Thursday, the Commissioner General admitted to porous borders hampering revenue collection. He said borders between Liberia and Guinea from the Lofa belt and Liberia and Sierra Leone are so porous that people can easily smuggle goods into the country. He lamented that the limited numerical strength of Revenue collectors and inspectors cannot permit them to monitor all entry points.
Commissioner Nah further explained that importers of cars often chose to make Guinea a transit point where they will pay below regular tax since the car is in transit, then they smuggle it into Liberia. "That's why you hear people say it is cheaper to send your car to Guinea and drive it to Liberia. It's because they smuggle those cars in the country," he said.
Liberia's Porous Borders
Liberia has 176 entry points with neighboring countries. According to the Liberia Immigration Service, only 46 of these entries are guarded.
Porous borders can be blamed for illicit trades in Liberia. These trades range from illegal arm trade, drug trafficking and human trafficking, etc. Business men and women from Liberia and neighboring countries also use these illegal entries to smuggle goods into Liberia in their quest to evade taxes and immigration requirements.
More Smuggling Expected
With additional charges imposed by the National Port Authority (NPA), business pundits say changing their import destination to neighboring countries like Guinea and then transporting them to Liberia is being considered as the next best alternative. However, there are fears that this would also increase the level of smuggling already going on in the country.
In Late January, the NPA issued a memo informing all importers, exporters and carriers of additional charges for Cargo Tracking Note/Advanced Cargo Declaration (CTN/ACD). Accordingly, there would be US$175 extra charge on each container.
Global Tracking and Maritime Solutions, Liberia - a company reportedly chased out of Sierra Leone for allegedly defrauding the Sierra Leonean government over US$11 million would executive the contract for the tracking.
Based on the agreement, GMT Solutions would be tracking all containers coming to and passing through all sea ports in the country at an additional fee of US$175.00.
Information gathered is that the shipping lines would not be responsible for the extra cost, therefore, owners of the containers would bear the cost.
Many importers have questioned the essence of extra tracking numbers when the shipping lines already put tracking numbers on the containers.
However, Mr. Malcom Scott, Communications Director at the National Port Authority (NPA) told FrontPage Africa that the extra fee would generate more revenue for government. Initially, he had said on the Costa Show on Roots FM in Monrovia that the CTN tracking number would help the government track importers who have been undeclaring the content of their containers.
At the same time, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC) has sent out caution notes to the Government about the pending economic hardship, if the National Port Authority continues with the planned implementation of the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN), which is to be carried out by the Global Maritime Tracking Solution (GTMS).
The LCC believes that this action is not only an additional financial burden to businesses and consumers, but duplicating requirements that are already being complied to by the importers of cargos into the country.
"It also makes shipping to Liberia more expensive for suppliers outside of Liberia," the Chambers said.
The Liberia Chamber of Commerce also pointed out that this new requirement adds no value to export and import in Liberia.
"The essence is only to allow one company make money from importers and exporters' own information generated during their purchases and sales internationally. Up until now, there is no clear indication on how much the fees per container is likely to be, as GTMS, in its own presentation at the LCC indicated it would charge up to 120 Euros per container, whilst Suppliers have stated that they are being charged up to 480 Euros per container," the Chambers said in a statement.