This newspaper's attention is drawn to an issue currently making the rounds in public discourse and for all the good reasons too. The issue has to do with the newly proposed Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) deal managed by the Global Maritime Tracking Solutions (GMTS), a Sierra Leone based company which proposes to attach a tracking number to every container of goods destined for Liberia.
The Daily Observer, in its February 6, 2019 edition, reported that according to the deal, the Government of Liberia through the National Port Authority of Liberia in partnership with the GMTS will issue tracking numbers for all containers coming into the country through its various seaports at an additional cost of US$175.00 per container.
The deal is said to have been arranged through the instrumentality of Deputy Port manager, Cecelia Cuffy-Brown and Managing Director Bill Twehway. At this stage it is not known whether the national Legislature has approved the agreement. However on February 5, 2019, over 25 senators convening in session unanimously agreed to mandate its Committee on Commerce and Industry, Defense, Intelligence and Security to invite the National Port Authority, the Global Maritime Solutions Holdings (GT&MS) and the Liberia Chamber of Commerce to shed light or provide information on the operations of this new company.
The Senate's vote came at the urging of Grand Cape Mount County Senator, Varney Sherman, who wrote the august body urging his colleagues to "interdict and prohibit" the company's operations in Liberia.
"I further urge you to have the Committee on Commerce interdict and prohibit the agreement, which the NPA and the Global Tracking & Maritime Solutions Holdings have entered into pending the conclusion of the Senate's inquiry into this matter," the senator stressed.
Other individuals and organizations have also expressed concern about this new development which, from all indications, hold no promise for Liberia other than the self-seeking interests of a few individuals in positions of influence. Some of these organizations include the Liberian Business Association, the Fula Business Association, the Liberian Bankers Association, the Indian Association, the Customs Brokers Association, the World Lebanese Cultural Union and very importantly, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce.
For its part, the Liberia Chamber of Commerce has warned the Liberian government of imminent and severe food and other assorted goods shortages if it implements the Cargo Tracking Note (CTN) deal with Global Maritime Tracking Solution (GMTS).
The Chamber of Commerce also maintains that this new system makes shipping to Liberia more expensive for suppliers outside of the country and adds no value to export and import.
In the wisdom of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, the essence of the GMTS agreement aims "to allow one company to make money from importers and exporters' own information generated during their purchases and sales internationally."
From every available information, the Government of Liberia already has an existing agreement with the Bureau Veritas(BIVAC) to conduct pre-shipment inspection on all goods/containers destined for Liberia. It assigns a tracking number for each container imported into the country.
Under the agreement with BIVAC, importers are required to obtain an Import Permit Declaration (IPD) stating the value, quantity, quality and cost of goods. BIVAC inspects the goods to ascertain quality, quantity, price etc, following which BIVAC submits to the Ministry of Commerce a Clean Report of Findings (CRF), meaning the goods have met all compliance standards and in the event the goods are damaged or substandard, BIVAC indemnifies (compensates) the importer from loss.
In the case of the GM&TS, they do not shoulder any such obligations. Theirs is simply to attach a number to the container to which BIVAC has already issued a tracking number through which the importer can track his container after it has been shipped.
Moreover, unlike BIVAC, the GM&TS does not have representatives and installations around the world and are, as the facts show, are completely unprepared to take on this challenge.
Additionally, according to the Liberia Chamber of Commerce (LCC), the GM&TS cannot "guarantee any due diligence in comparison to the existing systems including the ASYCUDA currently being offered by the Ministry of Commerce and the Bureau Veritas (BIVAC).
As things stand currently, no one knows for sure just how much the GM&TS proposes to charge per container but the GM&TS has indicated that it could charge up to 120 Euros. Importers insist otherwise, claiming that suppliers have informed that they are being charged up to 430 Euros per container.
And as if to make matters worse, the National Port Authority (NPA), in a written communication dated January 25, 2019 announced that it will begin implementing the measure forthwith. It is unclear at this stage whether the NPA has received legislative approval to begin implementation of its new initiative.
But the LCC in a statement has warned that because of this action on the part of the NPA, suppliers are refusing to further ship goods to Liberia until this matter can be satisfactorily resolved.
What this means therefore is that soon and very soon there will be shortage or scarcity of goods on the Liberian market when the current stock of goods run out.
This newspaper must again warn President Weah that his officials are leading him down the wrong path for self-benefit. Just why would a government shoot itself in the leg by vigorously courting social unrest and instability, which would be sure to ensue when scarcities now being warned of begin to bite?
And when they do begin to bite, the search for scapegoats begin. And the usual suspects are of course, opposition parties, the "Progressives", the media and journalists and, above all businessmen and importers who will be accused of hoarding, profiteering, economic sabotage and God knows what else.
But President Weah has to bring things in check before they go out of bounds. And he can do that simply by heeding the wisdom and warnings of the Liberia Chamber of Commerce by scrapping the GM&TS deal NOW!