20 March 2019

Liberia: A Nagging Question - Is President Weah Listening?

opinion

This newspaper's attention is drawn to a story carried in its March 19, 2019 edition headlined, "Bill Twehway Meets Business Community Today over Cargo Tracking Note". According to the story written by business reporter David Yates, NPA Managing Director Bill Twehway was expected to meet with members of the business community to provide clarity on the newly introduced Cargo Tracking Note(CTN) and address concerns about the cost and its implementation regime.

This meeting, according to sources came at the behest of a Senate committee tasked with probing the affair with the view to addressing concerns raised by the business community. The business community, represented by the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, including the Liberia Business Association, Fula Business Association, the World Lebanese Cultural Union and others, had threatened to stage a boycott of all activities at the NPA until that parastatal had rescinded its decision requiring mandatory compliance with the newly introduced CTN measures.

The imposition of a Cargo Tracking Number system, according to members of the business community, serves no useful purpose because the pre-shipment inspection company Bureau Veritas (BIVAC) already issues tracking numbers for all containers destined for Liberia. The issuance of a Clean Report of Findings (CRF) to importers through the Ministry of Commerce confirms that the goods have been inspected and have met compliance checks including quality and price.

The BIVAC through this CRF indemnifies the importer against loss sustained during the conveyance of the goods from the port of lading to the port of destination. Thus, the BIVAC has responsibilities to importers assigned to it under the rubric of a legal agreement between itself and the Government of Liberia,

The business community noted that the newly introduced CTN does not bear nor have any such responsibility to importers. It simply issues tracking numbers to containers which already tracking numbers have assigned by a global and reputable player in risk management. The BIVAC has hundreds of offices including requisite equipment and facilities around the world in more than 150 countries unlike the shady company the NPA has contracted to implement the scheme.

Moreover, questions abound whether the NPA had submitted the agreement to the Legislature for ratification before it began implementing its grand design. From all indications this agreement did not receive Legislative approval and is therefore legally bogus and illegitimate.

Meanwhile the NPA, according to its managing director, Bill Twehway, has advanced a number of proposals which it claims are aimed at reducing the adverse impact of the imposed fees under the CTN arrangement. Members of the LCC have however indicated that despite their firm and expressed opposition to the imposition of the fees, the NPA has proceeded to promulgate announcements in the local media demanding across the board compliance with the new measures.

The meeting was expected to produce some results which would have resolved the standoff, however for strange and unexplained reasons the meeting was called off at the last minute. At this point it remains unclear whether the cancellation of the meeting was the outcome of closed-door meetings with the business community or whether the business community was simply snubbed by the NPA management.

It can be recalled that on February 5, 1019, over 25 Senators convening in session mandated its committee on Commerce and Industry, Defense, Intelligence and Security to invite the National Port Authority, the Global Maritime Solutions Holdings (GT&MS) as well as the LCC to shed light on the operations of this company the NPA was contracting with.

It can also be recalled that the Senate's decision came in reaction to a letter written to that body by Grand Cape Mount County Senator Varney Sherman urging that body to "interdict and prohibit the company's operations in Liberia". This was against the backdrop of NPA sponsored public service announcements requiring compliance by all importers.

For its part, the LCC noted in a statement that 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)".

This newspaper has consistently warned and cautioned this government to refrain from proceeding with the implementation of the CTN simply because it bears no promise but rather increased hardships for the Liberian people.

In its February 8, 2019 edition this newspaper reported that 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.

In its February 12, 2019 editorial, headlined "Heed the Warnings of the LCC, Mr. President! Scrap the GM&TS Deal NOW!" the Daily Observer called on President Weah to pay attention to the cries of the business community and do away with the deal.

This is because keeping the deal in place would entail rising and higher prices, shortages of essential commodities etc. With a rapidly depreciating Liberian dollar against the US dollar, one cannot continue to make pretenses of the fact that dogged insistence on the imposition of the new tax scheme will serve to undermine and erode the legitimacy of this government. This newspaper needs not reiterate that strike action, general civil unrest with unknown and unforeseen consequences could be the end result of such a pursuit.

We certainly hope that President Weah is listening but a nagging question remains: Is President Weah listening?

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