25 March 2019

Liberia: New 'Timing' Reform Agreed At Freeport

The National Port Authority (NPA), APM Terminals, Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), Ministry of Commerce (MoC), and the Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) will now work around the clock, providing services to importers and exporters.

The new policy is intended to alleviate trade constraints, particularly the high storage fees (quotas) importers have to incur for the container at the Freeport of Monrovia after the five-day 'grace' period.

This measure is a result of several meetings by authorizing stakeholders on means to improve doing import/export business via the Freeport.

Consequently, the government, through the Business Climate Working Group secretariat, is ensuring an automated system that will significantly reduce the economic burden traders endure given the long bureaucracy involved with getting their containers out of the port, consultant Emmanuel Munyeneh has told the Liberia News Agency (LINA).

Business people in the country and abroad have been raising concerns about the numerous 'delaying formalities' they go through to clear their containers (goods) from the Freeport.

This is one of the causes of the rise in prices of commodities on the Liberian market at to the disadvantage of consumers.

Previous 'Doing Business Report' released by the World Bank indicates that it takes 28 days for an importer to process documents at different levels at the Freeport of Monrovia as against 16.1 days in Sub-Saharan Africa and 1.1 days in developed countries to clear a container from a port, said Munyeneh.

At the Freeport, for instance, importers say it takes them 3-5 days just to obtain import permit declaration (IPD) when their containers are offloaded, but with the recent introduction of the e-portal (digital) system to easily facilitate the process, the Ministry of Commerce has rejected such claim, and said that it takes three hours for importers to receive SMS alerts on the mobile phones that their registration process was complete.

As head of the Business Climate Working Group, Munyeneh said that moving forward in the edicts of the Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD), the government is changing the narratives of doing business by ensuring the reduction of the transaction period from 28 to at least 16 days, "and as the system improves there could be further reduction to eight days".

Giving a picture of what the situation has been at the port over the years, Munyeneh said: "Operating hours at Freeport vary from one stakeholder institution to the other.

The bank at the port closes by 2:00 p.m., APM Terminals says it has around the clock to work which importers dismiss as unrealistic, and NPA closes work by 4:00-5:00 p.m. So the fault now is on the government through the CBL and the NPA.

"It has been agreed that all the major actors in the port operate 24/7.

They do not need money to hire new people to do the work. All they need do is simply assign staff on a shift basis," according consultant Munyeneh.

Moreover, expediting paperwork at the port will lead to more people shipping goods to Liberia, and the competition will cause a reduction in prices due to proliferation of goods, the official continued, adding: "There will also be affordability, increased purchasing power, investment and job opportunities, and revenue generation for the economy -and all this will grow the country's gross domestic product (GDP)."

Meanwhile, another obstacle that Munyeneh's secretariat is trying to solve is the multiplicity of security agencies conducting checks on goods leaving Freeport, including those being trans-shipped to Guinea, and the secretariat believes that synchronizing screening system will help boost cross-border commerce.

While the secretariat acknowledges the important role of the security apparatus, there is a need to narrow down their screening processes.

In the meantime, importers are calling on authorities at Freeport to revisit the time rented container trucks are permitted to enter the port.

Currently, the gates of the port open to trucks at 9:00 a.m., but the Business Climate Secretariat says it is working to see that readjusted to 6:00 a.m.

The idea of establishing the Business Climate Working Group housed at the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning sprang from a mandate by President George Weah issued on October 18, 2018.

The secretariat is clothed with a task to explore evolving challenges and help remove some of the constraints in the sector.

To demonstrate its proactive nature, the body held its first-ever stakeholders' meeting on October 30, 2018, bringing together actors from the public and private sectors, and the business community to have a clearer perspective of some of the setbacks attending the business climate in the country.

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