Liberia: Workers' Group Defends CEMENCO

A civil society group, Liberia Workers Rights Defenders (LIWORD), has described as "alarming and counterproductive" creeping attempts to "subvert and undermine" one of Liberia's oldest and most viable partners in progress, the Liberia Cement Corporation (CEMENCO), thereby jeopardizing the jobs of thousands of Liberian workers and the economy.

In a press release issued on Saturday, September 21, 2019, LIWORD said the opening of the "floodgate" for importing, granted to some importers of the cement, which is one of the country's critical commodities, is a clear and present threat for the stability of the cement market, the welfare of 5,000 workers, and the consistency of badly needed taxes for government's development plan.

The group says while it is not opposed to competition in the cement industry and CEMENCO, apparently, does not fear competition, it was worried that efforts were being made to encourage an influx of importers in order to undermine locally manufactured products and defeat the agenda on industrialization.

It has also led to flooding the local market with "substandard cement," undermining the government's tax regime in the sector.

LIWORD has discovered that many individuals and companies in the sector are "mere fly-by-night investors," who don't only lack the capacity to remain in the market and sustain their import, but also are unable to employ more Liberians and pay needed taxes to help the country's economy to grow.

"It is clear that swarming the Liberian cement market, as is being currently done by some importers, is complete sabotage, which is detrimental to the Liberian economy and inimical to government's job-creation and the stride of revenue growth embedded in the Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD)," LIWORD says.

"While monopoly is not an option, as there are over 30 importers bringing in pre-bagged cement into the country, laissez fair is even more dangerous and crippling to the stability of the cement market upon which the country's infrastructure development is dependent," the group's statement said.

LIWORD reconfirms its support to the country's premier cement manufacturing company, CEMENCO, with over 5,000 citizens in its employ. CEMENCO also produces the only quality cement found on the Liberian market and one of the biggest tax-returning companies.

It can be recalled that in recent months, CEMENCO announced the completion of the upgrade of its production facilities. This investment level allows the entity to meet the production needs of the entire Liberian market.

CEMENCO also recently concluded arrangements with partners to ferry cement to the Southeast (Sinoe and Maryland) regularly for onward conveyance to other southeastern counties, including Grand Kru, River Gee, and Grand Gedeh. This rather groundbreaking effort is aimed at reducing and stabilizing the price of this important commodity across the country.

For example, the group said a bag of CEMENCO manufactured cement must not exceed US$9.75 in Maryland and other parts of the Southeast, as a result of the new arrangement.

LIWORD is pleased with CEMENCO's continued commitment to providing all Liberian regions with the required quality cement, to enable every Liberian family to build their home with cement instead of clay, which said to be less safe.

Since 2013, CEMENCO has invested additional US$36 million to upgrade its production capacity with the purchase and installation of new state-of- the-art machinery that includes Mill, Packing Machine, Roller Press, Silos, Palletizer, Eco Hoppers, and Trucks.

CEMENCO's purchase of the ECO Hoppers is the company's commitment to be ecologically friendly in compliance with the canons of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

This action by CEMENCO is a manifestation that it takes corporate social responsibility very seriously, with the awarding of scholarships and establishment of block making academies, as a means of helping Liberians make meaningful contributions to the reconstruction process of their country.

LIWORD warned that the protection of the cement industry in Liberia is a decisive factor for continued investment by CEMENCO, as this makes the protection of local manufacturers paramount and critical to Liberia's reconstruction and development.

The ailing state of the Liberian economy must give government strong reasons to encourage the likes of CEMENCO, which are involved with manufacturing and industrial activities, not only to promise foreign exchange earnings but also to increase employment and tax returns.

"Leaving the cement market vulnerable to momentary investment efforts will be a cruel disincentive for serious companies like CEMENCO, which are putting their investments on the line to create job and contribute to the economic growth of Liberia in varying ways," the statement said.

LIWORD, as a Liberian civil society organization, is primarily involved in the protection of Liberian workers against acts that have the potential to undermine the creation of jobs or those that are already created.

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