Two unscrupulous foreign businessmen have been reportedly arrested by state security officers for hiking price of rice in Paynesville and Fiamah districts, respectively. According to eyewitnesses Zobah Willie and Wilimina Karmo the arrested businessmen have been identified as Dialo Sao and Mohammed Jalloh based on tip-off from the public that they were hoarding and increasing price to local rice dealers and customers.
They disclosed that without knowing, agents of the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) managed to purchase a 25kg bag of rice from the businessmen for LRD4, 900.00 in violation of government’s approved price of US$13.00 or an equivalent of LRD2, 850.00.
Eyewitnesses reveal that both businessmen Jalloh and Sao denied hiking price of the commodity, but during a search of their businesses (shops), at least 29 bags of rice were discovered while another 20 bags were also unearthed in Sao’s shop.
Businessman Sao operates a store along Pipeline road in Paynesville and Fiamah Market in Sinkor Monrovia, respectively.
They quoted the suspects as saying that the rice in their respective possession belongs to their customers who were supposed to collect them prior to the incident. Meanwhile, both Sao and Jalloh along with the Fruit of the Crime or FOC were said to be transferred to the Ministry of Commerce for investigation.
Under the law of Liberia, any business entity caught in hiking prices is subjected to fine or sent to court for prosecution. Meanwhile, scores of local rice dealers at the Paynesville Redlight market say they are worried over the sharp increase in the price of rice, which is affecting poverty-stricken citizens.
Speaking to reporters on 8 July, a local rice dealer Madam Korlu Kaine said the price hike has enticed some unscrupulous dealers to join the practice. She disclosed that presently in some areas of Monrovia and its environs, a cup of rice is being sold for LRD100 due to scarcity of the commodity on the market.
She explained that most of their suppliers are complaining about the shortage of rice in their warehouses. But the Ministry of Commerce and Industry has dismissed news of rice shortage in the country as baseless and propaganda.
However, Madam Kaine maintained that she and some of her colleagues visited other dealers of the commodity for supply of rice but were turned down due to shortage. Another dealer, Shafia Nuah, owner of Shafia Rice Depot 72nd Road frowned at those of their colleagues, who are hoarding the commodity only because they want to exploit the public who are struggling with government State of Emergency.
He warned that if concrete steps were not taken by the relevant authority, the rice situation would escalate in coming days. In a recent press release, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry said based on current inventory, there are 40,000 (forty thousand) Metric Tons of rice in the country, accounting for 1.6 million bags of the 25Kg rice.
According to the Ministry, the available quantity has the capacity to supply the local rice market for approximately three months, and that besides, a consignment of 30,000 Metric Tons, equivalent to 1.2 million bags of rice is expected in Liberia this July that will sustain the local market for two months.
But the head of the Paynesville rice dealers association Sheik Jalloh differed with the assurance coming from the Ministry, saying there is shortage in the country.
By Emmanuel Mondaye–Editing by Jonathan Browne