Several local and foreign-owned businesses have accused the Minister of Commerce, Mawine G. Diggs, of refusing to grant them Import, Permit Declaration in order to bring in frozen foods.
According to the businesses owners who spoke to reporters on the basis of anonymity, the Minister’s action is creating a monopoly on the market and causing a serious setback for their businesses and at the same time strangulating the economy.
They further alleged that Minister Diggs action is deliberate and intended to give the opportunity to a single business which has already imported tons of frozen food nearing expiration to clear their goods off the market, thereby, creating an undue monopoly and risking the health of Liberians.
Her action, the importers told this paper, is not only strangulating them but risking the jobs of Liberians in their employ and by extension strangulating the country’s economy by depriving the country of much-needed revenue.
When contacted by reporters for comments, Minister Diggs said she was on the county tour with the President. She did not respond to follow-up WhatsApp messages even though the app indicated that she read the messages.
“Go to the minister’s office, you’ll see several applications for IPDs for frozen foods on her desk. She is refusing to sign them. Why? Does she have any idea what she is doing to our businesses? Of course, she does. She knows exactly what she is doing. Strangulating us to benefit a single individual. This is what discourages investors from coming to Liberia. They do it to us all the time,” said one of the aggrieved Liberian entrepreneurs.
Frozen foods like chicken feet, pig feet, chicken, turkey, turkey wings, chicken wings, sausage, etc. These foods are part of Liberians every day food, therefore making the demand for them on the market very high.
“We have received sufficient information among our partners and confirmed with our sources within the ministry of commerce that Minister Diggs is deliberately refusing to grant us the IPD because a particular company has tons of goods that they are on the verge of expiring. So, in order to clear it off the market, he needs monopoly – that means, he must be the only supplier and there will be a big rush to him and all his products will be cleared. That is the game they are playing at the Ministry of Commerce and the Minister, I am aware, has signed up to this,” another businessman said.
The issue of restricting and selectively giving out IPDs has been an age-old problem at the Ministry of Commerce as it seems to be gap for exploiting businesses and creating unwarranted monopoly to the advantage of a few businesses while the vast majority struggle to stay afloat.
This creates unfair market conditions and, in many cases, and leaves the market without competition leading to unfair market price, low quality products and limited choices for consumers.A minister at the Commerce Ministry who spoke on the basis on confidentiality confirmed the complaint of the Liberian and foreign owned businesses.
The minister said they have been pursuing Minister Diggs to grant the permits but to no avail.
“We have been contacted by several businesses that they are not getting IPDs to import their frozen foods and that is true. We have made several attempts to see how best we can get the Ministry to see the need to grant these IPDs especially for this Easter who she has been resolved not to grant the IPDs. Are we happy about it? No! But she is the Minister and nothing we can do about that,” one of the ministers at the Commerce Ministry told reporters when contacted for comments. The Minister asked not be named.
The minister further acknowledged that the restricting IPDs is counter-productive to commerce in Liberia and has been a major issue confronting the Liberian market. “Creating an unfair market condition is completely against the President’s Pro-poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development,” the minister added.
Meanwhile, President Weah over the weekend suspended for time indefinite and without pay the Assistant Minister for Commerce and Trade at the Ministry of Commerce and Industry with immediate effect.
Mr. Peter D. Somah was suspended early Friday, April 2, 2021, for administrative reasons, the Executive Mansion stated on its website.
Mr. Weah has asked Mr. Somah to report to the office of the President’s Legal Advisor.
While it remains unclear what the administrative reasons are, sources within the commerce ministry say Mr. Somah was reported to the President when he tried helping some businesses process their IPDs in the absence of the Minister, though it falls within the mandate of his office.