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Liberian businesses in difficulty

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President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has recognized the longstanding difficulties faced by Liberian-owned businesses, saying Liberia’s economy continues to be dominated by foreigners over the years. President Sirleaf partly blamed the situation on the government and potential entrepreneurs’ capital.

On Friday, 4 September, the Liberian Leader hosted a meeting with Small and Medium-sized Entrepreneurs or SMEs at the C. Cecil Dennis Auditorium of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to solicit their concerns so as to give them support for their businesses to succeed.

“We recognize that over the years, the economy has been dominated by foreigners. Part of it is something that we all lack – we as a government, you as potential entrepreneurs capital,” she said at the start of the meeting.

According to her, part of the problems has to do with management skills, markets, technology, enhancement, as well as integrity, among others, and that such shortcomings are recognized on both sides. But she expressed the belief that the Liberian owned-businesses would have a bigger space if “we can” work together to address those shortcomings identified already.

Today, the President said, the government has tried to do something on the capital issue, and applauded small businesses here. She said SMEs have done a lot by just taking the initiative, adding that some have gone very boldly in trying to solve their capital and market problems, among others.

Following the meeting with President Sirleaf, The Chief Executive Officer of Memai’s Marketing Services, which specializes in tailoring and catering, Madam Isatu Gbegbe-Nouibou, described their interaction with the Head of State as “awesome,” though she said it was long- overdue because the situation about made-in-Liberia was not a joke.

Madam Nouibou claimed that Liberians spent money, take loans and yet they face the situation wherein others “outside of Liberia” were in charge of the economy. “Liberians, we are suffering; Liberian businesses are suffering, so this meeting like I said was long-overdue. But again, we want to express our thanks and appreciation to Madam Sirleaf for the necessity of this meeting,” she said,citing an instance of a machine she brought to do school and security uniforms, but encountered problems with the Lebanese, Indians and other nationalities, regarding winning bids for such contracts.

She also claimed that that the Lebanese input products with whatever little amount they have, while Liberians receive just half of the amount applied for as loans from the banks. But she, however, expressed confidence that they were moving forward because President Sirleaf had recognized that Liberian businesses had legitimate issues that she would address with the proper entities.

Liberia’s Commerce Minister Axel Addy told an interview with journalists after the meeting that the issue with Liberian businesses cut across several institutions, including the Central Bank of Liberia, Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, as well as Commerce Ministry and the banking sector.

But Mr. Addy acknowledged some challenges faced by the Liberian economy, emphasizing the need for coordination, as well as cautioning the private sector to also engage the banks in favor of some of the options available for exploration.

“We have a small business administration that is now tasked with increasing the awareness on the different types of tools that are available to Liberian businesses … we want to encourage Liberian businesses to apply for the PPCC Vendor Registry,” he said, adding that such registry provides access in terms of public procurement.

Liberia’s Cultural Ambassador Julie Endee also harbored the belief that President Sirleaf was desirous of more opportunities to Liberian businesses so as to take hold of “our own economy.” “We, I think like I said to you, the interest that I have in it is Liberian-owned businesses should be on par with international businesses. I think what she talked about was competition,” Endee said, appealing for an open market and field for equal participation. She also urged business regulatory bodies to do their part in order to succeed in this effort, emphasizing that Liberians were in need of factories, made-in-Liberia products, and protection for Liberian artists’ intellectual properties so that they can’t remain poor, while others made money out of their talents.

The CEO of the National Toiletries Incorporated, Mr. Fomba Trawally, complained about the lack of electricity. He claimed that Liberians do not give priority to products made in Liberia, unlike Ghana where citizens go for local products. -Press Release

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