On Tuesday this week, a harrowing video emerged, showing a scuffle between a man and three security personnel assigned at the Capitol, seat of the Liberian Legislature. The video which has since gone viral shows a man named Gus Winn, being manhandled by security personnel said to be a part of the security detail of House Speaker Bhofal Chambers. What was Mr. Winn’s crime? He had gone to the Capitol to demand payment of money the House of Representatives allegedly owes him, and in the process of asserting his claim for payment he allegedly became unruly to the extent of banging against each other the pot lids he had carried with him. The banging of pot lids appears to have emerged recently as part of a subculture demonstrating disgust, anger, and sometimes excitement or happiness.
The man in the video can be heard explaining that he was contracted to paint the Capitol, and, since the completion of the painting contract in last January, the House of Representatives is yet to pay his money, something which he claims is not only against the terms of the contract but also exposes him to potential lawsuits as he, in relying on the honour of the House of Representatives, had taken loans and hired labourers to execute the painting contract.
He further explains that he had made several visits to the Capitol, spoken with Speaker Chambers and other lawmakers, yet his money, an amount in the neighbourhood of US$26,000 remains unpaid. The man also explains that on one occasion, Representative Marvin Cole, the Chairman of the House Committee on Rules, Order & Administration, had threatened to jail him whenever he went to ask for his money and did not put himself “together”.
All this is happening just a week after legislators were reported to have received at least US$6,000 each for “operational” expenses.
Mr. Gus Winn’s ordeal is symbolic of the quiet struggles Liberian businessmen encountered at the hands of their own government. Liberian businesses go through an awful lot of hell to claim payments for goods supplied or services rendered the Liberian Government. I know this for a fact. I used to work at the Ministry of Education up until two years ago. While working at the Ministry of Education, I encountered several contractors and vendors seeking to claim their just payments for goods and services ranging from newspaper publications, catering & accommodation to travels and construction works. Time without number, businesses would be told “wait until the new budget passes” or “wait until the Ministry of Finance& Development Planning (MFDP) makes allotments.” Even when vouchers were prepared for payment, checks would most likely not be processed unless bribes were paid out to personnel at the MFDP. As a technician and not a policy maker, I could only empathize with these businesses.
There are so many small Liberian-owned businesses going to hell and coming back as they try to stay afloat in their operations. Some do not have the boldness to be as ‘radical’ as Mr. Gus Winn, the man in the video making the rounds on social media. Yet still, several others do not have the courage to go to court for they just cannot stomach the long process of litigation or simply cannot imagine the possibility of a Liberian court rendering fair judgment against the Liberian Government.This article makes one appeal to the House of Representatives and the Liberian Government in general: STOP STRANGULATING LIBERIAN BUSINESSES.
We continue to hear our government officials make the trite and timeless statement ‘that the private sector is the engine that drives economic growth.’ Truth be told, the government is the spark that ignites and powers the private sector to drive economic growth. Government can power the private sector by paying its bills as and when due, promoting a good investment climate, and, most importantly,treating Liberian-owned businesses with a margin of preference.
When government settles its indebtedness to businesses such as newspaper publishers, such settlement will have ripple effects: businesses will pay wages to their staff and their staff will not only put food on their tables but will also send their children to school and, very importantly, pay the taxes due government.
Government is an institution intended to imagine and re-imagine solutions to societal problems. But when a government, by design, fails to pay businesses the just amounts due for services provided, then such failure is not only a testament to irresponsibility but a testament to the lack of imagination and the lack of compassion at once.
The Author:Alston C. Armah is a Liberian citizen who resides and works in Liberia. He is interested in seeing his taxes used responsibly and in a way that promotes economic growth. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
By Alston C. Armah