The Small Business Empowerment Act of Liberia provides that government institutions allot 25% of their budget for the purchase of goods and services from businesses owned by Liberians.
Among goods and services spoken about by this law are Liberian products, printing services, catering, domestic and international travels. Perhaps in consonance with this Act and as a way of promoting the Liberianization policy, the Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Mr. Amara Konneh became the first Liberian public official to announce the purchase of Liberian-made furniture by his ministry for use.
Of course, making such pronouncement was one thing and actualizing such in practical terms was another. In other words, Minister Konneh may have said such, but did not mean what was said, as up to present the Finance and Development Planning Ministry was still purchasing foreign goods and services – probably for reasons best known to the minister and others, even though, he’s yet to publicly tell the Liberian business community why Liberian-made furniture are still not used in his ministry.
This attitude/behavior is not only unique to the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, but almost all other government functionaries. Perhaps it is in view of the foregoing that Commerce and Industry Minister Axel M. Addy told a news conference recently at the Information Ministry on Capitol Hill, Monrovia that Liberian businesses were losing millions of United States dollars allotted for them by provisions of the Small Business Empowerment Act.
According to Minister Addy, an estimated US$50 to US$75 million was in the 2015/16 National Budget for transactions with Liberian-owned businesses. Whether or not the minister has been able to investigate why this 25% budgetary allotment for the purchase of Liberian-made products for use by government institutions, including his own ministry is something the Liberian public is yet to know.
But one justification that may come forth would be that products of Liberian-owned businesses are not up to standards for use. But then, the issue may be why couldn’t the Government of Liberia give consideration to such justification and put in place the necessary measures to ensure that these Liberian-made products are standardized before enshrining the 25% budgetary allotment for local products.
The fact remains that the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, for the past decade since the existence of the current government, has not done justice to the Liberian business community. It has and continues to prioritize foreign businesses, including the Lebanese, as well as the Indians, among others over Liberians. At the moment, almost all of the tens and tens of businesses set aside for Liberians by the Liberianization policy have been taken-over by foreigners, including the Chinese, Lebanese, Nigerians and Indians with the knowledge of the ministry.
While many well-meaning Liberians may know the reasons behind this as practical economic interest at all levels of the Commerce and Industry and Finance Ministries, nationalism must always over-shadow such person interest; and this is where the government falls short of implementation of most national policies.
It is no secret that the Government of Liberia has been insensitive to the development and improvement of Liberian businesses – only words and not deeds, as we continue to witness.
It has done no justice to the Liberianization policy and its own budgetary allotment of 25% for the purchase of Liberian-made goods and services from Liberian-owned businesses.
The government, through the Ministries of Commerce and Industry and Finance and Development Planning must now explain with conscious sincerity and sense of nationalism, why must its citizens be subjected to the whims and caprices of foreigners.