The Inquirer is a leading independent daily newspaper published in Liberia, based in Monrovia. It is privately owned with a "good reputation".

Foreigners Controlling Liberians’ Stomach?

By Bill W. Cooper
Many Liberians are still finding themselves on the sidelines of the economy, in spite of the inception of Boakai’s ‘Rescue’ administration.
Liberians are said to be relegated to being mere spectators or bystanders as foreigners take control of key industries, including the staple food market.
Statistics show that the average Liberia consumes around 100 kilograms of rice per year, despite the fact that the country has the potential to produce enough rice to feed its population.
However high the demand for rice in the country, the majority of rice importation and distribution is heavily controlled by foreign companies, as these companies import rice from countries like Thailand and India, repackage them and sell at higher prices to Liberian consumers.
Testament to foreigners being in control of the country’s economy was a recent pronouncement by Commerce Minister, Amin Modah, saying that it has agreed to a request from importers to increase the price of a specific brand of rice on the local market, describing the rice industry as a ‘cartel’.
Major importers of the commodity have been playing politics and threatening shortages if the government does not agree to a price hike, due to the 20 percent export tax extended by India on parboiled rice.
Addressing the Ministry of Information’s regular press briefing recently, Modad disclosed that in February this year, the government received a communication from rice importers citing several previous communications addressed to past governments, requesting an increase in the price of rice on the local market from US$17 to US$20.
He said, “We did our calculations, and even if we give the rice importers a US$0.75 subsidy per bag, which amounts to US$9 million a year, our recommendation to the President, which he supports, is that amount should be dedicated annually towards local rice production.”
Minister Modad stressed that, with that amount, the government can empower local farmers to produce rice, instead of giving money to importers, and added, “So, from US$20, we have made the hard decision to increase the rice price to US$18.50.”
“In our discussion with them, this is predicated on the continuation of the duty imposed by the Indian government, and this government will not hesitate to reduce the price of rice following a reduction in the surcharge, subsiding of other global factors, and a reduction in charges at the Freeport and shipping agencies for the benefit of the citizens,” he assured.
This decision, which led to serious public outcry, soon caught the attention of President Joseph Boakai, leading to an emergency meeting with the rice importers at the Executive Mansion in Monrovia.
During the meeting, it was observed that majority of those sitting on the table with the President as rice importers were all foreign nationals, an observation that left the President with total disappointment, according to our source.
Of the nine rice importers seated on the far right of the President in the meeting, only two were black and believed to be African investors, and not a single Liberian was identified or seated at the table as an importer.
Meanwhile, the situation has since sent shock among Liberians, with some taking their grievances to Facebook, condemning the news with a call on the President to change the narrative.
Once of such individuals is Richelieu Burphy, who said, “Fellow Liberians, my heart is seriously troubled this morning. I’m really disturbed. I know the country is hard and we are hopeful for a better Liberia soon, but gosh, this one is too much.”
He continued, “See the people that are virtually controlling our stomachs in this country! See them! I know President Joseph Nyuma Boakai Sr. will not allow rice price to increase. But do you think these people care about rice business in this country?”
“Don’t you think they are just doing business and enjoying our country? How did we get here? How did we manage for our economy to be mostly in the hands of foreigners? Wow! At this point, I really don’t know what to say mehn,” the Unity partisan added.
Activist Martin Kollie wrote, “Across the table, we could only see Lebanese and Indians. Why should they even decide what we eat, wear, drink, and brush our teeth with? No Liberian business does this in Lebanon or India. Our people are still store boys/girls. Pres. JNB has to cut this off.”
Gbarpolu County Senator, Amara Konneh, commented as well and said, “These photos speak volumes. Our food security is in the hands of a bunch of Lebanese men. The rice issue is not new but it’s a President Boakai problem now because his predecessors failed to fix it.”
He continued, “Let’s not forget that the head of K&K Corporation was banned from importing rice in Liberia and deported for allegedly creating artificial shortages in 2007-2008. He was soon allowed to resume operations and remains a leading figure in the foreign cartel that controls our food supply.”
“I hope that President Boakai will fix our perennial rice problem through both political and economic lenses, the same way he is addressing the War and Economic Crimes Court issue to give justice to the victims of our bitter civil war. He should put our food security in the hands of Liberians. He should not leave it to his successor. That would be a great legacy,” Konneh added.
As the issue unfolds, there is still hope for Liberians to take control of their own economic destiny and work towards a future where they are active participants in their country’s development.
With the right policies and support, Liberia has the potential to become a thriving economy that benefits all of its citizens as it is also crucial for the government of President Boakai to take action to promote economic empowerment and independence for its citizens, in order to build a more inclusive and sustainable economy for all Liberians.

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