By Gibson W. Jerue
Fact I: Over-taxing My Ford Explorer
In the last three days, I have endeavored to provide to the public very valuable pieces of information about how the Finance Minister of Liberia, Amara Konneh, thinks about the rest of us. We have discussed his draconian Administrative Regulation that seeks to punish, or rather that has been punishing, the rest of us since the coming into force on December 8, 2013 of the punitive tax measure. I have provided the document to that. I would leave that to the public to make their judgment.
In the next series of articles, I will be providing facts and documentary evidences of how the Government of Liberia has devised a means to rob its own citizens. And the point person is one Amanda Roberts, a Customs Collector stationed at the Freeport of Monrovia. Just as many people have suffered, my family was distressed by the ruthless blatant rip-off of every penny the government could imagine. My wife, who was the direct person they dealt with, was not only devastated, but she was disrespected, threatened and robbed of all the money she took to Liberia to finish our building projects. Here is how.
I sent my wife to Monrovia with a 40-ft [long] container with four vehicles as well as bottle water, used clothes and used shoes for humanitarian purposes, and some other materials intended for our house that we are to shortly move in upon our returned to Liberia. Honestly, we did not know of any punitive tax regulation that was issued by the Minister of Finance on October 14, 2013, which came into effect on December 8, 2013 – that’s within 24 days when the ministry decided to implement a major regulation that would alter people’s lives. My container was loaded on October 27th and bounded for Monrovia. It arrived in Monrovia on December 23rd.
Now in Monrovia and making every effort to release the container from the Freeport before it accumulated storage, as she had only seven days to clear the container, my wife was faced with this draconian punitive tax regulation. At the Ministry of Commerce, she was asked to give reasons why the punitive tax regulation should not affect her. She wrote a letter requesting for reprieve, which was granted. That means she would not be punished for bringing in vehicles ten years or older. Whether that letter covered for the Ministry of Finance, I am not sure. But she was told to present it to the Customs Office at the Freeport and it would be honored. Unfortunately, the customs officers there told my wife, “Take this thing from my face…” So it was not honored.
I called my wife and told her to cooperate with the customs officers since they are doing what they were told to do. She agreed and we braced ourselves to pay whatever punitive taxes required of our vehicles as per the regulation. All the vehicles were ten years or older.
Levies on the Ford Explorer
My Ford Explorer was made in 2002. So by 2013 it was nearly 11 years old. That puts it in the 10 percent punitive tax range. That means, the government would charge 10% of the value of the vehicle as normal duties, and levy another 10% for bringing it to Liberia as punitive tax. That’s 20%. We agreed. The Customs Officers usually asked all customers to have their broker do the declaration and presented to them for assessment. Then the Customs appraise the vehicle’s value from the Kelly Blue Book. That is what they did to our Ford Explorer. The assessment came up with four different levels of the value: Excellent value was $2869.00; very good was $2619.00; good was $2519.00, and fair value was $2094.00. The Customs chose the value of “good” ($2519) to be the value that they will levy the first 10% and the punitive 10% taxes. Now by ten percent, the normal duty was $251.90 and the second ten percent will be the same amount, making the total $503.80. This amount once paid the Ford Explorer should have been released and cleared. Instead, the Customs office levied the first charge of $363.39, which they claimed was 10% of $2,519. That amount was the GST (General Sales Tax). I have no idea how they derived that amount. They did not stop there. They levied $469.80 to represent the 10% punitive tax. I never seen how $469.80 would be ten percent of $2519!
After my wife paid the $856.68 to clear the vehicle, Amanda told her that the amount was small and so she was adding more money. She levied a second GST tax of $32.88 and levied the same $469.80 for the punitive tax, totaling $502.69. My wife protested but they threatened that if she does not pay they would seize our container. Out of fear of gross loss, she paid even before she called me. In actuality, we paid double for everything about the Ford Explorer. Now, when you combine the two separate payments for the one vehicle, it totaled $1359.37. This amount is 53% of the vehicle’s value ($2519) that the Customs officers accepted.
Again, for fear that she might run into storage and eventually lose the whole container to auction; my wife paid the double charges. Meanwhile, people in Amanda’s office were making sarcastic remarks about her coming from America and asking “plenty questions”. And Amanda told her, “You either pay or your container will be confiscated.” My wife called and told me everything that had happened. I was furious but I was from her. So I asked her to wait that I was going to call the Finance Minister’s office. I called and a lady answered. I told her I wanted to talk to the Minister and she asked me why. I explained to her. She told me the Minister was at the Executive Mansion to meet with the President. I called twice again but she said the Minister was still meeting with the President. So I did not get to talk to Minister Konneh.
Then I called my friend and brother, Sidiki Trawally, who is the Director of Communications at the Ministry of Finance to inform him about what was going on. My friend answered and he said “Hey Gibson what’s up?” By the time I explained what was going on, my friend kept saying “hello, hello, hello…” He probably was not hearing me anymore. So I dropped the phone and called my wife. I told her to pay but she should make sure to collect every receipt on any and all payments. And she did.
In the second facts presentation with documents and receipts, I will show you how Amanda and the Freeport Customs Collectorate levied taxes twice on our Toyota pickup. I will present the facts for the public to know we are being treated just because we are trying to contribute to the development agenda of our country.