By Martin K. N. Kollie
Why give a 30-year tax holiday or tax break to a Lebanese hotel – The Farmington Hotel owned by Lebanese businessman George E. Abijaoudi when no Liberian-owned hotel has even received a tax holiday for 1 year or even 6 months? Why go into a US$59.5 million Pre-Financing Loan Agreement with a bogus foreign company and at the same time serve as a guarantor with just 6 months to go? With few months to go, there is a huge rush to bag millions without any respect for established laws/rules and the sense of patriotism. The LAST THING lawmakers must do is to reject these shady deals, 4G agreements and glaring economic conspiracy against the people’s interest.
When Liberians trooped en masse to the polls in 2005 and 2011 subsequently to chart a new political course, they did so with the conviction that this nation once torn apart by civil conflict and bloodletting would rise again and offer a fresh hope for every citizen regardless of ethnicity, religion, status and affiliation. Yes, this was the confidence and optimism all of us (eligible voters) took to the polls.
No natural phenomenon (rain or sun) could even prevent us from exercising this inalienable right – a right we discharged so conspicuously in the best interest of our country. We used our ballots to form a new government. We used our ballots to employ a new President and a new Vice President. We also used our ballots to give power to 73 lawmakers at the National Legislature. Our collective purpose was for all of you (Legislators) to work in our best interest through three basic functions: Lawmaking, Representation and Oversight.
After almost 12 years, are we reaping the dividends of the decision we made as a people and a nation? This question seems painful to answer especially when our nation is shamefully sitting at the 4th position on the Global Poverty Chart. This question seems difficult to answer especially when our young sisters and mothers have no option, but to prostitute themselves and invade the pride that comes with womanhood.
How can we joyously answer this question when the rate of poverty in our country is 81.86% and teenage pregnancy is 38% with youth unemployment skyrocketing at 80%. What is even more disgusting is that foreign companies and businesses are being unjustifiably prioritized and clandestinely preferred over Liberian-owned companies and businesses. Is this how we intend to make Liberia better and take ownership of our economy by sidelining our own people and making foreigners richer? It is time to go beyond this unpatriotic pedestal and begin to seek Liberia’s interest. Liberia must be first in all that you do if you must be gowned as NATIONAL PATRIOTS by the next generation.
How long must you treat our nation like this? Was it a bad thing to have elected you to represent our interest at the Legislature? Or is this what we get for spending hours at the various polling precincts casting our ballots in your behalf? I hope you (lawmakers) have not forgotten that you are our servants and employees, and not our lords and employers. With less than 108 days to election, the choice is yours to do “The Last Thing In Our Interest”. And this last thing is to reject a US$59.5 million bogus and selective Pre-Financing Loan Agreement in favor of an International Company – East International Group Incorporated. If you fail the people now, they will also fail you at the ballot boxes, because all power is inherent in them according to Article 1 of our Constitution.
In the midst of mounting challenges, ranging from unimaginable corruption to acute poverty, silence can never be an option. Our shared demonstration of love and loyalty to this country remains undiluted. While Liberian-owned businesses and companies are denied tax-break or tax holiday for even one (1) year, our government, especially the Executive Branch, is giving a 30-year tax-break to a Lebanese-owned hotel – The Farmington Hotel owned by Lebanese businessman George E. Abijaoudi. Is this how we intend to power on the engine of our economy by making Lebanese multi-millionaires while Liberians decay in extreme poverty?
It is with this unquenched and patriotic desire to always seek a NEW LIBERIA through genuine advocacy, we have stood up and standing up even now to confront visible odds that continue to threaten our sovereignty, survivability and commonality as a nation and a people. We dare not economize with prevailing facts as voices of truth. Therefore, we make this case in good faith.
I read a headline story published in The In Profile Daily Newspaper on May 29, 2017 titled “Questionable Contracts”. This publication is implicating Ministry of Public Works into a web of Conflict of Interest with a foreign Chinese-owned company – East International Group Incorporated. As an advocate, I chose not to anchor my thoughts only on what was published in The In Profile Daily, but to go beyond by digging out some fundamental facts.
In my possession, I have a copy of an official loan agreement and a communication from the desk of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf requesting you (lawmakers) to ratify a Pre-Financing Loan Agreement costing US$59.5 million between GoL and East International Group Incorporated. In her 2-page letter to you, she said that this loan agreement is meant to pave a 24.5km road from Clay to DC Clark in Bomi County and a 51km neighborhood road in Monrovia and its environs.
I want to applaud her government for its farsightedness to have 30 roads paved even though she has only 6 months in power. I wonder why all this rush. Without any intention to oppose our nation’s developmental drive in whatever manner, I have some basic inquiries, which reflect the basis of my thoughts and those evolving concerns I have since harbored about this US$59.5 million pre-financial deal:
1. Why go into a loan agreement of US$59.5 with a foreign company that has no proven international record in construction and engineering? I Google this company and found no record of performance beyond Liberia.
2. What is the rationale of preferring East International Group exclusively for such huge DEAL (US$59.5 million for 30 roads) when we have Liberian-owned companies that are even more qualified and capable?
3. Who does this US$59.5 million agreement really benefit and what gain does it bring to Liberia? Does it benefit Liberians or Chinese?
4. Why wasn’t there any competitive bidding process for such contract in line with proviso of our PPCC Law? Why was East International Group given such a preference, which contravenes Part V Section 46 of our PPCC Law?
5. If East International Group defects on its obligation(s) according to this agreement, who pays back this astronomical loan or offset this huge liability in 7 years? How can we even trust East International Group when it was recently shut down by LRA for evading taxes even though it was served a 30-day assessment notice (warning) in line with section 1042(d) and section 70 of Liberia Revenue Code and LRA regulations (Ref: http://www.frontpageafricaonline.com/index.php/business/4162-liberia-revenue-authority-shuts-businesses-suspected-of-evading-tax).
6. Why is GoL serving as a guarantor of this US$59.5 million loan in favor of a foreign company, and not a Liberian company? Why even give this contract of 30 roads to East International alone and place Liberian companies in a subservient position?
Having carefully read and analyzed this 15-page Pre-Financing Agreement and the communication from the President which seeks to garner legislative endorsement, my questions above have prudently led me to these systematic conclusions judging from available facts and incontestable realities:
1. This US$59.5 million Loan Agreement is a BAD DEAL due to its selective and skeptical nature.
2. It unravels high risk of losses for Liberia and puts East International Group in a gainful and profiteering parameter.
3. It discourages local dominance of our economy and promotes foreign control, which has a downward impact on growth and development. Additionally, this deal is an unpatriotic attempt to sideline Liberian-owned companies and render them vulnerably inactive and worthless.
4. This deal disfigures the true essence of the Liberianization Policy and contradicts Section 45.1 of our PPCC Law, which even highlights Margin of Preference:
“A Procuring Entity may grant a Margin of Preference to Domestic Businesses, or Liberian Businesses, or Solely-Liberian Owned Businesses, as defined under this Act, in accordance with regulations adopted by the Commissioners.”
5. This deal, which indicates that East International Group has exclusive authority to subcontract Liberian-owned companies and engineers at will, gives this foreign company unparalleled leverage and monopoly to control this sector. How can you award a contract of 30 roads to East International Group alone? This means that Liberian contractors and companies will turn into mere beggars to East International Group before getting contracts. Furthermore, are our engineers and companies only good enough to be subcontracted?
I thought our economy is based on those fundamental principles of a free market system, where competition is permissible? Why then is our government preferring a foreign firm over local Liberian companies especially without a bidding process? Even community/feeder roads too? Whose interest is East International Group, if I may ask? Madam President, I have reliably learned from an authoritative source that East International Group Incorporated, a former supplier of building materials that came to Liberia in 2010, is the interest of Public Works Minister Guyde Moore.
In pursuit of this egoistic interest shockingly engineered by Minister Moore and his accomplices, East International Group was recently transformed into a construction company. Again I ask, what record does East International have for GoL to comfortably enter into an extravagant US$59.5 million agreement with it? It is important that a special committee be set-up to thoroughly investigate this shady deal.
With just 6 months to a very crucial democratic transition, I am aware that our nation will be faced with these glaring complexities of interest-struggle, but for once, can we protect Liberian-owned businesses especially during these last moments? I am wondering why is GoL in hurry to pave these 30 roads now with just 6 months to go. This means that the burden to pay this US$59.5 million loan in a period of 7 years will be transferred to the next government.
In paragraph 1 and 2 under Economic Renewal in President Sirleaf’s January 16, 2006 inaugural address, she said “The task of reconstructing our devastated economy is awesome…..Yet, we have the potential to promote a healthy economy in which Liberians can prosper. We can create an investment climate that gives confidence to Liberians.”
In all of her lines, Liberians were mentioned first, but I am constrained to ask “Are they first now after almost 12 years”? Are Liberian companies and businesses prioritized now? Are Liberian engineers, farmers and entrepreneurs first under your leadership? Are Liberian-owned companies first over East International Group Incorporated in this Pre-Financing Agreement? Though I recognize some gains made under your presidency, but most Liberian firms and enterprises remain vulnerable due to foreign dominance in almost every sector of our economy.
Are our engineers only good enough to build plank bridges, lay blocks, transport cement, sell crush rocks, bend steel, draw house plan and serve as casual laborers to foreigners? What are we waiting for to take control of our economy? Taking control would mean prioritizing and empowering local companies over foreign ones like Ghana, Kenya, Ivory Coast, Guinea Senegal, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Tanzania and other nations are doing.
Having said all of these, I therefore plea with your consciences in the spirit of openness and patriotism to reject such bogus agreement and henceforth prioritize Liberian-owned companies. You must trash this sinister Pre-Financing Loan Agreement, because it is far from seeking Liberia’s ultimate interest. This unpatriotic approach of awarding big contracts to foreigners as a result of GREED is inapplicable in most countries and undermines the nationalistic standard for protecting citizens’ interests – THE ONES WHO PAY TAXES TO KEEP YOUR GOVERNMENT MOVING AND NOT THOSE WHO WIRE MILLIONS TO THEIR COUNTRIES THROUGH SHADY DEALS.
About The Author: Martin K. N. Kollie is a Liberian youth and student activist, a columnist and an emerging economist who hails from Bong County. He currently studies Economics at the University of Liberia and is a Lux-in-Tenebris Scholar. Martin is a loyal stalwart of the Vanguard Student Unification Party (SUP). He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org