Amid Unresolved Economic Hardship, PATEL Threatens Bigger Protest

The usually bustling Waterside market is emptied as a result of the strike. Photo: Zeze Ballah

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Amid the government’s perceived sluggishness in addressing their demands, Liberian entrepreneurs are threatening to stage a bigger protest next week.

The national chairman for the Patriotic Entrepreneurs of Liberia, also known as PATEL, Presley Tenwah has said the government is doing little to address their concerns, despite promises made to them during their three-day strike that ended on Feb. 2, 2017.

PATEL is a coalition of major importers and business associations in the country.

The recent protest was aimed at drawing the government’s attention to the prevailing economic hardship in the country, including inflation of the exchange rate and the increase of taxes on imported goods. The strike crippled much of Central Monrovia and other parts of the region as most shops were closed.

Presley Tenwah, PATEL'S National Chairman. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

Presley Tenwah, PATEL’S National Chairman. Photo: Gbatemah Senah

PATEL called for several changes in fiscal and monetary policies to address what the group identified as challenges to Liberian business owners. They called for a single custom examination before any payment rather than multiple examinations of goods conducted with separate, distinct payments of taxes.

Additionally, the group, which consists of associations of petty traders, called for an immediate halt to police brutality and seizure of marketers’ goods.

Moreover, the group sought to protect petty traders from competition from larger stores, whose owners they accused of selling wholesale goods to traders while serving as retailers at the same time.

“The Ministry of Commerce must ensure that wholesalers should not, at the same time, do retailing to avoid [the] influx of retailers on the streets,” the statement read.

Additionally, the entrepreneurs want Liberians to be given exclusive retailing rights. They, among other things, called for measures to be taken to tackle and stabilize the constant fluctuations of the U.S. Dollar against the Liberian Dollar to reduce hardships on their businesses.

In conclusion, PATEL demanded an immediate halt to high municipal taxes charged by the Paynesville City Corporation on businesses.

Speaker of the House Emmanuel Nuquay received the petition on behalf of the Legislature. Nuquay informed protesters that lawmakers would take the demands seriously and find an amicable resolution.

President Sirleaf, in her initial statements on the issue, had initially accused members of the business community of being a contributing factor to the economic crisis by hoarding cash.

However, after a meeting with her cabinet and her Economic Management Team, the president announced a 60-day moratorium on foreign travel by government appointees.

The moratorium affects presidential appointees, including heads of all ministries, agencies, and commissions, along with their deputies and assistants.

“Exceptions will only be granted by me following a one-on-one meeting with the official requesting to travel and if it is determined that such travel is of the utmost imperative in the national interest of the country,” Sirleaf said.

Critics of the government have blamed public officials for contributing to capital flight in the country’s economy. The officials have been accused of transferring huge sums of US Dollars to support families abroad, contributing to a shortage of the foreign currency within the country, which negatively impacted the value of the Liberian Dollar.

The executive mansion also announced that the president would meet with some stakeholders of the business community, including the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Liberia Business Association, and the Liberia Marketing Association.

PATEL’s Tenwah said his leadership had not been invited to any meetings with the president, despite organizing the strike.

Meanwhile, he said the situations that prompted their protest have remained persistent.

“The issues we took at the legislature have been overlooked and downplayed. So we have to revert to Plan B,” he said.

He said the next action of the entrepreneurs would include a bigger protest that will continue until the demands are addressed by the government.

According to Tenwah, other members of the business community and the public have expressed willingness to join PATEL in its next protest action. He named the petroleum dealers, road transport unions, health workers, and teachers as groups that are willing to join them in solidarity.

He said the president’s accusation blaming members of the business community of being a part of the problem in the economy is an indication that she was insensitive to their plight.

Tenwah said Liberian businesses are driven by loans from bank institutions and that they cannot be responsible for the capital flight.

“We are only victims of the current circumstances. Businesses that should be done by Liberians are being monopolized by foreigners. How can we take money out of the counter?” he said.

Recently, the Liberian legislature voted to amend revenue codes, increasing tariffs and excise taxes on goods and services. The new legislation came as the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning announced that the country had entered a recession.

Featured photo by Zeze Ballah

Gbatemah Senah

An executive producer at the Liberia Women Democracy Radio, Gbatemah is currently a senior student at the University of Liberia and a recipient of the Jonathan P. Hicks Scholarship for Mass Communications.

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