EDITORIAL :Mr. President, Walking Out of Rice Price Negotiation Not the Solution

IN AN APPARENT frustration with rice moguls who have been seemingly adamantly pushing for an increase in the price of the nation’s staple, rice, President Joseph Nyuma Boakai walked out of the meeting he convened himself. From hindsight, others are tempted to nod to the President’s overture which in a way was to say, “enough is enough; Liberians are just tired with tricks and artifices of foreign merchants in the rice market always wanting to profiteer at the painful expense of poor Liberians”. Nevertheless, other Liberians conversely think the President is perfectly suited at the moment to resolve the age-old rice crisis once and for all. The gavel his in his hand. He is the Chief Policy Navigator, one who has come a long way spending much of his public sector life in the agriculture or particularly the rice ecosystem. If he is truly committed to solve the long lingering problem, if he really understands the intricacies of the staple food debacle, running away from price negotiation meeting is not the option. He must be man and leader enough to put the final nail where he thinks it really belongs. And we agree with Liberians having this line of thought.

THE PRESIDENT NEEDED not to boycott. It is he who has got much to lose, not the predominantly foreign merchants he invited under his personal gavel. It is he who called the meeting in wake of the looming rice crisis which could result to scarcity and automatically a rise in its price. It is he who convened a meeting with all the major importers in the country, and apparently the aim was to find immediate solution moving forward given the fact the place of rice as the nation’s staple food.

AT THE ONSET, the president did well browbeating his guests with the growl, “there will be no increment in rice price. But while did President Boakai order that there will be no increase in the price of the commodity and again walk out of the meeting, particularly so after instructing the Minister of Commerce, Amin Modad, to enter into another round of discussion with the importers?

NOT ONLY WERE the importers awestruck, but the citizens were also dumfounded because it was thought that after Minister Modad had met with the importers and decisions were reached that precipitated the adjustment of the price of rice from its original cost at $17.50 to $18.50, the meeting would have cemented the decisions and seal the arrangement with a presidential consent and approval that will go a long way in solving the problem at hand.

THE IMPLICATION OF the President’s refusal to honor the agreement which was duly participated in by the Minister is that either the Minister did not properly brief the President before accepting the terms and conditions that led to the adjustment or the President decided to just go ahead to enforce a decision on the importers without regard to the concerns they had raised to keep their businesses out of losses and also to readily make the product available on the market.

FROM OUR OWN independent research conducted, the importers have genuine concerns to call for price adjustment as the concerns are not only within their domain but are global issues that those who are following the trend on the world stage, including Mr. President himself, are aware. These include but not limited to the extra tax imposed by the Indian government on rice bound out of the country, the protracted war in the middle east that has made ships to take alternative routes that are longer than the usual one which of course is associated with additional transport cost and on the domestic scene the various forms of taxes and levies the importers pay to the NPA, LRA, MEDTECH, etc. also impact on the final cost of the products.

WHILE IN THE estimation of the President himself and those who must have advised him on the decision may be to avert Liberians going through tough times to purchase rice on the market because of the induced increase, the solution was not to halt the adjustment and reported walking out of the parley with the importers; it is just going to aggravate the situation as very soon the importers will not venture to go through unsustainable cost to bring in the rice and experience losses.

WHAT IT WILL mean is there is going to be a serious shortage on the market and the push back effect may be troubling given the history of rice in this country.

IT IS IN this vein that we urge the President to see reasons to reverse his decision to halt the adjust and hold any round of discussion with the importers to find the lasting solution to the imminent rice crisis which if not properly handled, may spell some negative about our relative peace we have been enjoying since the restoration of democracy a little over 20 years ago.

WE KNOW HOW the government intends to save its citizens from undue hardship while also avoid spending that may not yield any results according to its priority, but at the end of the day, the goal of any government is to ensure that all actors, especially the business community, are factored in the decision-making process of the government because the enabling environment does not exist for them to do business, the nation suffers.

WE CALL ON the government to return to the discussion table with the importers so as to explore areas that will mutually benefit the two parties because at the end of the day when everything goes on fine, everybody including the government, the importers and the citizens who are the end users of the product will be happy.

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