Finance Minister Meets Members of the Fula Community -Says: Land Rights and Citizenship must go hand in hand with economic growth

Improving the business climate in the country demands the consolidation of all parties both from the SMEs, the formal and informal as well as foreign direct investment. The current state of the country’s economy calls for a fuller understanding of the drivers of the down turn. The recent policy decision to harmonize the over-bloated wage bill received commendation from international partners including the IMF during their recent mission to the country.

The fall in global commodity prices, the departure of UNMIL, the ravaging of the Ebola virus disease represent few of the indicators that have underpinned the country’s economic growth process. The inability of the previous government to account for money made as loan or grant has increased the country international debt stock to around 1.2billion. Resuscitation of the economy will require considerable efforts requiring the interplay of all actors.

In a rather informal meeting with members of the Fula community, mainly business people over the weekend, the Minister of Finance got more information than he could chew on. His focus in understanding the implications of the monetary policy through the depreciation of the Liberian dollar including the proliferation of FX bureaux was swamped by new information hindering the business climate in the country.

“Mr. Minister, we are not keeping money under our mattresses because it will be of no use to keep Liberian dollars that which is fast depreciating” noted Sheik Jalloh, the president of the Paynesville Business Association. Mr. Jalloh noted that most of their money are in goods on their shelves and given the slow trend of the economy, people are not really buying as before.

The members of the Fula community informed the Minister and other lawmakers including Speaker Bhofal Chambers and Thomas Fallah that the Central Bank of Liberia was a major source of the country’s monetary quagmire. “On several occasions, the CBL and the commercial banks refused to convert our LD$ to US$, thereby making it difficult for us to import goods into the country”. As the demand for US dollars increases, we move to traditional methods of conversion to include changing money right in our stores, or looking for it on the parallel market with higher exchange rate which is also affecting us too. Wiring money to other countries is more complicated for us. It takes more than 5-7 days to carry out a single transfer to our business partners.

For this reason, we are engaged in a more traditional approach in which we can just give instructions to our friends abroad to provide the money to our business partner and we do the same here too. This sort of non-banking financial transaction which is not taxable mainly occurs with businesses in China where a business woman can give her money to a Fula man in Monrovia and upon her arrival in Guanzhou receive the same amount in RMB from his counterpart.

On the issue of importation or transshipment, they noted that the tariff was too high thereby denying neighboring countries such as Guinea and Ivory Coast from using our Freeport. Big cities such as Nzerekole, Macenta and Gagayedou are much closer to the Freeport of Monrovia than the port of Conakry, but because of the high tariff on the Liberian side, people rather ship through Guinea” noted Mr. Youssuf Barry.

The narrative of the discussion changed when the issue of “cow” was mentioned. Cows are mainly brought into the country from Guinea and sold at exorbitant prices, but the Fula community wants all that to change if the government can provide them protection under the law. The soil here to raise cows is far better than Guinea. As a matter of fact, if a cow is raised in Liberia, it can gain more weight and healthier than the ones raised in Guinea.

Moreover, they noted that they do not have access to land and security and in the event that their cattle were killed by a Liberian, they would have no recourse to the law. “As soon as you go to court and they hear your name is Jalloh, Diallo or Sow, the case is closed” noted businessman, Mamadou Diallo. The issue of access to land and security also cut across their rights to citizenship and widens the debate about dual citizenship. Said Sheik Jalloh: “I was born here, school here with a masters’ degree at Cuttington Graduate School, but yet still, I have been refused National Identification Card simply because my name is Jalloh”.

Addressing the many economic challenges facing the country should not only hinge on fiscal and monetary policies but rather the recognition of other social and legal issues such as access to land rights and ownership, citizenship. The meeting of June 21 could set the basis for the president’s call for a National Dialogue to address some of the lingering problems besetting the country.

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