Liberia’s Business Climate Set to Improve – Stakeholders Identify Problems & Solutions

Doing business in Liberia is difficult and frustrating is something that is clearly and widely known not only to Liberian business people and Government but also to international investors and business watchdog groups. The country’s standing in international index regarding the environment for business has successively nosedived over the last couple of years and there is high possibility of things getting worse is nothing is done and soon. The George Manneh Weah-headed government noticed this problem and its negative impact on the economy and the development of the country and therefore in October set up a committee to find solution to this intractable situation. Stakeholders representing private and public institutions, with all three branches of Government present, met in Ganta, Nimba County over the weekend and deliberated extensively on how to get their acts together. As The Analyst reports, the stakeholders brought to the fore what appear to be formidable options towards creating a conductive business climate in the country.

News from the northern county of Nimba suggests that the Government of Liberia and the private sector are resolved to clean up of business environment and make it free from difficulties and challenges bedeviling trade and commerce in the country.

Scores of trade stakeholders met in Ganta Friday and Saturday to review the business environment in view of identifying huddles and finding solutions to them.

President George Manneh Weah back in October 2018 set up what he called the Business Climate Committee mandated to examine the Liberian trade and commerce climate as to pluck up defects and unsavory conditions hampering businesses and businesspeople from fulfilling their full potentials.

Following heated brainstorming of the challenges and problems facing the business environment of Liberia, the stakeholders have settled down on developing an action matrix that will outline the challenges and possible solutions for improving the business climate.

According to a dispatch from Ganta, the next meeting is expected to focus on Trading Across Borders, after which a final report will be presented to President, Dr. George M. Weah and his cabinet.

In several presentations made, the problems and possible solutions of the Liberian business climate were made outlining problems associated with getting credit in Liberia.

The head of Liberian business association said ethical behavior of loan officers constituted an impediment in getting credit.

He indicated that loan officers often allegedly demand shares on loan sought thereby leaving borrowers with no alternative but to provide fake titles as collateral.

Even at that, he said, it is always difficult for a bank to access the legality of a title.

“In some cases, banks and financial institutions are not even granted access to borrowers’ credit information whether online or through a system to system connection,” the business association head said further.

He added that in terms of accessing loans from the banking sector, it was a pity to see investment in agriculture accounting for only 2%.

If the nation must rise out of food insecurity, he opined, more investment must be placed on the agriculture sector thereby raising the need for the revitalization of the Agriculture Development Bank.

Most of the loans provided by the banking sector go toward roads and infrastructure development, he said, adding, that without a cadastral map, it is difficult to indicate landownership throughout the Republic.

According to the WB report, it takes on average 3 years to commence foreclosure proceedings leading up to judgment from the Supreme Court of Liberia.

Due to the long processes involved including the high fees such as those pay to lawyers, court administrators, fees for auctioning, banks and other investors find effortless in trying to seek legal redress.

The difficulty also lies within the Debt and Commercial courts. According to Judge Morgan, the Commercial court can only hear cases value more than USD$ 5,000.00 whereas the rest can be handled by the Debt Court.

As the Ganta conversation ensued on the role of the court as a viable means of addressing insolvency, some stakeholders said the Debt Court has only one judge. Participants expressed dismay over the fact that there was only one judge responsible to handle the multitude of court cases.

Another serious issue discussed by the stakeholders was the continual use of type writer in the courts.

Speaking to this situation, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah noted that it was unbelievable that in the 21st century, courts were still using type writers.

The lack of recorder was also cited as one of the problems inhibiting the court performance.   Without a recorder, it is difficult to contradict the report from a clerk typist.

Other stakeholders at the meeting spoke of the dismal ranking of the country on enforcing contracts; something they said says a lot about the relationship between the banking or financial sector and the court system in the country.

On average, it is said, it takes 1300 days to enforce a contract in Liberia.

There is a report which noted that it takes 730 days for trial and judgment and 540 days to enforce same.

The court does not have an automation system that allows for complaints to be filed electronically as well as the time for hearing.

The lack of publication of judgment from commercial cases whether at the appellate or supreme courts level was also cited as a serious challenge to the judicial system.

At the meeting were Commerce and Industry Minister Wilson K. Tarpeh, Finance Minister Samuel Tweah, and House Speaker Bhofal Chambers. The Judiciary was represented by the proxy of the Chief Justice, Judge Eva Mappy.

Minister Tarpeh expressed optimism that Liberia’s performance in doing business will be improved while Minister of Finance and Development Planning, Hon. Samuel D. Tweah, Jr. expressed appreciation to the Liberia Bankers’ Association, the Judiciary, the private sector, the donor community, the press and others for responding to the Ministry’s request to attend the business forum. He pledged on behalf of H.E. George M. Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia, government’s support and commitment to the process.

He noted that the forum was all about finding solutions and not necessarily complaining.

Speaker of the House of Representative, Hon. Bhofal Chambers, lauded the efforts of the organizers of the forum, and admonished the participants that uplifting especially the conditions for banking and doing business was a manifestation of the PAPD.

He expressed the need to make significant intervention in the Agriculture sector, and re-introduce those models that worked before. He called for need to support common business people, and reduce most of the conundrum in getting credit

On behalf of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Liberia, His Honor, Francis S. Korkpor, Judge Eva Mappy noted the Justice Korkpor was honored to see members of the three branches of government gathering to deliberate on issues viable to improving the business climate in Liberia. According to Justice Korkpor, the Judiciary is aware of the WB Doing Business Initiative and the challenges associated therewith. He assured the forum that business can rely on the judges, and government commitment was evident by the establishment of the Commercial Court Act and the court itself

Elisabeth Harleman, Deputy Head of the Swedish Embassy thanked the workshop organizers and assured them of the Sweds financial support to have a favorable business environment. She emphasized the need to put in place rules that are straight forward and the need for more female participation in these meetings.

On behalf of Liberia Bankers Association, Hon. John B. S. Davies, President of the Liberia Bank for Development and Investment (LBDI) extended greetings to all participants. He lauded the efforts of the workshop organizers, and emphasized that the forum was mainly about a collective search for answers to our common challenges, and that together, we can chat the way forward.  Mr. Davies also encouraged all participants to reflect deeply on the business climate forum in order to make Liberia better; adding, he looks forward to a constructive perspective on how the banking sector plays its role in getting credit.

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