MoCI THRASHES ‘Mercenary Journalist’ -Defends Its Record on Rice Import, Pricing, Distribution -Says Price Remains the Same as Instructed by Pres. Boakai

MONROVIA – Though the price and stability of the nation’s staple, rice, on the local market largely remain intact as inherited by the governing Unity Party, even weeks after an uptick was expected upon demands by importers of the commodity, the discourse triggered by the attendant controversy of the demand continues to reverberate. Various political and independent commentators have been voicing their perspectives, some of them being highly critical, at times cynical and provocative. The Ministry of Commerce and Industry, which has been in the center of negotiations, is not taking kindly what it considers mischiefs and falsehoods employed by some pundits in their analysis of the recent rice saga. As The Analyst reports, the Ministry is labelling one of such commentators “mercenary journalist” and ‘jumpy-jack’ “paid to tarnish people’s reputations.”

The aftereffects of recent demands on the ruling establishment by Liberia’s rice barons to effectuate an increase in the price of the nation’s staple are manifested in reasonable pressure on the country’s trade citadel, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. The commentaries attending the hullabaloo have been stern, with some holding the Ministry suspect and in collusion.

One of the commentators who have been persistent in their interrogation of the causes and effects of the rice-price discourse, often laying blame at the feet of the Ministry of Commerce particularly the Minister, Amin Modad, is the Voice of Liberia FM manager Sekou Sheriff.

Using his social media and radio platforms, Sheriff has been particularly vocal laying blame for the looming rice crisis on the Minister and his team at MoCI—something they have rather ruthlessly retorted.

In a press statement issued yesterday, May 6, the Ministry of Commerce and Industry strongly rejected what it called the false accusations made against Minister of Commerce Hon. Amin Modad by “mercenary” journalist Sekou Sheriff, “who has a well-documented record of unethical behavior and lack of integrity”.

The Ministry claimed that the entire nation is aware of how Sekou Sheriff is an unethical, unprofessional “jumpy-jack” paid to tarnish people’s reputations.

“On Wednesday evening, he substantiated once again his gross lack of integrity by spreading false and misleading information, suggesting that Mr. Modad, in a meeting, asked rice importers for $0.25 from each bag of rice sold at $17.00,” the Ministry stated in a press statement.

“What is more laughable is that this paid smear campaigner, known for his hoax reports, in his failed attempt to discredit Minister Modad, lied until he sadly ended up lying to himself just to perpetuate his unprincipled behavior and malicious intent.

“In Mr. Sekou Sheriff’s Facebook post, he initially states that the rice importers during a meeting “refused to accept Minister Modad’s request for $0.25 USD on each bag of rice sold at the price of $17.00 USD.” He then says this refusal “eventually led to the increment to 17.00 USD to settle all sides: importers, Minister, and stakeholders.” Sekou’s shameful contradiction lies in the fact that, according to him, the rice importers refused to accept the request to sell rice at $17.00 USD, but he then says the price was increased to $17.00 USD anyway.”

“Contrary to his lies,” the Ministry further said, “the public can attest to the fact that it was through Minister Modad’s effort and negotiations with the rice importers that they rather reduced the price of rice from $17 to $16.75 in February.

“Mr. Sheriff must understand that journalism is a calling not an opportunity to hustle; as a calling, it demands a sense of morality, professional skills, and professional aims, all virtues he clearly lacks.”

The Context

Providing the contextual overview nationwide, the Ministry reassured the public that there is no shortage of rice and the price of the 25kg Bag of 5% Broken Indian Parboiled Rice remains at $16.75 as instructed by President Joseph N. Boakai.

“Furthermore, there are other varieties of rice on the market, some sold lower than the $16.75,” the Ministry said.

According to the press statement, Minister Modad commenced work at the MOCI on February 6, 2024, and was immediately brought up to speed on the existing challenges and previous dialogues with rice importers that had been initiated under the Weah-led government.

Notably, a communication dated October 3, 2023, included a request to increase the price of the 5% Broken Indian Parboiled Rice (IR64) from $17 to $20 per bag. In their communication to the previous administration and to Minister Modad, they highlighted several factors for their request, primarily that a 20% export duty was imposed by India on this rice variety, significantly impacting the cost structure for importers.

The rice importers, according to the Ministry, also expressed additional concerns over escalating costs due to increased shipping and insurance rates, fueled by geopolitical tensions in Ukraine and the Middle East.

They also accordingly highlighted several domestic issues contributing to their operational costs, including multiple and increased fees from APM Terminal and the National Port Authority (NPA) alongside bureaucratic delays that exacerbated their financial burdens. The MOCI immediately sought to understand the policies and regulations that were in place governing rice importation and to verify their concerns. We also sought to establish the stock of rice in country and verify that sufficient rice was being shipped to avoid shortage or scarcity.

It is worth noting that the previous administration opted not to address their requests despite the implications; the requests were rather deferred to the incoming leadership.

MOCI also stressed that it is important to note the context of prior poor engagement with the rice importers by the former administration, which contributed to a severe rice shortage and an inflation of rice prices to about $25 per bag something in 2022; in fact, it was reported that rice was sold for up to $35 per bag on the black market.

“In response to this crisis, a subsidy of $22 million was earmarked to support the importers, yet only $11 million was presumably disbursed, with outstanding claims from some of the importers who did not receive their share of subsidy disbursed,” the Ministry further said.

Minister Modad’s Strides

Since Minister Modad’s appointment and subsequent confirmation by the Liberian Senate, the Ministry boasted, he has made verifiable strides to address these issues and ensure that   Liberia’s staple food—rice—is available and affordable.

Some concrete steps taken by the Minister are listed below:

First. Before taking over as minister, there were 6 major importers of rice on the market, all inherited from the last administration.  No Liberian was granted Import Permit Duties (IPDs) to bring in large volumes of rice during the previous administration. However, within just four months, Minister Modad has granted 3 permits out of the 5 new applications; they are all Liberian enterprises.

Second. In consideration of the global factors impacting rice prices and supply, Minister Modad has prevailed on all importers to bring in other varieties of rice to provide cheaper alternatives and choices to the citizens.

Third. Minister Modad also negotiated with the importers to invest in the local production and supply of rice. They have agreed to provide $200,000.00 towards setting up a packaging facility to aggregate and package the domestically grown country rice from local farmers to be distributed by the imported along with the imported rice.

Fourth. The MOCI is also in discussions with bilateral and other development partners to explore opportunities to source affordable rice, provide funding for Liberian entrepreneurs to enter into the rice importation space, and to create a Rice Buffer Stock to serve as an emergency reserve in case of any shocks that would impact supply and pricing.

Fifth. The MOCI is working with the Office of the President and other agencies to develop a holistic long-term strategy to address food security and self-sustainability with rice being a priority.

Sixth. The MOCI is now developing more predictable administrative regulations for the importation and distribution of rice, considering the entire trade and production value chain from importation to how rice is retailed across the country.

Seventh. Minister Modad and his team have also rolled out the rebranded Inspectorate Devision of the MOCI with a mandate to ensure that vendors do not sell the 25kg Bag of 5% Broken Indian Parboiled Rice above the government-set price ceiling.

Eight. The MOCI is continuing the engagements with the rice importers and other stakeholders to find ways to address their concerns, mitigate their costs of doing business, and most importantly, to ensure the stable and affordable supply of rice on the market.

The Ministry says Modad has successfully managed many businesses over the years without any accusations, a testament to his good business deeds and innovative, sustainable business management strategies, which he intends to replicate at the Ministry of Commerce & Industry in the interests of the country and people.

“The minister understands that many hidden hands are angered by the reforms he is bringing about and his new policy direction of empowering Liberians to take hold of their own economy,” MOCI further stated, adding: “This has unsettled old-age profiteers and people in the opposition, prompting them to launch a massive smear campaign against him.”

Undeterred, Minister Modad assures the public that he is focused and firm on delivering the commerce, trade, and industrial development priorities of President Boakai’s agenda and will not be distracted by infantile propaganda coming from people like Sekou Sheriff and his ilk, the release concluded.

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