NIC Nominees Stutter During Confirmation -As Senators Ask Hard Questions

MONROVIA: After witnessing the  declining interest in the ongoing confirmation hearing for nominees of various positions due to the way and manner it has been conducted since inception, there was an upward shift in the followership of the activities in the senate when the nominees for the positions of Chairman and the Executive Director of the National Investment Commission(NIC) appeared for hearing but had a tough time convincing the Committee on Concession and Investment on their suitability as Senator Nathaniel Farlo McGill of Margibi County raised the bar with daring questions to the bewilderment of the nominees and those present.

At the hearing which was conducted by Senator Numene Bartekwa of Grand Kru County, the nominees, Jeff Blibo who was nominated as Chairman of the NIC and Melvin Sheriff for Executive Director appeared for their hearing apparently convincing themselves that the confirmation would have been done the usual way where the nominees are asked promotional questions and at times get outright assurance from the senators that they guarantee them their votes.

No sooner the nominees were done with their questions then a barrage of questions that kept their feet to the fire started coming in from Senator McGill who was armed with vast information on issues surrounding investment wanted to know their understanding of the issues and how best they could solve the investment problem so that Liberia will benefit from foreign investment in the country.

Senator McGill before commencing most of his questions, took an eagle eyed look at their credentials and after perusing through the resume and other information on Mr. Blibo whose education data stated that he had his first degree in Engineering with Electricity as emphasis and a Master’s degree in Business Administration, McGill raised some issues with the credentials.

“I am looking at the documents here but I don’t see anything about what you got your Master’s degree in and nothing is written in English to indicate as such on this paper. Everything is written Latin and it is strange that a degree from an American University is written in Latin. So you are saying this is from Boston College and can we verify that?, McGill enquired.

In responding Blibo restated his educational background and admitted that most of the inscription on his degree from Boston College had Latin which according to him has been the outlook of degrees from the institution and urged the committee to verify should it if they deem it necessary,

Going further, McGill posed a question to Blibo how can he sell Liberia to the outside world to attract investment and what could be the disadvantages Liberia could experience not for foreign investors to come over to Liberia.

Responding Blibo said Liberia has some unique opportunities for investors including tax waiver, conducive environment, stable government and “the fact that there is a law that guarantees the investors to repatriate their profits by 100 percent if they so desire”.

“If you ask me why investors will not want to come to Liberia I will say it is because of lack of trained manpower because most of those needed to in companies are those with skills and expertise and we have challenge in that area. However, investment in human capital development could alleviate some of the disadvantages”, Blibo said.

Blibo had difficulties to give specific reasons why for the past 6 years Liberia did not experience investors coming to set up companies but only came around to inquire and did not return.

“There were investors coming in and we had discussions on the prospect of doing business in Liberia but nothing materialized and the reasons could be many. I am not in their mind and so I will not be definite but now that there is a new government maybe their minds could change and we will be around to assist them when we are confirmed.

Similar questions were asked Melvin Sheriff including why the Senate should confirm him and what extra did he bring to the table that will benefit the country especially having served in various positions and the investment narratives did not change.

“I have worked at the National Investment Commission for 10 years and I know what it takes to make the entity achieve results in terms of attracting foreign investors.

He said as the Executive Director, the job designation for him is to be the head of the secretariat while the Chairman will be head of the Inter-ministerial technical committee and both of them by the functions of the two offices complement each other. Furthermore, the Chairman is the head of the institution and it is his duty to assist the Chairman in running the entity.

“Mr. Nominee, you have been in the system and you should know the constraints. What are the bottlenecks for investment not to be attracted to this country?, McGill asked Mr. Sheriff.

While being evasive of the question, Sheriff however said there will now be a window with his confirmation if it goes through with the senators as he will deplore his experience garnered over the years to ensure that NIC brings on the table genuine investors.

Pressed further to name some of the impediments against wooing serious investors in the country, Sheriff identified land ownership issue “especially in the agriculture sectors as investors that come here are made to negotiate with the communities directly on land acquisition but not the government but despite that we have been able to work with some investors.

“During those years, it has all been about showcasing Liberia. It has been about international conferences to woo investors; it has also been about value addition

Earlier, Blibo had done a presentation in which he outlined what he intends to do when confirmed as it relates to creating opportunities to grow the economy through foreign direct investment and the input of the Liberian diaspora communities.

“These statutory responsibilities must continue to be carried out for the next 6 years in line with the vision of the President which has been coined in the acronym ARREST which also formed the blueprint to drive our economic agenda. It is important in this regard that NIC under my leadership will form a strong collaboration with all sectors of the government.

“Also important is to form a strong collaboration with the Liberian Chambers of Commerce (LCC) , the Liberia Business Association (LIBA), the Liberia Marketing Association(LMA), farmers cooperatives, etc”, he said.

Blibo who said he has been working in the energy sector in the country said when confirmed, he will proposed an agro-processing economic zone at the Port of Buchanan and at the Roberts International Airport that will be connected to farm to market roads and then make use of the Farmington and St. John Rivers to transport goods especially agro-products to the market.

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