The Chief Executive officer (CEO) of the Aya Group Inc., Mr. Bassam Sidani has rubbished claim that the government is planning to give his company the exclusive right to monopolized the Cocoa sector of Liberia, describing such claim as a “lie” and an act of “complete blackmail” by those who have refused to apply for their licenses from the Liberia Agricultural Commodity Regulatory Authority (LACRA).
“This claim is a complete blackmail and blackmailing is not good and they are lying; nobody, not even LACRA turned the cocoa sector over to me; anybody who wants to export cocoa, you can apply for license at LACRA, but they don’t want to apply for license and they are lying that government has given Aya Group Inc. exclusive rights to monopolize the Cocoa sector”, Mr. Bassam Sidani reacted.
The Aya Group Inc. boss told The ANALYST in an exclusive interview last Friday that his company is exporting cocoa because it has met the requirements set by the LACRA, noting that if anyone wants to export cocoa, he/she should get a license or meet the requirements of LACRA as the regulator.
“The government never and is not thinking about giving him monopoly over the sector. Any company that is registered with LACRA can export cocoa if it has an office, warehouse, trucks as require by LACRA guidelines”, Mr. Sidani told The Analyst.
It was reported in the July 12th edition of the FrontPageAfrica that local exporters are unhappy with new policies being introduced by government, expressing dismay at plans to monopolize the sector – especially, turning it over to a Lebanese-owned firm headed by Mr. Bassam Sidani.
The cocoa sector, according to the report, has over 30,000 smallholder cocoa farmers and if monopolized, it will destroy the investments made in the sector over the last decade by smallholders, cooperatives, the Government of Liberia and the international donor communities.
According to the report, the plan to monopolize the sector was announced by the Deputy Director General for Technical Services at the Liberia Agricultural Commodity Regulatory Authority, Musa Konneh.
But Mr. Sidani said monopoly is not good for the Liberian Cocoa sector and indicated that there are more than ten cocoa exporters in Liberia; wondering why his company is being accused of receiving a monopoly right over the cocoa sector from the government.
The AYA Group Incorporated boss further said there are people who are taking cocoa from Liberia to other African countries because they are not strong financially to export cocoa directly from Liberia to Europe.
He explained that cocoa from Liberia exported from another country bears the name of the country in such a manner that cocoa from Liberia to Nigeria and exported from that country is deemed Nigerian Cocoa and not Liberian Cocoa.
“It is therefore good and in the interest of the country that all cocoa exporters export directly from Liberia to Europe or America,” Mr. Sidani said, adding “for me, I export my cocoa directly from Liberia to Europe”.
He recalled that there are about eight persons exporting cocoa to Europe, and said he does not understand why he is accused simply because his company has 70% of the market in Liberia through its performance.
He disabused the minds of his critics by saying that his company reached that percentage because it has the capacity, and is compliant to the LACRA regulation which says an entity must have an office and be licensed as eligibility criteria which some of them refused to comply with.
“I have lot of equipment and costumers; I also have agents in all of the counties and I give USD1.5 million to farmers every year,” he explained. He said this is how he was able to acquire 70% of the cocoa market in Liberia,” pointing out that anyone who can perform than the Aya Group Inc. could get 80% to 90% in the sector, which should not be considered a monopoly.
The AYA Boss further indicated that to be an exporter of cocoa, one is also required to have a warehouse, a drying system, and other equipment that have to do with cocoa business, which he bragged he has.
“I also have 25 to 30 trucks to reach to the famers to collect the cocoa from the farms. So if those who are supposed to be exporters are not equipped to export and are finding it difficult, why then are they lying on my company that is ready for this business as being given the exclusive rights by government to export cocoa,” Sidani further wondered.
He furthered that he has agents all over the country and he pre-finances 90% of the projects because most of the farmers are trusted, which endeavor he maintained is not monopoly, but rather is about capacity and technical know-how to work with the farmers.
Mr. Sidani asserted that some of the exporters who are accusing the government of given Aya Group Inc. an exclusive right to export cocoa, are equally refusing to focus on their financial weaknesses in this sector.
Sidani, who is also president of Sidani Group and owner of Hotel Buchanan, said in his concluding statement during the interview, “Can you imagine some of them export two containers per year, while my company, Aya Group Inc. export 1, 000 containers per year? This is not monopoly, it is instead having the capacity to deliver,” he concluded.