Public Outcry Mounts Against Fouani Brothers -As Bill Reaches Senate for Deliberation

MONROVIA: There is a serious apprehension from the public against the investment incentive granted to the Fouani Brothers Corporation through a bill passed by the House of Representatives with clauses inserted in the document which according to the agitation in the public will not only be a conduit to undercut local palm farmers and other companies in the sector but will constitute a huge distortion, distraction and turbulence in the entire economy just as the controversial bill is expected to be debated today by the Liberian Senate despite strong opposition.

According to some stakeholders who spoke to The Analyst to vent their displeasure against the bill which was “clandestinely passed by some self-seeking lawmakers” and now before the Liberian Senate for concurrence, contended that while they are not against any initiative to encourage boosting the economy by the government through incentives to make the investment climate conducive for the country, they are wary of moves “by unscrupulous schemes to  even undermine the process of resetting the agenda for genuine economic growth and development”, adding such shady deals should be exposed and made to perish even before they are conceived.

Providing their basis for opposing and calling for the discontinuation of further deliberation of the bill, Adolphus Sahnwon Wion, Deputy Secretary General of the Clean Legislative Advocacy, said his institution was taken aback when it was informed that a bill to undermine the economy was passed by the House of Representatives and awaiting the Senate concurrence, which according to him “amounts to a cartel clearly putting the entire nation on sale”.

“In the first place, that bill fell short of being an investment incentive bill because there is nothing there to encourage a genuine investment other than using a misnomer to destroy the economy through these kinds of fake arrangements that only benefit those who are promoting it.

“The bill gives Fouani Brothers exemption not to pay duties for up to seven years during which their bogus refinery will be built and at the same time inserting that they can import crude palm oil where there is an ‘insufficient supply’ of the product on the market. That is being ambiguous and deceptive. You can’t set up something to fail from the beginning by trying to dupe your country”, he said annoyingly.

Financial analysts who spoke to this paper stated that the investment package of the bill is lopsided since it favored Fouani Brothers with huge waiver of duties, implying that Fouani Brothers who are referred to in the bill as “investor” will be exempted from import taxes and duties on capital equipment, spare parts, raw materials, consumables and packaging and related materials for seven years, as indicated in Section 10.1 (b).

“From the refinery construction completion date and for seven (7) years thereafter, the investor shall be exempt from import taxes and duties on capital equipment, spare parts, raw materials, RBD Olein, packaging and related materials used for the refinery’s finished products and for investor activities and investor operations. Thereafter, the investor shall be subject to import duties in accordance with the Revenue Code.”

The referenced clause is part of the several other ambiguous ones Fouani Brothers Corporation had submitted in the investment incentive bill to the Government of Liberia (GOL) for the construction of a crude palm oil refinery in Liberia in 2021 but was signed on the eve of the 2023 general election.

What is concerning to the general public especially stakeholders who are active players in the palm oil sector of the economy and have been brainstorming on the best investment option that will benefit the local farmers and the country, is the manner in which the bill was hatched and the manner in which it has been pushed to get it enacted into law before the expiration of the tenure of this government.

A proper scrutiny of the documents in possession of The Analyst has it that the Fouani Brothers investment incentive was signed by President George M. Weah signed on September 5, 2023—the last day sitting of the extended session of the Sixth Regular Session of the 54th National Legislature after the President recalled the National Legislature on August 18, 2023, through a proclamation extending the Sixth Regular Session of the 54th National Legislature by two weeks beginning August 22, 2023 and ending on September 5, 2023.

It was further revealed that less than 15 representatives allegedly signed the bill  at the Royal Grand Hotel on September 6, 2023 after the expiration of the extended sitting and the bill is reportedly before the Senate for concurrence.

The Analyst can report authoritatively that several lawmakers are not letting any stone unturned as they are vowing to ensure that the bill is withdrawn until the “proper thing is done” or will approach the courts to ensure that the bill does not go further than how it was smuggled in the House of Representatives.

Several other stakeholders speaking further about what they referred to as a “bogus investment incentive bill” said the whole Fouani initiative was premised on deception and a clever attempt to kill off all the gains being made in the industry who have invested so much and are on the right trajectory to make the palm oil industry a point of interest and attraction in the country.

“To be frank with you, there are already large concessions that are into palm oil business such as Golden Veroleum Liberia(GVL), Mano Palm Oil Production(MPOP), formerly Sime Darby, Equitorial Palm, among others. Besides, there are a good number of local palm oil companies but they need encouragement from the government to grow.

“Giving Fouani the incentives to bring in crude palm oil in this country with duty free will actually be cutting the throats of all the palm oil dealers in the country. The thing is Fouani wants to import the crude palm oil from outside where production costs are much cheaper which they will refine in Liberia and abroad at much lower costs than the local plantations can produce, leading the local producers to sell to Fouani”, one of the furious campaigners against Founani said last night.

Adamson Sheriff, a palm farmer, said Founani was misled into believing that it is only this fake “incentive thing “ that will make her succeed in the business . But one of the best options available to them is to import CPO just as they do now, and refine it for local sale or export and they make a break on the products.

Against the background of all the massive lacuna in the bill, Representative Francis Dopoh of River Gee county took a serious exception with his colleagues and sought their cooperation to withdraw the bill and allow the right thing to be done.

The opposition to the controversial bill is expected to be heighten today as stakeholders plan to storm the upper chambers of the national legislature to demand the senators to throw the bill out “because it is not in the best interest of the country and the honorable body should do the needful to stand on the side of the country and its people”

Indications that the senators, most of whom will not be returning in the next dispensation must have caved in to the bill after being induced financially by Fouani Brothers emerged on Monday, October 30, 2023, when the Deputy Minister of Finance for Fiscal Affairs, Samora P.Z. Wolokollie and Chairman of the National Investment Commission(NIC), Molewuleh B. Gray where both of them provided some clarity on the controversial bill.

According to sources close to The Analyst, the senators are divided in the opinion as It relates to the bill but a final decision is expected to be made in full plenary today which according to pundits “could tend to be risky for the country”.

“This is not the time to discuss such crucial state matters because of the season we find ourselves in. The elections are just over, a good number of the senators lost and will not be returning but such people in these circumstances believe they do not have nothing much to lose if they sign on to any decision that will give them instant gratification, normally financial as parting gifts.

“Our understanding is as we are in what others call ‘lame duck sessions’ where major decisions are not made but deferred to the next legislative dispensation, this bill should have been left alone and tabled for the 55th National Legislature otherwise this rush hour hustle may work against the state as we are told that the Founani Brothers are bent to spend the last penny to have their way through after spending huge sum of money on this bill already”, a renowned public affairs commentator told The Analyst last night.

The fear that the bill may sail through today when the senators convene at the full plenary became visible yesterday when it was learnt that the document which attracted opposition in the lower house and prompted Representative Francis Dopoh of River Gee County to formally write Speaker Bhofal Chambers to withdraw the bill suddenly made its way in the senate and now awaits the vote by the senators probably due to the strong monetary bait attached to it.

What this amounts to is the state may be robbed of any bogus contract, similar to several others before it that only served the exploiters both being the bribe taking lawmakers and the controversial investors. There has been clamor by several interest groups to dissuade the senators from honoring the bill and allowing it to be passed to the next legislature so as the proper scrutiny can be done in the interest of the country and its people.

“This could be a trap set for the next government to honor and respect an agreement that was hastily crafted out with limited scrutiny all because someone wants to get some kind of personal benefits to the detriment of the state and we just hope that the senators will save us from this other round of embarrassment but objecting it”, another pundit who pleaded not to be identified in the papers said.

1 Comment
  1. zoritoler imol says

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