Friday, November 12, 2010

Liberia: Over 30 Mineral Water Companies Cry Wolf

D. K. Sengbeh
At least 35 'mineral water' companies under the banner the Liberia Water Producer Association (LWPA) have cried foul, accusing the Ghanaian-Indian owned Liberty Investment Inc., producer of Aqua Life mineral water, of bad business practice.

The aggrieved 'mineral water' producers said the Management of Aqua Life has engaged in predatory pricing aimed at kicking them out of the market, and that water business is restricted exclusively for Liberians.

The Ministry of Commerce and Industry has confirmed the bad dealing of the Company, but has not taken any measure (s) to halt the company's act which is said to be at the detriment of at least 30 other 'mineral water' companies in the Liberian commerce.

Addressing a news conference in Monrovia Monday, two officials of the LWPA (Madam Elvina L. Dennis of Jake's Frost and Hamilton Saye Zeepa of Mama Liberia) said Liberty Investment dropped the price of a sachet of water (containing 30 bags) from an agreed L$65 to L$40.

The action of Liberty Investment, the officials, representing the aggrieved companies, said was hypocritical and unwholesome after all water producing companies had signed an MOU to sell at a fixed price.

They said Liberty Investment, being a foreign-owned company, was using its outside financial sourcing and free privileges provided by the government to kill Liberian owned businesses.

The officials of the LWPA called for a modification of the terms of the company's establishment which they claimed has given Liberty Investment an uncalled-for advantage over Liberian-owned businesses.

The lamenting water producers also want the National Legislature to properly reexamine the Investment Incentive Act of 2010, which set aside some 26 businesses, including sachet water production and sale, exclusively for Liberians.

The Investment Incentive Act of 2010 met the Liberty Investment already existing and it, according to the Ministry of Commerce, can to affect the Liberty Investment, because the law is not retroactive.

On October 15, 2010, the LWPA wrote the Assistant Minister for Industry, filing several counts of complaints against Liberty Investment.

Among other things they said Liberty Investment is involved in unfair business practices with, attempts to destroy the local water producers through predatory pricing.

They alleged that the incentives granted by that contract (Liberty Investment and the Government of Liberia) were especially for bottled water production, yet Aqua Life has not restricted itself to the bottled water business, but has engaged in sachet water business.

The complainants also alleged, among others, that Liberty Investment has engaged in an active pursuit and expansion of its packaged water business, an area that is exclusively reserved for Liberian owned companies.

They also presented the by-laws and constitution of their association signed by the defendant on the agreed pricing sachet water, which they said Liberty Investment had grossly violated.

Following a probe into the issue, the Ministry of Commerce noted that the intention of Liberty Investment to engage into predatory pricing "is to undermine the MOU signed by all parties regarding the price structure agreed upon."

"Count one (1) against the defendant by the complainants is true and the company should be held liable. Hence the defendant should desist from under pricing the sachet water and adhered to the terms and conditions of the MOU," the Ministry ruled.

On whether there is any provision in the incentive contract for production of only bottle water by Liberty Investment, the Ministry stated: "No, there is no clause to that effect in the document. The document is silent on the sachet water production." The Ministry of Commerce also ruled that Liberty Investment has done no violation by expanding its operations. "No, it is not a violation."

The Ministry also nullified the LWPA's concern that the defendant bringing of equipments and raw materials on a duty free undermines the local businesses. The Ministry said it is not a violation because "it is allowed by the incentive contract granted it [Liberty Investment] by the Government of Liberia.

However, the Ministry noted that by signing the by-laws and constitution of the LWPA, Liberty Investment submitted itself to the Association's terms and conditions of the MOU; therefore, "the company is liable because it subscribed to the document."

The Investment Act of 2010, approved May 15, 2010, printed and published by Authority of Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Republic of Liberia in schedule 2 count (g), states that "operation of water purification or bottling plant by 100% foreign company (excludes the production and sale of water in sachet)".

However, in the same Investment Act of 2010, Section 15.3 states "where an enterprise in existence immediately before the commencement of this Act has duly complied with the Investment Incentive Act of 1973 and other applicable Legislations, the enterprise shall be deemed lawful not withstanding any provision of this Act to the contrary. Any transfer of ownership or ownership rights must conform to this Act."

Similarly, Section 10 of the Investment Incentive Act of 2010 provides: "No adverse law, regulation, instruction or other Act having the force of law shall be applied retroactively."

The Ministry of Commerce, using these provisions, stated that Liberty Investment was already existing and engaged in the production of sachets water, (any lawful business) in accordance with its Article of Incorporation. "[Therefore, it can] not be affected by The Investment Act of 2010, Schedule 2, Count (g) provisions and is covered under Section 10 of the Act."

The aggrieved Mineral Water Producers said, with these provisions, the law is meaningless. "The National Legislature has to explain this law to us. They can not make laws to protects us, we the struggling Liberian businesses, and at the same time allow foreigners to put us out of the market. This is not fair and we will fight it," Madam Elvina L. Dennis, proprietor of Jake's Frost, a sachet water firm, stated angrily Monday.

"What you are seeing happening here can not happen in Ghana or any other countries. The Ghanaians will never allow a foreigner to sell ice or cold water or engage into small businesses set aside exclusively for their citizens," Hamilton Saye Zeepa of Mama Liberia, added.

The LWPA (describing the situation as a cleaver attempt of getting Liberians out of the water business) said it will not rest until justice is done.

The officials said some big hands at the Ministry of Commerce may as well be involved and are protecting Liberty Investment to foment atrocities against the local Liberian businesses.

Officials of Liberty Investment have not commented despite several calls.

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Drawing the line in Liberia

Crimes sponsored, committed, or masterminded by handful of individuals cannot be blamed upon an entire nationality. In this case, Liberians! The need for post-war justice is a step toward lasting peace, stability and prosperity for Liberia. Liberia needs a war crimes tribunal or some credible legal forum that is capable of dealing with atrocities perpetrated against defenseless men, women and children during the country's brutal war. Without justice, peace shall remain elusive and investment in Liberia will not produce the intended results. - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Men with unhealthy characters should not champion any noble cause

They pretend to advocate the cause of the people when their deeds in the dark mirror nothing else but EVIL!!
When evil and corrupt men try to champion a cause that is so noble … such cause, how noble it may be, becomes meaningless in the eyes of the people - Bernard Gbayee Goah.

If Liberia must move forward ...

If Liberia must move forward in order to claim its place as a civilized nation amongst world community of nations, come 2017 elections, Liberians must critically review the events of the past with honesty and objectivity. They must make a new commitment to seek lasting solutions. The track records of those who are presenting themselves as candidates for the position of "President of the Republic of Liberia" must be well examined. Liberians must be fair to themselves because results from the 2011 elections will determine the future of Liberia’s unborn generations to come - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's greatest problem!

While it is true that an individual may be held responsible for corruption and mismanagement of funds in government, the lack of proper system to work with may as well impede the process of ethical, managerial, and financial accountability - Bernard Gbayee Goah

What do I think should be done?

The situation in Liberia is Compound Complex and cannot be fixed unless the entire system of government is reinvented.
Liberia needs a workable but uncompromising system that will make the country an asylum free from abuse, and other forms of corruption.
Any attempt to institute the system mentioned above in the absence of rule of law is meaningless, and more detrimental to Liberia as a whole - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia's Natural Resources
Besides land water and few other resources, most of Liberia’s dependable natural resources are not infinite, they are finite and therefore can be depleted.
Liberia’s gold, diamond, and other natural resources will not always be an available source of revenue generation for its people and its government. The need to invent a system in government that focuses on an alternative income generation method cannot be over emphasized at this point - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Liberia needs a proper system
If Liberians refuse to erect a proper system in place that promotes the minimization of corruption and mismanagement of public funds by government institutions, and individuals, there will come a time when the value of the entire country will be seen as a large valueless land suited on the west coast of Africa with some polluted bodies of waters and nothing else. To have no system in place in any country is to have no respect for rule of law. To have no respect for rule of law is to believe in lawlessness. And where there is lawlessness, there is always corruption - Bernard Gbayee Goah

Solving problems in the absence of war talks

As political instability continues to increase in Africa, it has become abundantly clear that military intervention as a primary remedy to peace is not a durable solution. Such intervention only increases insecurity and massive economic hardship. An existing example which could be a valuable lesson for Liberia is Great Britain, and the US war on terror for the purpose of global security. The use of arms whether in peace keeping, occupation, or invasion as a primary means of solving problem has yield only little results. Military intervention by any country as the only solution to problem solving will result into massive military spending, economic hardship, more fear, and animosity as well as increase insecurity. The alternative is learning how to solve problems in the absence of war talks. The objective of such alternative must be to provide real sustainable human security which cannot be achieved through military arm intervention, or aggression. In order to achieve results that will make the peaceful coexistence of all mankind possible, there must be a common ground for the stories of all sides to be heard. I believe there are always three sides to every story: Their side of the story, Our side of the story, and The truthBernard Gbayee Goah


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