Sime Darby To Decide On Its Future Operations In Liberia

Monrovia, Liberia – June 3, 2019: In a first admission of business losses, the world biggest oil palm producer by acreage Sime Darby of Malaysia says its net profit fell by about 70% compared to the first quarter of 2018.

 

Malaysia Headquarters of Sime Darby Plantation

According to the company’s Managing Director Mohd Bakke Salleh, Sime Darby is expected to reach a decision by year’s end on its future operations in the West African country of Liberia. The company has a 63 year concession agreement in the country to develop about 220,000 hectares of land for palm oil and rubber plantations in the administrative districts of Grand Cape Mount, Gbarpolu, Bomi and Bong Counties. Sime Darby says it already farming plantations in Grand Cape Mount,. Bomi and Lofa Counties.

Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map
Political Subdivision Map of Liberia map

Liberia will need to maintain the company’s investment, jobs and tax revenues to bolster its struggling economy at a critical time when other major investors including Firestone Rubber and the Turkish MNG Gold Mining Company have slashed jobs to cope to slumping global prices for their commodities.

Sime Darby’s Managing Director who did not disclose names, admitted that there have been ”a number of inquiries about our business in Liberia”. There have been speculations in recent months of that Sime Darby was contemplating leaving Liberia because of heavy business losses. There is no word from the Liberian Government on this latest development.

Economic Affairs Correspondent

West African Journal Magazine

 

Is Firestone Liberia Ending Rice Provision To Workers?

Firestone, Kakata, Liberia – May 21, 2019: It appears that the Management of Liberia’s largest concession companies Firestone is eliminating the provision of rice to its employees as the company cuts back on its expenses due to the global fall in rubber prices.

Firestone Rubber Trees
Firestone Rubber Trees

In March, Firestone Liberia announced the layoff of about 13 percent of its workforce.

 Almost since its operations began in Liberia, the concession had been providing the much preferred American parboiled rice at a reduce price to its employees to supplement the low wages it pays them. Payment for rice is deducted from the salaries of employees at a steep discount. Rice is the staple in Liberia.

According to a source, Firestone switched to an indian variety of rice almost a year ago and resumed provision. But it now appears that this benefit is being curtailed.

When contacted to ascertain the veracity of this suspension of price provision to employees, a public relations officer at Firestone told West African Journal Magazine in a statement on Monday that, “ We cannot comment on ongoing (CBA)Collective Bargaining Agreement negotiations.”

 All indications point to some kind of negotiations current underway over the issue between the Workers Union and the Management team of Firestone.

In 1926, Firestone entered into a 99 year countract with the Government of Liberia signed a 99-year contract with the Liberian government for operations of a rubber plantation which  covers almost 200 square miles east of the capital Monrovia.

 By Our Reporter

West African Journal Magazine

IMF Concludes Economic Review Mission To Sierra Leone

Freetown, Sierra Leone – May 7, 2019: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) just concluded a Review Mission to Sierra Leone in West Africa and has published a report of its findings:

Sierra Leone Finance-Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa
Sierra Leone Finance-Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa
  • The Sierra Leone authorities and IMF mission concluded discussions, ad referendum, on economic policies to pave the way for consideration by the IMF Executive Board of the first review under the ECF-supported program.
  • Continued actions to mobilize revenue and manage public finances remain key priorities to reduce public debt and create fiscal space for investing in people and infrastructure.
  • Stepping up structural reform efforts will be crucial to managing fiscal risks, ensuring greater accountability, and diversifying the economy for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.

 

An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Karen Ongley, visited Freetown during April 23-May 7, 2019 to conduct the first review of the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement approved by the Executive Board on November 30, 2018.

At the end of the visit, Ms. Ongley issued the following statement:

“The economic landscape in Sierra Leone remains challenging. Yet, the authorities navigated these difficulties well in the year since taking office, helping to stabilize the economy. Real GDP looks set to pick up this year to 5.1 percent, thanks in part to the resumption of iron ore mining. After peaking above 19 percent last September, inflation moderated to 17.5 percent in March and is projected to continue tracking down over 2019.

“Faced with serious constraints on budget financing, the authorities kept the budget in check through stronger‑than‑programmed revenue performance and spending well below the budget. As a result, the overall deficit narrowed from 8.8 percent in 2017 to 5.8 percent in 2018. However, delays in donor receipts and uneven liquidity in the banking system, posed challenges for deficit financing and monetary policy, and impacted program performance.

“While program performance is broadly on track, slower than expected progress on structural reforms reflects the magnitude of policy challenges. Nine of the ten quantitative targets were met for end‑December 2018 and end‑March 2019. However, the Net Domestic Assets of the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) at end‑December 2018 exceeded the program target (performance criterion), partly due to BSL’s credit to government and continued foreign exchange market sales to stem depreciation of the Leone. Moreover, three of five structural benchmarks—the forensic audit of the BSL, developing a strategic plan for the two state-owned banks, and a strategy for clearing domestic arrears—have been delayed, as the underlying issues are proving to be more complex than anticipated.

“With this in mind, the Sierra Leonean authorities and the mission reached understandings, ad referendum, on economic policies aimed at enhancing accountability in managing public resources, diversifying the economy and promoting more resilient and inclusive growth. The authorities’ commitment to mobilizing domestic revenue and improving expenditure management to achieve a gradual reduction in the deficit will help ensure that public debt returns to a sustainable path. Notwithstanding pressures on the budget, the authorities will safeguard poverty-reducing spending and other priority spending under the Government’s National Development Plan. Limiting the recourse to domestic financing will also reinforce the BSL’s objective of bringing inflation down to single digits by the end of the program. Maintaining a flexible exchange rate system and increasing foreign exchange reserves will boost resilience to economic shocks.

Sierra -Leone
Sierra -Leone

“The authorities have calibrated their policies to address longstanding vulnerabilities, but this also requires maintaining policy discipline and stamina. Notwithstanding their ambitious revenue goals, the program reflects a more cautious revenue assumption as a buffer to deal with fiscal risks, such as reliance on donor financing, the large outstanding stock of domestic arrears, and high prospective debt service payments. Stepping up efforts on the structural reforms underpinning the program is crucial to the goals of managing fiscal risks and ensuring greater accountability for the benefit of all Sierra Leoneans.

“The IMF’s Executive Board is expected to consider first ECF review by end-June 2019. Completion of the review would make available SDR 15.56 million (US$ 21.5 million), bringing total disbursements under the program to about SDR 31 million (US$ 43 million).

“The mission met with Vice President Jalloh, Minister of Finance Jacob Saffa, Deputy Minister of Finance Patricia Laverley, Governor of BSL Kelfala Kallon, Finance Secretary Sahr Jusu, other senior government and BSL officials, representatives of the financial sector, civil society, and development partners. Mr. Kingsley Obiora, Alternate Executive Director representing Sierra Leone, also joined the concluding meetings.

“The mission wishes to thank the Sierra Leonean authorities for their warm hospitality, and the constructive and rich discussions during our visit to Freetown.”

Source: IMF Communications

Editorial: Mr. President, Speak To Your People

Monrovia, Liberia- April 15, 2019: The worsening economic reality in Liberia needs no amplification.

President George M. Weah of Liberia

In the local parlance, “People are sucking air”.

In a recent video shared widely on Liberian social media sites, desperate marketers openly voiced frustration with the Weah Administration and its inability to curb the economic downward spiral; especially the declining Liberian dollar. The marketers are simple and good indicators of the local strength of supply and demand which drive the economy.

No one is “buying” because of the lackluster economic environment and the diminishing purchasing ability of the ordinary Liberian.

The sentiment of economic disappointment expressed by the marketers is a reliable representation of the view held across all sectors of the Liberian society that the hard time is too much.

It is reasonable to establish that Liberians are making the effort to speak to President Weah and his Government about their concerns; whether it is through angry marketers, the position of Coalition of Opposition Parties, peaceful marches and protests, mob violence or silence.

The fundamental question is whether Government is listening and, if so, what is its response.

What is baffling to Liberian citizens, and perhaps to the international community of economic observers is the “loud silence” from President Weah to the “status quo” of frustration, hard time and hopelessness ordinary citizens are enduring under his Administration.

In challenging times, citizens expect leaders to step up and inspire, motivate and lead. The President is not speaking nor is he motivating or leading.

This business of the Administration’s silence is clashing with confidence in Government. That confidence was the “Hope For Change” and blank check that some desperate Liberians, who, against their better judgment, as it is becoming evident, gave to the ruling Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) and President Weah when they elected him in December, 2017.

The blank check of “political capital” that the CDC led Government obtained from the people of Liberia, was, in the real sense, a “credit” which needed to translate to tangibles that will put food on the table, a job and escape from poverty.

The crises of confidence in Government are not just localized to the home theater. International business analysts and observers see a direct correlation between poor governance and Government’s inability to attract investments and infrastructures which are critical drivers of any economy; Liberia being no exception.

Liberia is identified by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) as one of several sub Saharan countries with slower growing countries and where “there is a need to pursue reforms to facilitate economic diversification, and address remaining economic imbalances, many of these cases, private investments remain weak, and a strong focus is needed to address the constraints that are holding such investments back…”

A successful Liberian international business executive Mr. Sage Thomson, in an analysis of the Liberian situation, says, “…with our current inflation rate north of 30%, my goodness… why would any investor or bank want to do business with us? We don’t have a great story to tell the world. The President is jetting off without a serious business pitch. And that pitch starts with stability in your country. But guess what…food inflation is at 31% as of December 2018 and it is fair to say that it is very much higher currently in Q2 19.

Basically, government officials consume our GDP without understanding that you cannot run a nation or have any serious currency without productivity! Growth is driven by capital, labor and productivity… and productivity is 60% of what determines if a country is going to succeed or not.“

Thomson also cites the contributory challenge of uncontrollable “urbanization”. According to him, “another area of massive concern is urbanization.. Monrovia is tremendously overcrowded without any plans, for a secondary city for people to migrate to, for example, Ganta, Nimba County, Gbarnga, Bong County, Zorzor, Lofa County, etc…”

He attributes this uncontrollable factor to the frantic free -fall situation that Liberia is experiencing.

The series of anti-government protests in the last two years are indications that non- Administration supporters are effectively controlling the narrative to the disadvantage of Government. Control of the narrative that the Administration is corrupt and ineffective is winning over independents and some supporters of the Government who see confirmation everyday of some of the questionable actions or inaction by Government.

The once popular CDC is being openly challenged in debates in the public square and electoral contests for public office. Some Liberians are even accusing the Weah Administration of choosing to violate the Constitution rather than face the public embarrassment of losing by-elections due to its declining popularity; case in point being the delay in formally informing the National Elections Commission (NEC) about the vacancy in the Senatorial seat in Montserrado County in order to trigger preparation for and holding of a by election.

While it may be true that the Weah Administration may have simply forgotten to inform the NEC of the vacancy, equally, so, they’ve created room for opposition and independents to point to ineffective governance. This lapse contributes to sustained erosion of confidence and the desire to find an alternative leadership to the present Government.

It is no secret that political and social tensions and divisions are rising due to the economic malaise. And the creeping realization is that Liberians are slowly but surely reaching the point of no return when they would rightfully and peacefully call for a change in Government by invoking Articles 1 and 7 of the Constitution.

Article 1 says,  

“All power is inherent in the people. All free governments are instituted by their authority and for their benefit and they have the right to alter and reform the same when their safety and happiness so require. In order to ensure democratic government which responds to the wishes of the governed, the people shall have the right at such period, and in such manner as provided for under this Constitution, to cause their public servants to leave office and to fill vacancies by regular elections and appointments…”

Article 7 maintains that, “…freedom and social justice enshrined in this Constitution, manage the national economy and the natural resources of Liberia in such manner as shall ensure the maximum feasible participation of Liberian citizens under conditions of equality as to advance the general welfare of the Liberian people and the economic development of Liberia…”

The Weah Administration must “speak” credibly to citizens and begin to lead in all areas. It will require making some difficult choices which would include discarding some entrenched economic and political positions, realization that government critics are not “enemies of the state” but patriots; and even adopting some solutions offered by the opposition bloc.

If Liberia wins in the end, regardless of who is in the Executive Mansion, it will validate that Liberia is greater than any one person or political party.

Mr. President, citizens are trying to get your attention. They are suffering! Speak to them!

West African Journal Magazine

GOL Spending Millions To Lobby In US; No Deliverables Yet

 

Washington DC – April 11, 2019: The Government of Liberia spent $4.5 million USD in 2018 on foreign lobbying fees in the U.S.

National Coat of Arms of Liberia
National Coat of Arms of Liberia

According to documents seen and in possession of  the West African Journal Magazine, the Liberian International Ship and Corporate Registry (LISCR LLC) based in Virginia, the U.S., acting as a foreign agent on behalf of a foreign principal – the Government of Liberia (GOL), reported income of $4,545,648 (Four Million, Five Hundred and Forty Five Thousand Six Hundred and Forty Eight dollars) for lobbying and influence in Washington DC  with the Government of the U.S. on behalf of the West African nation. The Liberian Registry is managed by the Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR, LLC), a privately owned U.S. company operates globally.

A second lobbying firm that represented the interest of the GOL was the Friedlander Group which was paid $40,000 (Forty Thousand dollars) upfront and whose contract was canceled unilaterally by Government shortly after it was consummated in early 2018. The firm says no reason was given by the Liberian Government and monies are still owed by the Government to Friedlander Group.

KRL International LLC 5788-Exhibit-AB-20180822-24

In August, 2018, Liberia’s Foreign Minister Gbehzohngar Milton Findley signed for the Government of Liberia to secure the services of another lobbying firm known as KRL International LLC on K Street in Washington DC. Activities of that agreement were “to set a strategic framework for a visit of the Government of Liberia to the U.S. and “to reach key public and private sector stakeholders to support the Liberian Government’s strategy for economic growth”.

KRL in its filing with the U.S. Department of Justice, said it is assisting the Liberian Government of Liberia in ensuring continuing bilateral support from the U.S. Government.

Two emails to KRL International LLC to disclose the status of and the amount of its lobbying contract with the Liberian Government went unanswered.

The Weah Administration has been approaching various individuals and lobbying firms in the U.S. Government through lobbying firms to get to powerful and influential bi-partisan stakeholders for face time and continued international financial aid and support.

Greenberg Traurig-GOL Agreement Letter

The latest consulting firm whose services has been secured is Greeberg and Traurig, LLP to provide,  “ advice and counsel related to foreign relations issues, as well as educating the government and opinion leaders regarding same.” Signed by Liberia’s Finance and Planning Minister Samuel Tweah on September 30, 2018, the agreement with Greenberg Traurig for representation before Congressional leaders in the U.S. is for $300,000 (Three Hundred Thousand Dollars) for a 12 month period beginning October 1, 2018.

Greenberg Traurig US Government Reporting Form

The Liberian Government, according to the agreement, is paying Greenberg Traurig, LLP $25,000 (Twenty Five Thousand dollars) monthly. Per the agreement, as of April, 2019, the Liberian Government would have paid $175,000 (One Hundred and Seventy Five Thousand dollars) with another $125,000  (One Hundred and Twenty Five Thousand dollars) remaining to be paid by September, 2019. The firm also operates a Political Action Committee (PAC), which donates to candidates from both Republican and Democratic political parties in the U.S.

A source who is knowledgeable of the efforts of U.S. based advocates and individuals who successfully appealed to the Trump Administration for an extension to the Deferred Enforced Departure (DED) for thousands of Liberians dismissed any talk that the Liberian Government lobbying efforts were responsible for the approval of the one year extension.

It is still unclear what “deliverables” the latest lobbying effort is producing since the Liberian President is yet to be invited to the White House for a meeting with President Donald Trump and U.S. aid and support remain basic, with just five months to go before expiration of the current contract with Greenberg Traurig, LLP.

US Congressional Seal
US Congressional Seal

According to an “Outlook” Report from May, 2018 prepared by the U.S. Congressional Research Service (CRS), a nonpartisan shared staff to congressional committees and Members of Congress which works under the direction of Congress, “…Weah appears to be enjoying a political honeymoon, but its duration may be limited, given the pressing nature of the challenges the country faces. His success is likely to depend on his ability to prove—both to Liberia’s citizens and to the international community—that he can govern competently, transparently, and accountably. Still, while he inherits many problems from the Sirleaf administration, he is also the beneficiary of extensive and ongoing donor-backed development and capacity-building assistance, including from the United States, initiated under Sirleaf. The prior government also proposed a range of reform legislation and policies that were not enacted or implemented that the new government may be able to adapt and pursue. For the time being, the United States appears set to continue to support Liberia’s current development trajectory, albeit with assistance allocations lower than those provided during recent past years…”

By Our International Affairs Correspondent, Washington DC

West African Journal Magazine

U. S. Sanctions Liberian Flagged Shipping Company

A shipping entity connected to the South American Government of Venezuela and with offices in Liberia has been sanctioned by the Government of the United States.

U. S. Pres. Donald J. Trump

The U.S. is locked in a bitter diplomatic spat with the Nicolas Maduro government in Venezuela which it describes as “illegitimate” and has, instead, recognized, the leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly, Mr. Juan Guaido who has declared himself interim President.

Pres. Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela

As part of pressuring the Maduro Government, the Trump Administration, through the Treasury Department, slapped Specially Designated Nationals And Blocked Persons (SDN) economic sanctions on the state owned oil company and two international companies that are engaged in the transport of Venezuelan oil.

Petroleos de Venezuela is the country’s state-run oil company.

Venezuela National Oil Company

The Maduro Government is kept afloat by the proceeds of the country’s oil shipment and sale and Washington is working to strangulate the Government.

The Venezuelan Company operating out of Liberia is Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated with an address at 80 Broad Street in Monrovia.

The address listed for Ballito Bay Shipping is tied to the Liberia International Ship And Corporate Registry (LISCR, LLC), a private U.S. owned and globally operated company that manages Liberia’s lucrative ship registry.

LISCR Offices

LISCR,

The LISCR Trust Company (“the Registered Agent”) on its website says, “ it has been appointed by the Government of the Republic of Liberia to serve as a sole registered agent for all Liberian non-resident corporate entities. The principal role of the Registered Agent is to receive filing instructions, issue annual invoices, notices, etc. and to provide a registered office address for receiving service of process, or legal notices, on the entity’s behalf. The Registered Agent can also serve as the official depository for any document that a Liberian entity voluntarily records outside the public register.

The Registered Agent’s address for all non-resident Liberian entities is 80 Broad Street, Monrovia, Liberia…”

The Liberian Government receives fees collected by LISCR which are deposited in its account at the Federal Reserve in New York.

The identification number of Ballito Bay Shipping with the International Maritime Organization (IMO) is 5804961.

Crude Tanker Despina Andrianna

The Despina Andrianna vessel owned by Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated is part of the Liberian registry and is engaged in transporting Venezuelan oil to Cuba.

West African Journal Magazine tracked the Despina Andrianna crude tanker and the vessel’s global position currently has it sailing in the Caribbean to an unknown destination.

The sanctions prohibit any citizen of the U.S. or entity from transactions involving Ballito Bay.

The LISCR will now be restricted from further business with the named company in the Liberian registry which it manages , according to the terms of the U.S. sanctions.

Liberia Business Registry Application Form

On its website, the LISCR notes, “…A non-Liberian corporation can re-domicile into Liberia and will become a Liberian Corporation upon filing the application with required attachments, including the Articles of Incorporation of the corporation as a Liberian corporation. The corporation will continue its existence as a Liberian corporation; the existence date of the re-domiciled corporation is the date of incorporation of the corporation in the jurisdiction of its origin.

Liberian nonresident domestic corporations are governed by provisions of the Business Corporation Act, The Associations Law, Title 5, as Amended, of the Liberian Code of Laws Revised, (the “BCA”).

Under Liberia’s Business Corporation Act, Ballito Bay Shipping would be considered a “Foreign Corporation” which is

(o) “Re-domiciled” doing business for profit in Liberia.

It is unclear if Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated which is registered with the Liberian Business Registry (LBR) at the Ministry of Commerce or Liberia National Investment Commission

There are eight (8) other shipping companies with Liberian flagged ships tied to Iran and Hizballah that are sanctioned by the US Government and listed on the Treasury Department’s SDN, according to the Office of Asset Control (OFAC).

West African Journal Magazine has reached out to LISCR Trust for comment on its future relationship with Ballito Bay Shipping Incorporated.

By Our International Affairs Correspondent

West African Journal

Liberia: CBL Quietly Appoints New Executive Director

Monrovia, Liberia – April 3, 2019: The Central Bank of Liberia (CBL) has a new Executive Director.

Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL
Jay Gbleh-bo Brown of CBL

He is a bank insider who was promoted from the position of Deputy Director of Insurance in the Regulations and Supervision to the position of Chief of Staff equivalent to the rank of Executive Director.

A press statement issued on Tuesday by the country’s Central Bank says Mr. Jay Gbleh-bo Brown has held other positions at the bank including Deputy Director for Policy & Regulation (2017), Assistant Director – Regulations & Supervision Department (2015-2016), and Bank Examiner (2009-2014).

Mr. Brown has also served as Chair of the Financial Inclusion Working Group and represented CBL at various regional and international meetings, including the statutory meetings of the West African Monetary Zone and the IMF/World Bank Spring.

The CBL says his duties will include ensuring “that all meetings, programs and other activities of the Executive Governor are properly arranged, and appropriate follow-ups made, while as Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations, he has the authority to co-sign with the Officer-in-Charge for Operations on CBL’s operational and administrative matters.”

Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)
Building of Central Bank of Liberia (CBL)

The appointment of the Bank official follows the disastrous recruitment attempt earlier this year of a ruling Congress For Democratic Change (CDC) party political appointee Hamed Sifonic , formerly known as Sidiki Fofana.  He was appointed as Executive Director.

But the West Africa Journal Magazine, through extensive investigation, discovered Sifonic submitted fraudulent academic credentials to the Management of the Central Bank which also conducted its due diligence Since Sifonic was still in his probationary period, the Bank quietly revoked his appointment. The position had been vacant since until now with the appointment of the new Chief of Staff and Deputy Officer-in-Charge for Operations Mr. Brown.

The Liberian Central Bank’s image has been battered by a major scandal which it still trying to recover from. Two individuals, including a former Governor and a current Deputy, were indicted, arrested and detained briefly following the release of two forensic audits in which they were allegedly implicated. Former Bank Governor Milton Weeks and Deputy Governor Charles Sirleaf are out on bail pending prosecution by the Government of Liberia.

The new Bank official Mr. Brown’s appointment takes immediate effect, the press statement said.

By Emmanuel Abalo

West African Journal Magazine