By Awagie Daniel
Liberia is tacitly confronting a very serious but imperceptible crisis gravely telling on its survival in the years ahead. It is a crisis that defines the status of the investment climate – the relationship between government and investors on one hand or between citizens, government and investors – and the wellbeing of a country still dealing with cleavages of a decade-long civil war.
Liberia has been an investment hub for the better part of its anti-bellum political existence, hosting some of world’s outstandingly successful companies. Arguably, this unprecedented influx of foreign investments into Liberia as witnessed over the last several years, especially this administration of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, testifies to a blossoming opulent investment topography the country enjoys. Prior to her induction into office, there were already Topnotch international companies like Firestone, LAMCO, Bong Mining Company and more plied their operations in different parts of the country, making use of the rich endowments of iron ore, gold, diamond and fertile soil before the war.
Their coming was in line with government’s policy of landing in investments to bolster the economy which thrived so well, and, at some point time times, compared to that of industrialized nations. This is no naysay about the benefits accrued by the country from the operations of these ranking foreign concessions, though much remains at stake in terms of full utilization of the dividends. Besides direct financial commitments to government – cost of investment and bonus fees- hundreds of thousands of Liberians hugely benefited from the employment opportunities that concomitantly changed their economic and social status.
Today, the picture is not the same it was, though it is not the culpability of these companies their absconding of the country; rather the plague of a senseless civil war because investments don’t flourish and thrive amidst chaos and political uncertainties. Understandingly, this is why it is bequeathed on the country – government in this sense – the responsibility to unconditionally provide enabling environments for investments which most often serve as engine of economic productivity.
Differences in anti, post conflict investment
Though it seems extremely difficult to determine a kind of unblemished relation between pre-war and post-war investments in terms of existing atmosphere, everything in the Liberia has dramatically changed. Governance has changed; politics is not as it was played and policies are also quite extremely different. To succinctly put, the investment climate today is just not the same years ago.
The argument is not about companies no longer interested in investing in Liberia; rather it is about how deeply secured are their interests in the conduct of their operations in line with secured agreements. While some of the pre-war investments may be out of the picture, Liberia still enjoys the commitment of other investors, notwithstanding the imbroglios and diurnal constraints thereof at the hands of citizens in their operations areas, and/or other governmentally bureaucratic bottlenecks.
The country greatly boasts of diversified investments in the mining, rubber and palm and oil industries in the presence of the likes of Sime Darby, Arcelormittal, Equatorial Palm Oil, Maryland Oil Palm, Golden Veroleum, Exxon Mobil and others. The influx is a reminding reality that the topography is rewardingly excellent.
However, investment by common understanding is what one puts and reaps in return with profits. It is not only the money invested or the land provided, it is also about proper coordination and collaboration amongst the stakeholders – the investors, government and citizens. When investors crisscross terrains around the world, the ultimate interest is benefit, but that is only attainable on the environment – good citizens’ reception, positive interactions with stakeholders and moderation of government’s policies. Business productivities are environment contingent, and anything less is a disaster.
Protecting investors not negotiable
What is obtaining in Liberia between citizens and investors on the one hand, and government and investors on the other hand has reached a mindboggling dimension as it threatens the future of the state because without foreign investments, a country seems an outcast.
Surely the government has attracted huge investment totaling over 15billion, according to report by the ministry of Finance.
The Liberian government has from time to time pledged to provide enabling business environment but harshly extreme policies introduced are having adverse effects on investors. Truly, such friendly environment is in place and is still attracting more investments.
There are glaringly terrifying instances of stage-managed protest against investors in some parts of the country in the name of bearing pressure to adhere to social responsibility commitments. There are officials of government who use connections to undermine investors’ interests in some cases, especially when their wishes are not realized; there are citizens who are put against investors in different forms, suppressing their operations. These are factors highly potential enough to cause investors to close their operations and leave the country, and downside effect will be felt indiscriminately: people will lose jobs, economic activities will dwindle and disobedience is ushered in.
Though the government has taken tougher measures against individuals who undermine the operations of investors like in the case of the protest against Arcelormittal and GVL, its action – increasing taxes for example– is somehow complimentary of these unwholesome actions.
Investors are experiencing the harsh realities of global economic slowdown caused by the drop in the prices of commodities they export, and leveling more taxes, instead of tax breaks or relaxations, is as not protecting their interest. It is important for the government to take a critical look at the loss of other companies over the years to be able to tailor its policies. It is much more rewarding to focus on the long term dividends than the short terms which could be ephemeral. So, it is high time the gimmicks – indirectly undermining investors – are stopped because the dividends are huge when investors are protected. Liberia cannot lose these investments because someone wants to lick to the bone of their feet, forgetting that there is tomorrow in which Liberia has a stake. This gimmick needs to unreservedly stop.
It is about time for the president to actually take tough actions against people who are trying to effect this ideology. For leaving it undone, it may affect the country.
Look, just last week, huge prat of GVL palm plantation was put on fire; state radio reported this week Monday.
In other places where investigations are ongoing, the leaders of these committees need to be upright and to the point. It is also about time for the Chairman of the Concession, Lahai Lansanna, former senator of Bomi County to get out to all these areas, especially in the South East to ensure that things are properly take care of. His administration is under careful watch by all companies in the country.