By Aaron T. Massaquoi
The tax base in Liberia, as in most sub-Saharan African countries, is extremely narrow. So far, attempts to increase tax revenue have focused on closing the ‘taxation gap’ and expanding the tax base. The main policies recommended by the IMF have led to trade liberalization, the transition from a sales tax to a system of VAT, and ultimately resulted to the creation of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA).
Since its creation the LRA has remained central to the collection of lawful government taxes up until the governmental of former soccer legend George Weah resumed responsibilities as Liberia’s president in January of 2018.
Under the leadership of former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the LRA took credit for effectively collecting government taxes and funding nearly the entire budget which paved the way for the time disbursement of civil servants salary and implementation of government projects. Thanks to the leadership of Madam Elfrieda Stewart- Tamba, then commissioner general.
Mrs. Tamba understood Liberian Tax administration so much that she instituted reforms implemented by the Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA) with assistance from the U.S. Agency for International Development’s Revenue Generation for Governance and Growth (RG3) program. Reforms included a requirement beginning in October for large taxpayers to e-file tax returns. To support the reforms, LRA and RG3 established tax clinics to promote taxpayer filing and enrollment, conducted joint educational visits to taxpayers’ premises, and conducted SMS, social media, and other outreach.
Since her departure, from the LRA, the entity continues to witness structural weaknesses probably due to the newness of current Commissioner General Thomas Doe Nah.
This writer has established that some elements at the top of tax collection at the LRA have equally taken advantage of these structural and administrative “faintnesses” to defraud the system by forming a criminal network with top small, medium and large tax payers.
One of such persons who is revered for the design, operation and protection of such fraudulent scheme in the Liberia Revenue Authority especially of late, is Saa Saamoi, the Customs Commissioner. Mr. Saamoi and others at the LRA have for long used the “duty free” privilege administered by the customs section under the Department of customs to take money from importers in the name of bringing charity goods to the country.
One classic scheme in which Mr Saamoi and others have clearly defrauded the system of thousands of dollars was when- Sabaru Enterprise located in Redlight, Paynesville, obtained permit from the Ministry of Commerce and BIVAC to import 15 containers (7,500 bags) of flour into Liberia.
The Customs Commissioner and his business partner Sabarau colluded further with folks at the Ministry of Commerce and criminally brought in the flour under the guise of medical supplies with the bill of lading indicating the importer as UNICEF under a duty-free arrangement. This papers understands that Mr. Saamoi personally received $US 75,000 in cash at an evening meeting with Sabaru owner – Mamadu Mustafa at the Tropicana Beach Resort in Paynesville.
Mr Saamoi has for years used the government duty free arrangement to a personal business empire to aid in importing huge consignment of goods to Liberia under the disguise of said goods being brought to the country by humanitarian organization which are exempted from tax payment. Sources close to the LRA customs commissioner tell us that Mr Saamoi has even imported goods under aid arrangement for companies like Arcelor Mittal, LAC Plantation and Golden Verolum Liberia.
Due to the massive abuse and misuse of the Custom Duty Free privileges to Concessionaires, Humanitarian organizations and even some Diplomatic missions in Liberia as well as government ministries and agencies by Mr Saamoi, the Commissioner General of LRA, Mr. Thomas Nah Doe had transfer the Duty Free Section from the Department of Customs under Saa Saamoi to the office of the Commissioner General to avoid further mismanagement which defrauds the government of so much in income.
Of late Mr Saamoi masterminded the mystery over the discovery of some 38 vehicles allegedly stolen from the United States of America cast a dark eye on Oragon Rent-A-Car International and its owner Dr. Nelson Oniyama. In this instance, the company and its owner were actually victims of well-organized criminal syndicates within the LRA, headed by Mr. Saamoi who is head of Customs. Saamoi again took advantage of major loopholes in government’s control systems to deny the country much-needed revenues.
The LRA customs commissioner helped shipped the vehicles to Liberia under false declarations and cleared them at the Freeport of Monrovia allegedly with the aid of some of his customs officers, leaving many to wonder how existing mechanisms failed to catch on to the scheme before authorities jumped the gun into linking the rental car company and the Oniyama family to the scheme.
It has been difficult to hook Mr. Saamoi in many of these criminal transactions as he often uses low and middle level customs officers to carry out these criminal operations. Many of these employees have even been dismissed.
The LRA Customs commissioner and his gang of criminal enterprises have intensified their networking so much that it has affected the government revenue generation, making several employees of the government to go unpaid for months.
Pressured by Finance Minister Samuel Tweh on why the government revenue is not performing, the LRA Commissioner General Thomas Doe- Nah said he could not explain further.
On Monday Mr. Doe Nah called an emergency top level meeting where he clearly warned the customs department and the managers at LRA that he would take drastic action against people who fail to do their work or get engaged in stealing from the system. Our sources say the commissioner general frustrated even refused to take questions in the staff meeting.
Saa Saamoi the middle of dangerous Liberian Politicking
Not only is he operating a criminal scheme at the LRA, Saa Saamoi was deeply involved in politics as well and in his capacity as member of the for the erstwhile ruling Unity Party. He and others like Shiake Toue massively contributed to the campaign finance for the failed presidential bid of former Vice President Joseph Boakia. He secretly attended the 2017 rally of his uncle Boakai in Buchanan with Foreign Minister Gbehzongar Findley at Hotel Buchanan where Mr. Saamoi handed the campaign team $US 10,000 as contribution.
Saa Saamoi has also been a strong supporter of the Council of Patriots and the Collaborating Political Parties. A Source closed to him says he has been funding the activities of radio station Roots FM, which is owned by Government critic Henry Costa. Our source also further that he strongly supports Joy FM, a station managed by former Unity Party Representative Candidate Emmanuel Dahn.
At the heart of the June 7 protest planning, the LRA Commissioner for Customs, met Henry Costa and Emmanuel Dahn on the second floor Royal Hotel, and handed the two men huge sum of money as contribution.
Saa Saamoi, a strong partisan and supporter of his uncle Joseph Nyumah Boakai, recently attended a secret meeting at Farmington Hotel, where he, Robert Kpadeh, Wilmot Paye, Shiaka Toure, and Unity Party Vice chair- Neto Zaza Lighe discussed the possibility of raising money to support a Boakai as standard bearer of the Collaborating Parties in 2023.
Mr. Saamoi has repeatedly raised money through various criminal means in Customs to support the political activities and is currently supporting the proposed “Weah Stepdown Campaign” in a secret chat room.
Saa Saamoi has equally overstayed in the position for more than eight years. This is a violation of the LRA Regulation which calls for rotation of staff, because Saamoi himself by law is a customs officer. For nearly a decade he sits at the LRA leading the way how trade fraud robs Liberia of needed revenue.
Saa Saamoi is a dragon in LRA. He has swallowed enough. We can’t help it as the country is bleeding terribly.
By Aaron T. Massaquoi