Minister Tweah said the number of days to resolve a case in Liberia is fundamentally revealing and is “something we have to pay attention to, as the country aims to rebrand its business climate”. According to him, reforms must be pursued in all directions to address an issue that is reputationally defining the judiciary and the country at large. The MFDP Minister was speaking Thursday, June 10, 2021 at the ongoing 4th Judicial Conference under the “Business climate development in Liberia” segment of the conference.
Minister Tweah, who spoke on the topic: “Law, Public Policy, and the Economy: The Nexus for an Improved Business Climate,” pointed out that providing more resources to the judiciary to address this problem is the best thing to do and should be done coming out of this conference. “On actions emanating from the judiciary, the government through the national budget process is committed to supporting the judiciary in critical areas. Coming out of this conference, let us define this partnership and work together to achieve shared and national objectives. The need to examine the body of our laws and put in place effective enforcement mechanisms is long overdue,” the MFDP boss asserted.
“I believe the government should conduct a comprehensive scan of all our relevant investment laws, especially the investment code of 2010 with the aim of addressing potential weaknesses in the code. Nevertheless, despite claims that the investment code excludes foreign businesses from certain sectors and industries, Liberian investment laws are favorable to foreign businesses,” said the Minister. “We probably have the most generous tax incentive regime in the world, where we give out five to 10 year incentives to investors, who do not earn these incentives in many other jurisdictions in the world.
Currently, we are conducting a review of these regimes to see whether on average, they have served the country well or are in need of modification. Investors and foreign companies are free to move their capital in and out of Liberia. The 2010 Investment Act guarantees and protects foreign enterprises against expropriation or nationalization by government,” he indicated. The Minister furthered that the existence of varied laws and protections for investors is high point for the Liberian economy; however, he reckoned that the downside is in the effective implementation of these laws, which is the exclusive preserve of the Executive.
He observed that the inability to develop a comprehensive enforcement regime surrounding the important body of investment and business laws, perceptions and claims that actors within this regulatory framework orient business processes toward selfish motives and the broad overlaps, duplications and turf wars raging between government agencies purporting to carry out the same functions are the crux of negative reputation of business and investment climate in Liberia. Turning this around after this conference, the Minister noted that such requires targeted, aggressive and focused leadership in key areas.
“Abstracting from the panoply of possibilities in driving reforms, five broad areas appear necessary: 1) a broad sweep of judiciary actions and reforms that can make serious inroads; 2) a review of executive enforcement on critical pieces of legislation; 3) the development of effective mechanism to deter and punish bribery and corruption in business climate processes and to enhance the fight against corruption more generally; and 4) a functions and mandate review to align specific functions at ministries and agencies impinging upon the business climate to logical objectives and outcomes, as opposed to merely statutory objectives which may no longer make practical sense or whose basis may be outmoded considering the digital advances in this era of the 4th industrial revolution; and 5) and removing barriers and decreasing costs affecting businesses,” he, among other things added.
In a special statement, President George Manneh Weah vowed to setup a sub-cabinet committee that will be charged with the responsibility of developing a roadmap that will bring about improvement and attraction from international community in the business sector of Liberia. He said the cabinet sub-committee will be tasked to present a roadmap after the four days Judiciary Conference so as to track the recommended actions and changes needed for improvement. The Liberian chief executive disclosed that Committee will be required to present a report in six months to show credible progress on the business climate in a range of areas.
“Mr. Chief Justice, you will agree with me that if we make it difficult for businesses to register, to get electricity, or to pay their taxes, we affect the economy. If businesses cannot get timely legal redress from the courts, or if contracts cannot be effectively or fairly enforced, we affect the investment climate. If commercial banks cannot enforce judgment on collateral when people default on their loans, these banks may not be able lend money into our economy,” said the Liberian leader.
"The Executive stands in partnership with you as we seek to overhaul business processes and simplify them. Accordingly, I will shortly appoint a high-level Cabinet sub-committee on the investment and business climate. This Committee will be chaired by the Ministry of Finance and Development Planning, and will include the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, the Liberia Revenue Authority, the National Investment Commission, the Liberia Business Registry, the Liberia Electricity Corporation and other agencies as may be necessary".
According to him, upon the submission of the committee's report, actions which include reforming the business law and removing those who may be considered as bad people in the system would be some of the stringent measures that would be implemented by him. “If the law is the problem, then let us reform the law. If processes and systems are the problem, let us change those processes. If the lack of funding is a problem, let us find ways to provide more resources. If certain people are the problem because, for selfish motives, they stand in the way of fair and transparent processes, then let us kick those people out of our systems to improve our investment and business climate,” he asserted.
President Weah continued: “I therefore urge you to let us work together as a Government to re-brand Liberia through impressive reforms and actions affecting the business climate. I have no doubt that this Conference will contribute meaningfully toward this end". He noted that the business and investment climate in Liberia has been a subject of great importance in recent years. Accordingly, the Liberian leader indicated that the country's drive to provide jobs for its people and to grow the economy by increasing the flow of both domestic and private investments are all dependent on the structure of the business climate.
He then lauded Liberia's international partners for their continuing support to the nation's transformation. Also speaking, Mr. Molewuleh B. Gray, Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC), said there are several huge investment prospects for Liberia, something that could lead to the growth of the economy. He named some of the investment prospects as the US$800M signing of phase-two of the ArcelorMittal Concession Agreement and the implementation of a railway project intended to boost cross bordering trade between Liberia and Guinea. When completed, he said the railroad will create downstream opportunity for the private sector investment.
Speaking on the topic: “The of Liberia’s Investment Climate: what are the Lessons Learned so Far?” the NIC boss also revealed that the Government of Liberia (GoL) is in negotiations with an investor over rehabilitation of the Ducor Palace Hotel, which will be in a term of a 50-year lease agreement. “We have several international tenders. The private must be able to take advantage of those investment opportunities. The private sector needs to appreciate the different stages of the developmental projects. Predictability is a critical factor to good investment. We need to be on par with the region. We all need to work collaboratively to improve the investment climate,” he told the gathering.
Also speaking at the forum, Mr. Thomas Doe Nah, Commissioner General of the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA), stressed the need for the protection of the Liberian business climate. “Business must be protected and secured. They hate corruption, extortion and favoritism in the law. They want to file their return without hindrances. They need access to information and they need redress and in a timely manner, when there is an issue. They want the LRA to allow them be part of the formation of tax law and implementation,” Doe-Nah stated.
Mr. Nah, who spoke on the topic: “Customs, Tariff, Taxes and Domestic Revenue Mobilization: Are The Laws and Regulations Business-Friendly?” told participants that the LRA has made strides with the simplification and decentralization of its activities through platforms such as money platform, various POS and Tipme. “This is to make business authorities effective and efficient. We are now taking online filing to medium tax. We tried and strived in informing the public on the different activities of the LRA. The issue of access to information is something very key to us.
Our website is user friendly. You can apply for your tax clearance online without you going to the LRA. This creates less stress,” Doe Nah explained. “We need people who will robustly collect revenue for our economy to survive. We think that certain act needs to be rationalized so that businesses will be comfortable,” he added. Meanwhile, the conference will officially come to a close today, Friday, June 11, 2021 with several recommendations crafted.