In a bid to ascertain firsthand information and improve on the reported shortage of rice in the local market in Liberia, President George Weah has toured various warehouses at the Freeport of Monrovia with a vow to take punitive measures against unscrupulous business owners and others creating an artificial shortage and hiking the price of the commodity.
Rice is the staple food in Liberia.
It can be recalled that on Tuesday, March 29, hundreds of aggrieved rice dealers staged a violent protest on Bushrod Island, outside Monrovia by setting roadblocks over the unfavorable business practices and the scarcity of the country’s staple food on the local market.
The marketers, mostly elderly women, were seen chanting anti-slogans like “We want rice; No Rice, No Car Going, Your Open Your Stores, We Want Rice”, among others.
They also held placards with inscriptions: “Enough is enough, we want rice; Where is the rice; Local rice dealers are tired of paying transportation for rice; No rice, no work; Government please give us rice, We are hungry and out of business”, among others.
They also blocked the main entrances of two major rice importers – K and K and Fouta Corporation in Vai Town-accusing the owners of allegedly hoarding and creating an artificial shortage of the commodity on the market.
They also claimed that the importers are reportedly planning to increase the price of a bag of 25kg rice from US$13 to US$15 in the midst of extreme hardship and poverty in Liberia.
K and K Trading Company belongs to top Lebanese business tycoon George Haddad, a former closed associate of ex-Liberian President Charles Ghankay Taylor. His company enjoyed a monopoly over the sale of rice for several years during the regime of Mr. Taylor.
Fouta Corporation is being owned and operated by Mr. Cherif Abdallah.
The two companies are among the highest importers of rice in the country.
But speaking to Reporters during the tour on Wednesday, April 6, President Weah warned against the politicizing of the country’s staple food for political gains.
He claimed that there is no rice shortage in the country as evidenced by the stockpile of rice spotted at various warehouses at the Freeport, and as such, citizens, especially politicians should desist from stirring up issues to create panic among the citizenry.
He emphasized that his government remains cognizant of the consequence or aftermath of the shortage of rice.
President Weah added that being aware of the consequence, his government held a meeting with rice importers two years ago to prevent the hike in the price or the shortage of the product on the Liberian market.
At the meeting, the Liberian Chief Executive recalled, his government was assured by the importers that there will be no scarcity of rice in the country.
“When it comes to rice issue here, it’s not about politics. Your don’t know when to play politics; we are not campaigning here. This is governance process and you guys (journalists) are responsible because you guys are part of the governance process by giving the actual message to our people so they cannot panic. If there is a rice shortage, people will get hungry and they will go into the streets”.
“Let’s forget politics; you may not like me, and I may not like you but it has nothing to do with the general good of the country. Whether we are opposition or not, this is our country”.
President Weah disclosed that his decision taken to tour the warehouses at the Freeport was intended to verify the information he received about the insufficiency of rice.
“I came here to see because two years ago, they (importers) promised us that there will be no rice shortage. Coming here again, we can see that there is no shortage, but our people have been misinformed. I listened to so many journalists, but what they said is contrary to what we are seeing here. So, what we need to do is to make sure that we give the right information to the public”.
He said the opening of the rice market in Liberia has immensely attracted scores of Liberian and other foreigners to engage into the trading of the commodity, This, he observed, is delaying the timely distribution of the product.
“Rice is our staple food and if it is the only commodity that will be expensive in this country, we will not allow that”.
President Weah maintained that his government will continue to make sure that rice is “available and affordable” for consumers.
He said the necessary mechanisms will be put in place to combat against the hoarding of the commodity.
“Whether they like it or not, rice price will not go up. If you are a (Commerce) Minister and you are not able to stabilize rice price, then you are not a Minister. You need to communicate that to our people so they cannot panic”.
President Weah assured that government will assiduously “monitor” and take actions against unscrupulous business owners who are hiking the price and creating artificial shortage of rice on the local market.
“Some people decide to cheat; we just have to monitor them. We will make sure to enforce the laws so that those getting the rice cheaper and want to blow the rice up, they can get there. Everywhere in the world, people cheat the market.
It’s not something new or strange. But our law enforcement officers have to get around to enforcing the law and make sure that no one will sell the rice expensive. We will not tolerate anything that will hinder the growth of our people”.
As a former soccer legend, many Liberians, including supporters of the ruling CDC, still see President Weah as one who has the “connections” to use the magical wind to change and make things work for them in the nation.
The Liberian leader assured citizens that his government will do her best to ensure that the country’s staple food remains available in Liberia.
He emphasized that even after his tenure, he would not sit supinely as a patriotic Liberian to allow rice shortage to hit the country and breed tension.
“We are meeting with the people and working very hard to make sure that there is no rice shortage here. Even when we leave power, we have all our connections and we will bring our people to make sure that we have surplus rice in this country”.