MONROVIA-JAN 8-The passage of the Fouani Brothers US$30M investment agreement late last year, has been described by many lawmakers and ordinary Liberians as a bad deal that will make the country lose about US$1.2M in revenue monthly. According to the deal, which is to run for 15 years, puts local oil palm companies at a big disadvantage. More disturbing, it failed to go through the normal concession formalities.
According to Senator Jonathan Boye Charles Sogbie of River Gee County, any agreement over US$10M goes through the formalities of concession, but Fouani deal took a shortcut.
That is why he said, during the time of debating the deal, the president Pro-Tempore, Albert Chea(who was slammed by US sanctions) maneuvered his way along with other senators to pass it at an extra speed, something which perhaps prompted him to think otherwise.
Senator Sogbie at a press conference in December 2023, said Fouani wants to use this opportunity to import fresh edible oil that will disenfranchise the out growers or small farmers shareholders.
He continued; “To have a concession signed, we must meet a two-thirds majority total sitting of the legislature. In this case, we should have been 19, but today, we were only 18. I raised the issue, but was brushed aside by the pro-tempore because he was bent on carrying this.”
To further buttress his case, he said, when the deal was first brought on the floor for discussions, the minister of Agriculture, Hon. Jeanine Milly Cooper did a communication to Cllr. Archie Bard Bernard, legal advisor to President George Weah expressed his disapproval of the entire deal because the people of Liberia will not benefit, rather, it will give a monopolistic position to Fouani.
“For some reason, I raised my hands, but the pro-Tempore never recognized me. I know there was something sinister about it, but I do not want to insinuate, but it appeared to be that way.”
That is why Senators Edwin Snowe, Darius Dillon, Simeon Taylor, and other lawmakers from the Lower House of Representatives said such a deal should be revisited.
For the company, it said it will invest in Agro Oil Production plant but section 10.1 exempts Fouani Brothers from import taxes and duties on capital equipment, related materials, and construction materials. Such exemption comes into effect seven years after the completion of the refinery’s construction. The deal did not state the exact date for the construction of the refinery.
This tax exemption, critics say, will deprive the country of several millions of dollars while Fouani benefits immensely.
For Instance, Senator Edwin Snowe of Bomi County said that this extended tax exemption could be exploited, given Liberia’s past challenges in enforcing tax incentive agreements and the potential for loopholes in the system.
He added; “Today, vegetable oil in Liberia is more expensive in Liberia than our neighboring countries. They save more than 1.2 million on every vessel they bring to this country and pay 40K to the Liberian government,” Snowe added.
“We have been having these discussions and our investigations have shown that Fouani is a recipient of incentives for the same oil refinery thing. They received the agreement in 2020.
“Fouani Brothers have previously benefited from incentives and protective tariffs without delivering on promises to produce vegetable oil for local consumption and export. Instead, they imported vegetable oil and only packaged it in Liberia, leading to higher consumer prices.”
“Nowhere in this country can they produce 13k metric tons of CPO(Crude Palm Oil) a month, and that is why they are smartly asking for a plant for 13K metric tons of CPO because it is impossible to get that amount. For many years, they have had incentives and protective tariffs, where they should be manufacturing vegetable oil/cooking oil for local consumption and export,” the Senator said. “Contrary to what they should be doing, they are bringing in the vegetable oil and only packaging it in Liberia.”
“Today vegetable oil in Liberia is more expensive in Liberia than our neighboring countries. They save more than 1.2 million on every vessel they bring to this country and pay 40K to the Liberian government,” Snowe added.
He emphasized that accepting the agreement would result in job losses for citizens in Cape Mount, Bomi, and Sinoe counties and called on the Fouani Brothers to start a palm farm instead.