MONROVIA-The Liberian Business Association (LIBA) has commended the Ministry of Commerce & Industry for halting the Lebanese-owned L’Oven Bakery from manufacturing ice cream, one of 16 businesses reserved for Liberians under the 2010 Liberian Investment Act.
Under the law, foreigners can only produce ice cream if they partner with a Liberian and invest a minimum of US$500,000 in external capital specifically for ice cream.
L’Oven Bakery, which has been in the Buzzy Quarter Community for years, relocated to 15th Street (the site of the old City Builders), in December. The sign on the new location advertises ice cream as one of the items to be produced along with bread, pastries, sandwiches, and coffee.
James M. Strother, LIBA’s president said Commerce Minister Marwine G. Diggs shut down the bakery during the two-week Christmas break and told the owners that they are licensed to only sell bread, not ice cream. The ministry locked the front of the bakery and ordered the owners to remove ice cream from the sign.
The bakery reopened, but they are not producing ice cream. So far, the bakery is in violation of the ministry’s order and has not removed ice cream from its signage.
“We must protect the businesses that are reserved for Liberians,’’ Strother said. “If we Liberians do not fight for our rights, who will?’’
Mr. Strother praised Eyvonne Bright, the CEO of Shark’s Ice Cream and Catering for always alerting the government when she sees foreigners entering the ice cream business.
Ms. Bright has been fighting to protect the ice cream industry as a Liberian business since 2015. ERA Supermarket abandoned its quest to manufacture ice cream after Mrs. Bright filed a complaint.
“One-day people will come to recognize that businesses set aside for Liberians should be left alone,’’ she said. “I want to thank Minister Diggs for making a strong statement about protecting Liberian businesses.’’
Implementation of the Liberianization policy has been a major challenge. Ice cream, Ms. Bright said, is protected for Liberians in the same way the legal profession is reserved only for Liberians.
“What would happen if foreigners started practicing law in this country? We need a concerted effort by all Liberians, from citizens to the Liberian Revenue Authority (LRA), the business registry, and the Ministry of Commerce and Industry. If we don’t protect Liberian businesses, there will be nothing left for us and our children.”
He added “Eagle Electrical has been in Liberia since the 1960s. The people running it are not the ones who started it. It’s run by their children and family members. The Lebanese protect their businesses for their children. It’s time Liberians start doing the same.’’
When President Weah was sworn in as president in 2018, he said Liberians will not be “spectators in our own economy.’’
“We agree that we will not be spectators in our own economy,’ Ms. Bright said. “We worked through the war years, and we are determined to keep working. We are just asking them to respect this aspect of the law. ‘’
Liberian women, she said, are pioneers in the ice cream business, she said. Some of the prominent Liberians who produced ice cream include Eugenia Cooper Shaw, Euphemia Weeks, and Sophie Dunbar.
Despite the challenges, Ms. Bright has persevered. Shark’s ice cream is sold in most supermarkets in Monsterrado and five other counties. Two years ago, Ms. Bright opened a factory in the Industrial Park on Somalia Drive.
In Ghana, the government protects locally produced items by imposing high tariffs on imported items.
“Our forefathers understood that Liberians may not have the capital to do other kinds of businesses, so they reserved some for Liberians,’’ Ms. Bright said.
Some of the other businesses reserved for Liberians include water sachet, sand mining, ice, block making, peddling, travel agency, retail sale of rice and cement, tire repair shops, auto repair shops with investments of less than $550,000, shoe repair shops, retail of timber and plank, gas stations, video clubs, taxi operation, importation or sale of used clothing and importation and sale of used cars.
LIBA encourages citizens to report violators of the law. “If you know of a foreigner who is operating a business that is exempt, bring it to the attention of LIBA and the Ministry of Commerce, Strother said. ‘We have to fight this war together.’’