RICE DEAL:Modad’s Deal Backfires

MONROVIA-The Minister of Commerce, Mr. Amid Modad’s  fast statement to the country last week that the country’s staple food, rice price would be increased, was quickly thwarted  by his boss, president Joseph Boakai after sources  have said he acted unilaterally and  his statement has self-vested interest .

More so, sources within the rice sector alleged that the decision by the minister was due a closed door deal he reached   with some of the importers to gain percentage on each bag of rice sold.

“But he was fast in making the pronouncement to the nation. He did not inform the president about such decision. Only few people were aware  of it,” the source who declined to be name said.

“Some of us knew that it was not going to hold because rice is a political commodity,” one source said.

Rice, the country’s staple diet has had its own negative impact in Liberia’s history, as it is considered a political commodity used by opposition in previous administrations to destabilize the nation.

The history of hiking  the price of Liberia’s staple food, rice remains fresh on the minds of many when in 1979, the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL), a pressure group comprising of young progressives at the time, called for a peaceful demonstration in Monrovia to protest the proposed price increase.

The peaceful demonstration on April 14, 1979, was carried out by at least 2,000 activists in Monrovia, which turned bloody, settling the pace for Liberia’s ugly past of nearly 14 years of civil unrest.

With the recent news of an increment in the price of the commodity, coupled with the Ministry of Commerce’s earlier announcement that government had negotiated with a rice importers to drop their demand of an increment of a 25kg bag of Indian rice previously sold at US$16.50 to US$18.50  raised concerns.

The recent pronouncement by Commence Minister Amid Modad at the Ministry of Information press briefing that the government had agreed in principle to increase the price of rice from US$16.50 cents to US$18.50 cents  backfired with the timely intervention of President Joseph Nyuma Boakai who swiftly averted a national crisis.

Minutes after the Ministry of Commerce and Industry announced an increment of the commodity on Monday, May 20, prices of a 25kg bag of rice jumped from $16.75 to $20.050, in many parts of the city center with reports of as high as US$22.00 in cities such as Kakata, Harel, Buchanan, Ganta, and Gbarnga.

Sources informed this paper that prior to the announcement of the increment, the Minister had agreed without the consent of President Boakai  along with other officials of the Administration for rice importers to increase the price with the promise that  certain   percentage  would be awarded to him and his associates.

His decision was later seen as a means of self-enrichment, but little did he know that his boss was not asleep.

According to sources close to the Executive Manion, President Boakai was upset  and even walked out of  the meeting when it was revealed that the increment of rice met the approval of only  his Commerce Minister without the consent of the entire government.

As a result of that, the President urgently, held a meeting with rice importers to calm the storm. According to multiple sources, this is an age old deal at the Ministry, where  some officials usually benefit from the increment of the price of basic commodities. This according to many, contradict President Boakai’s quest for transparency and accountability.

The importers justification for the increment was due to what they said  a 20% surcharge levied on the commodity by the Indian government. But this levy has been on  since 2022(https://www.reuters.com/world/india/india-imposes-20-export-duty-parboiled-rice-govt-notification-2023-08-25/ according to investigation carried out by this paper.

“India imposed a 20% surcharge on parboiled rice, which has impacted the price of rice. Additionally, they (rice importers) cited the war in Ukraine and issues in the Middle East that also impacted freight, insurance, and timing,” the statement released by the Ministry said. But failed to state when the surcharge was imposed.  Moreover, the war in Ukraine started in 2022.”

Major importers of the commodity with the consent of current and previous Commerce Ministers have been playing politics and threatening shortages if the government did not agree to a price hike due to the 20% export tax extended by India on parboiled rice, even though the government of Liberia, continued to take steps to advert the hike.

President Boakai’s  stance, according some sources at the Ministry  has now exposed the  deal between his trusted minister and  some business people.

To advert this increment in rice price, both former President George Weah and President Joseph N. Boakai issued three separates Executive Orders suspending import tariff on rice is classified under tariff numbers 1006.30.00, in packing of more than 5kg or in the bulk; 1006.30.00, in packing of at least 5kg and 1006.40.00 (broken rice) under the Revenue Code of Liberia Act of 2000.

The issuance of Executive Orders by both presidents is intended to bring relief to the Liberian people, underscoring the government’s commitment to ensuring that prices of certain commodities on the market, including rice, remain affordable as not to impose unnecessary burden on the people, yet the rice cartel with the helpof current and previous ministers continued to roam at the detriment of the ordinary people who barely get ends meet at the close of day.

Amidst this looming potential for a national crisis, members of the House of Representatives have unanimously summoned to Plenary the Minister of Commerce and industry to explain in detail reasons for the speedy increment in the price of 25k bags of rice from (US$16.50cents to US$18.50 cents).

Plenary took the decision on Tuesday (May 21, 2024) after Rep. Frank Saah Foko Representative of District#9, Montserrado County and Rep. Mathew F. Joe Representative District#3, Grand Bassa County separately wrote that august body.

Minister Mondad and the Minister of Agriculture are expected to appear before Plenary tomorrow, Tuesday May 28, 2024 to ascertain the major reasons behind his statement at the time.

The Ministry of Commerce Communication officer, Mr. Jacob Parley was contacted to clarify on such a deal, but said his boss was attending a cabinet retreat and would revert to this paper for redress.  Up to press time, there was no redress.

 

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