In Liberia, rice is the staple food and problems in supply have caused deadly riots and coups d’etat in the past. Recently the Liberian government rejected a proposal from George Haddad’s Bridgeway Corporation to import rice into Liberia; however, the government approved the bid of the Sinkor Trading Company. Some members of the opposition and the general public have accused the government of political favoritism and interfering with the free market system. Liberia’s minister of commerce, Olubanke King-Akerele, spoke with VOA English to Africa reporter James Butty about the government’s action.
“When Mr. Haddad, general manager of Bridgeway, made his submission to the ministry for the importation of a quantity of rice, he wanted an approval for him to wholesale the price of butter rice at $24.89 or roughly $25.00. This, at the time when the government’s approved price for butter rice is $22.00 per bag retail. The other proposal that was already under consideration was providing for rice at the 21 wholesale and 22 retail.… This was the package that in fact was approved. It had nothing to do with whether there was any closeness to the government or not. This was based on pure economics, number one,” she said.
Commerce Minister King-Akerele rejects the suggestion by some that her government was interfering with the free market.
“Let me correct the following. It is not a matter of who sells or who does not sell. Rice is a strategic issue in Liberia. Rice is a security issue in Liberia. No government anywhere in the world, I repeat, no government anywhere in the world will not take into account its security imperative. Therefore, taking into account the fragility of our current situation in Liberia, taking into account for ensuring that our people, the consumers, were protected, we were obliged to pay particular attention, monitor, and manage this situation of rice in Liberia. The issue of interference in the market has got to be seen in that context,” she said.
King-Akerele says the Liberian government looks forward to a full market economy operating by March next year. The government hopes to end the domination of the rice market by one or two major importers. She also says that Mr. Haddad is welcome to import rice into Liberia in the future when his proposal is competitive.
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