Scrutinizing New Investments
By John L. Momoh
Scrutinizing the credentials of new investors and advising them on their investments is one of the principal functions of the National Investment Commission (NIC), apart from attracting domestic and direct foreign investments to Liberia.
Unfortunately, sometimes a lot of people sit by the fence and make conclusions from their own figments of imagination, without making careful analysis of the operations of the entities that they are talking about, a situation in which the NIC sometimes finds itself.Of course although Liberians will not afford to remain as spectators in their own economy and as Liberians and foreign partners participate in transforming new investment dreams into reality so that the private sector become engines of growth in Liberia, the rules of transparency and accountability are also to be rigorously considered.
It was therefore a step in the right direction when the Chairman of the National Investment Commission (NIC) Attorney Molewuleh B. Gray extended open invitation to all journalists and politicians as well as the general public to visit the NIC website http://www.investliberia.gov.lr or to make a stop-over at the NIC head office to avail themselves with the processes that new investments go through.
It is also important that a new structure has been organized by government known as the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to monitor the outflow and inflow of money coming into Liberia, considering that counterfeiting, money laundering and the making of investments for terrorist purposes is also gaining ground in several countries.
As mentioned on the NIC website, Liberia offers lots of investment opportunities especially in the areas of mining, considering the vast mineral deposits all over the country, agriculture offers fertile grounds to invest in cocoa, rice, palm products and coffee production while tourism, aquaculture, horticulture poultry and logging, health, education as well as the transport sectors remain untapped.
However, government appears very careful in assessing investors and investments, perhaps some of the concerns that may be delaying the processing of the applications and credentials of interested investors.
There is also the issue of investors coming with money whose backgrounds may be questionable such as having links to the narcotic and drugs trade or money-laundering, something that may make a country vulnerable to criminal activities.
Moreover, the NIC itself has various criteria that investors should fulfill such as presenting their business registration and article of incorporation documents as well as tax clearance, and write their proposals addressed to the NIC chairman.
The incentives offered include that if the investment is over half a million dollars or US$500,000, government is obliged to offer tax exemption from ports clearance of their machines and equipment brought into the country.
The need to properly scrutinize the credentials of investors coming into the country became apparent in the 1980s, few years before the Liberian crisis when government decided that public corporations were becoming less profitable to government and to maximize profit, the option of semi-privatization of certain state owned enterprises to operate in join ventures with interested investors was recommended.
The companies earmarked at the time were the Liberia Electricity Corporation (LEC), the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation (LTC), the Liberia Water and Sewer Corporation (LWSC), the Liberia Petroleum Refining Corporation (LPRC), among others. But far from expectations, individuals and companies that brought privatization bids were mostly unable to fulfill the criteria set for the privatization of these enterprises. It was for example discovered that LINKOIL which was leading in efforts to privatize the LPRC was after all found not to be solvent
Making sure of transparency and accountability, the companies living up to the expectations of the corporate social responsibilities may have been some of the reasons why the NIC boss was stressing that giving the final clearance to new investments to operate, is not an event but a process; adding that companies that are already established in Liberia include: Chevron, Firestone, Exxon, Sime Darby, ArcelorMittal, Golden Veroleum, Sifca, Aureus Gold mining, among others.
Indeed the investors bring their proposals, and governments in turn present their own requirements and if the NIC or government is not careful but accept proposals on the basis of personal gains, the terms agreed upon would end up being renegotiated by succeeding administrations.
This is why we agree with the NIC, an entity whose chairman is always busy working around the clock to attend meetings and to assess investment applications, in ensuring that the rules are scrupulously adhered to. Indeed investment is not an event but a process that requires careful analysis, which is why while certain concession agreements were ratified and approved under this CDC administration, there are others that are to be renegotiated.