From the point of manufacturing to household consumption, the viability of the business community is indispensable in enhancing the strength of any economy the world over, especially in Liberia with a micro-economy that relies heavily on small and medium enterprises to thrive. However, many businesses, especially Liberian-owned, continue to complain that high tariffs and other ‘double taxation’ regimes are creating bottlenecks for their survival.
Local importers have complained that the processes and various fees charged by the national government through customs are extremely detrimental to good business. The importers told The Capitol Insider that most of these fees are ‘double-charged’ for inspection and added overhead cost of bringing goods into the country. “Most often, the taxes are so high that we cannot afford to pay on time. As a result, our containers stay at the port beyond the seven-day period set by APM Terminals, making us to accumulate financial burdens,” Alvin Sayon, owner of Alvin and Associates Inc, importers of beverages in Monrovia, said. “We are subjected to pre-shipment inspection by BIVAC (Bureau Inspection Valuation Assessment Control). But again, when our goods arrive at the port, the customs people will do another inspection and charge additional duties. You don’t expect me to sell my goods for lower price after bearing all these stress and bureaucracies. The end users which are the customers will pay for whatever additional cost levied,” Mr. Sayon added. However, according to the Liberia Revenue Authority’s import clearance requirement, imported goods are subject to risk criteria and may be subject to the payment of import duty, excise duty, Goods and Sales Tax (GST), as well as the ECOWAS Tax levy (ETL) and other levies as applicable. Saa Saamoi, Commissioner of Customs at the Liberia Revenue Authority, says the claims of “double taxation” are unfounded, indicating further that no extra inspection is done besides the one carried out by BIVAC. “What we do at the level of Customs is verification. No additional charges are levied except in the case of under declaration whereby it is discovered that what BIVAC certificate says is different from the actual content of a container,” he explained. According to Mr. Saamoi, the LRA has had many instances where importers tried to defraud the government of needed revenues by making false declaration to BIVAC just to avoid paying the requisite taxes. “We have a pre-shipment regime in place. That means before you import a cargo to Liberia, it has been pre-inspected by a company that the government has contracted to work along with customs.That company is BIVAC. One inspection is done at the point of origin. When your cargo arrives here in Liberia, based on the risk analysis and risk profile we have in our system, we can still subject that cargo to what we call “verification”. Presumably, because of the high tax placed on certain products, sometimes people try to shy away from making the proper declaration. We are under obligation to protect the revenue of the country”, Saamoi said. According to Saamoi, writing off BIVAC in these processes at this time could be a good idea but that will be done in the long term when the requisite investment has been made in human capital as well as infrastructure. “It is no embarrassment to say that we do not have the capacity to do inspection for all cargos coming into Liberia as BIVAC is doing. Getting them out of the way completely as was done in Nigeria recently, is a long-term plan”, Saamoi added. Notwithstanding the clarification from the LRA Customs Commissioner, importers are heavily laden with high duties and taxes. For instance, 11 to 25% is charged for the importation of beverages regardless of the alcohol content. Culled from The Capitol Insider Magazine