EU – ECOWAS free movement project launched in Liberia

Own Correspondent, from Monrovia, Liberia for A  six month project was launched by Better Future Foundation (BFF). It seeks to create awareness among Cross-Border Women Traders and Law Enforcement State Agents in Liberia. They outlined the problems at the launch of a six-month awareness project under the theme “Achieving Regional Customs Union and Common Market within the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).The well attended launch came off at Liberia Chamber of Commerce on Capitol Hill.

The EU-Ecowas Free Movement Project according to BFF President Augustine Arkoi, has a direct target of two groups- cross-border market women and state law enforcement agents including seaport and city police; immigration, customs, commerce inspectors, drug agents, forest rangers of the Forestry Development Authority (FDA), among others.

Vice President of Liberia Joseph Nyumah Boakai

Vice President of Liberia Joseph Nyumah Boakai

Rev. Arkoi further disclosed that a total of 500 cross-border and inter-county market women and 300 state agents are expected to participate in the seminar which would be conducted in series in seven counties including Lofa, Nimba, Maryland, Grand Gedeh, Bomi, Bong, Rivercess, Grand Bassa and Grand Cape Mount. Cross-border women traders and law enforcement state agents in Liberia outlined  numbers  of impediments to free movement of community citizens, goods and services in the region of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

According to the traders and law enforcement officers the increased smuggling of drugs and other contraband substances, lack of reporting mechanisms, (hot lines) to facilitate systematic approach to addressing complaints of harassments and extortion as some of the factors that undermine goods and services at entry points across the ECOWAS region. Besides the graft seeking behaviours by some authorities that delay processing of business registration documents in ECOWAS member countries, leading to slow payment of taxes to national governments, cross border traders were also indulged in under-declaration of the quantities of goods at entry points across the region.

In was revealed by the trader that the are  gross variation in fees charged for commencement of businesses as regard Liberian nationals ($25 USD) and Community citizens ($900 USD), represent a disincentive for increased investments in Liberia. The women traders and agents further observe that businesses offer bribes to border patrol officers in the region to avoid reprimands for widespread violations of immigration and customs requirements.

Vice President Joseph Nyumah Boakai  delivered the keynote address  and also served as launcher of the project. While lauding the Better Future Foundation (BFF) for implementing the project, he called on the market women to learn the rights and privileges existing in the ECOWAS statutes aimed at protecting them not only in Liberia but in other ECOWAS member countries.

Boakai said the government of Liberia under the leadership of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is committed to regional integration and direct relationship among peoples at every level. He said Liberia has been working to ensure that its borders are welcoming, hospitable, and remains entrance of integration. He also praised ECOWAS and European Union for their support to the project through BFF, saying “it represents recognition of civil society in capacity building.”. He boarder point officers to put “all effort to eliminate corrupt acts bordering on the movement of goods and persons in the regions must not only be focused on those in the field, but also senior authorities.”

There is a huge need for intense public awareness and education about ECOWAS protocols and conventions with regard to free movement of community citizens, goods and services, the security agents said.”There is also a need for “Inter and extra state awareness to promote regional compliance and cooperation,” they further told the forum.

Women traders at the occasion also underscored the need to reinforce efforts towards strengthening cultural differences that would promote and sustain regional integration, especially among Anglo and Franco phone states.”

They further called on communities at Liberia and other border points to help discourage smuggling of goods in the ECOWAS region and that immigration, custom, and other related security agencies must focus their operations on drugs, small arms and light weapons, which for decades, has been proliferating in the sub-region .There is need to not just distribute ECOWAS conventions and Protocols, but to domesticate and make them appreciable locally through interpretation in (local vernaculars/ languages).

The project was funded by the European Union under the 9th European Development Fund for ACP countries through ECOWAS Commission based in Abuja, Federal Republic of Nigeria, as the Contracting Authority.