EconomyFact CheckLiberiaSierra Leone

Liberian Finance Minister’s affirmation of US$50 per bag of rice price in Sierra Leone cannot be substantiated

Claim: “The price of rice in Sierra Leone is US$50,”- Samuel Tweah

Verdict: No evidence to substantiate the assertion that a bag of rice is sold for US$50.

Full text

In April of 1979, Former President William Tolbert increased the price of a 100-pound bag of rice from $22 to between $26 to $30, ignoring the fact that many Liberians at the time lived way below the poverty line in the country.

The justification for Florence Chenoweth, then minister of agriculture, was for rice farmers to increase rice production instead of relying on imported rice. The increase in the price of rice urged Gabriel Baccus Matthews to form an opposition group called the Progressive Alliance of Liberia (PAL) to the government of Tolbert.

Recently, the rice debate has taken centre stage in the country, following scarcity of the cereal leading to skyrocketing prices.

On many occasions, Liberians were seen in long queues and even spending sleepless nights at various rice warehouses across the country in search of rice, the country’s staple food.

As a result, President George Weah, in a statement, constituted a Rice Stabilization Taskforce to ensure the availability of the country’s staple food on the Liberian market.

According to the statement published on the Liberia Executive mansion website, the Liberian leader named the Ministries of Agriculture, Finance and Development Planning, Commerce and Industry, State for Presidential Affairs, and Justice as part of the task force. 

The statement indicated, “the others are the Liberia Chamber of Commerce, Mayor Jefferson T. Koijee, Mayor, Monrovia City Corporation, National Port Authority, Mr Steve Flahn-Paye, Coordinator Japanese Counterpart Value Fund and Hon. Charles Bright, Economic Advisor to the President of the Republic of Liberia.”

Appearing on a local radio show, “Spoon Talk”, aired on Spoon FM and TV, the Liberian Minister of Finance and Development Planning (MFDP), Samuel Tweah, claimed that the price of rice in neighbouring Sierra Leone is US$50.

Minister Tweah asserted that Liberians should be grateful that the Weah-led government is keeping the price of rice down way below the price in Sierra Leone.

In Minister Tweah’s words, “Ghanaians are protesting for Microeconomic reasons. The price of rice in Sierra Leone is fifty dollars, we’ve been keeping it down, and investors are calling and asking us why Liberia is doing better.”

This show was carried on the institution’s live Facebook page with over 20k viewers, 11k comments, over 500 shares and 1k emojis.

This claim is made at 1:33:1-25 seconds in the over four hours show aired on November 9, 2022.

Verification

Considering the importance of rice as a staple food in Liberia and consequently a political commodity in the country, DUBAWA embarked on a fact-finding mission to ascertain if the comment made by the Liberian Minister of Finance is true or false.

We first decided to contact the Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah, to provide information on the type of rice and where precisely in Sierra Leone it was sold for $50, to enable us to verify the assertion, but he failed to respond, as seen here in the WhatsApp conversation.

Through our correspondent in Sierra Leone, Fayia J Moseray, DUBAWA contacted local business people within the Sierra Leonean market who provided us with the price of the various types of rice in the market. 

Bella rice or Pusawa is being sold for 580les, equivalent to US$30 to 35.

OAU is being sold for 550les, amounting to US$25 to 27. 

Fen Fen is also being sold for 550les amounting to $25 to 27.

DUBAWA also spoke to some rice traders in Freetown who sell rice per bag to verify the assertion made by Samuel Tweah, Liberia’s Finance Minister.

One of the traders said some rice brands vary from 500 to 680 new leones. He noted that Pusawa rice is sold at 510,000 and 530,000 (510 & 530 Nles) for the big bag; OAU rice is sold at 500 & 510 leones; Bella-Bella rice is sold at 550 leones, and Jasmine rice is sold at 580 leones.

DUBAWA visited another shop around Kroo Town Road in the Western part of Freetown. A trader told DUBAWA that the Fen-Fen rice is the most expensive rice, which is sold for 680,000 old leones (680 Nles), equivalent to some $32 to $35.

Of all of these prices, none is equivalent to the $50 the minister mentioned as selling price for a bag of rice in Sierra Leone.

Bags of Bella-bella rice

Conclusion

Following the interaction with local business people in Sierra Leone over the price of rice, it is safe to conclude that the assertion by Liberia’s Finance Minister, Samuel Tweah, that a bag of rice is sold for US$50 in Sierra Leone cannot be substantiated. Per our investigation, the highest price a bag of rice in Sierra Leone is being sold is US$35.

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