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After 25 Years on Wall Street, Richard Tolbert Heading Home

Ellen's Cabinet Update: After 25 Years on Wall Street, Richard Tolbert Accepts NIC, Economic Advisor Post

After 25 years on Wall Street, investment Banker Richard Tolbert is packing his bags and heading back to Liberia. FrontPageAfrica has learned that Tolbert has accepted a post in the Cabinet of president-elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The position, Chairman of the National Investment Commission and Economic Advisor to the President is believed to be a
ministerial-level post.

People who know Tolbert says he is extremely pleased at the opportunity to return home and contribute his services to his homeland.

Tolbert told FrontPageAfrica Saturday that he is looking forward to being involved in creating jobs and enterprises for Liberians. Sirleaf has expressed importance of foreign investment with his senior economic position he will be reporting directly to the president.

Tolbert was reportedly being considered for the position of Finance Minister and the Central Bank of Liberia. But FrontPageAfrica has learned that Antoinette Sayeh has already agreed to accept the post. Sayeh, a 1979 graduate of Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania is a Country Director at the World Bank with extensive experience working on financial, capacity building and economic development issues in developing countries including Togo and
Niger.

Wealth of experience

Tolbert has more than 20 years of experience working on Wall Street as an Investment Banker. He is Senior Vice President at UBS PaineWebber.

Tolbert told FrontPageAfrica that he has already tendered in his resignation to accept a post in Sirleaf's Cabinet. Tolbert has previously worked as a Vice President with Merrill Lynch. He was educated in Africa, Europe and America. Tolbert earned a BA (cum laude) in Economics from Harvard in 1968 and a law degree (Juris Doctor) from Columbia University in 1975, specializing in corporate and international law. Tolbert is credited for the visit of the Saudi Prince, who gave Liberia $2 million. He helped to run the Tolbert family business in Liberia, the Mesurado Group of Companies.

Says Tolbert: "I've always been a strong believer in improving the private sector and I am looking forward bringing a lot of jobs to Liberia.

He is a member of the Corporate Council on Africa, based in Washington and African Business Roundtable, based in Johannesburg. Tolbert is a founding shareholder and member of the Board of Directors of AllAfrica.com. Tolbert
is a member of the Advisory Board of the Mano River Resource, Inc (MRRI), the founder of The Clara Tay Orphan Foundation on the Liberian Refugee Camp at Buduburam, Ghana. People who know Tolbert considered him a capable man
and with deep understanding of international financial markets.

Liberia is 'open for business'

Tolbert says for every thousand jobs he creates, the government will be able to feed about 50 people. "Liberia is open for business," he said.

If confirmed by lawmakers, Tolbert will be taking over a ministry responsible for luring investors to help revamp the private sector in Liberia. Over the last year, there have been concerns about renegotiating agreements with some of Liberia's traditional investors. In 2005, a new land lease with the United States-based Firestone rubber company, one of
Liberia's most important foreign investors.

Earlier this year, Firestone closed a deal with the Liberian government extending the lease on its estates for another 36 years, 16 years beyond the term of the original agreement signed in 1926. Firestone officials say the extension demonstrates their commitment to help rebuild Liberia. But not everyone was happy. Some firestone workers and Liberians in general felt that the agreement was not favorable to them.

Firestone Concerns

Firestone, a multinational rubber manufacturing giant known for its automobile tires, has come under fire from human rights and environmental groups for its alleged use of child labor and slave-like working conditions at a plantation in Liberia. Recently, the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF), a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group, filed a lawsuit charging
that thousands of workers, including minors, toil in virtual slavery at Bridgestone's Firestone rubber plantation in Liberia.

According to the complaint filed in the United States District Court in Venice, California, Firestone, which has operated in the West African country since the 1920s, largely depends on poor and often illiterate workers to tap tons of raw latex from rubber trees using primitive tools exposing them to hazardous pesticides and fertilizers.

Cemenco Concerns

Cemenco has had a monopoly on the sale of cement in Liberia since 1977. Cemenco is the international subsidiary of the Scancem AB which owns 62 percent of the stocks in the company compared to 29 percent for the government. The remaining 9 percent is owned by local stockholders. The factory runs two cement mills and a plant with a production capacity of 220,000 metric tons of cement a year. Cemenco has a monopoly on the sale of cement in Liberia, and sells the cement for about US$7 a bag.

"When the law was passed, the True Whig Party (TWP) had a block of shares in Cemenco and that's how they gave the company that kind of monopoly in Liberia," says veteran Liberian lawyer Varney Sherman in an exclusive interview with FrontPageAfrica. Now some including Sherman believes it is time to revisit that contract agreement.

Tolbert says his first priority is to ensure that the job market in Liberia is improved and Liberians return to work. That will be welcome news to thousands of Liberians whose hopes have been dashed over the years and have been out of work and unable to make ends meet as a result of the civil war. At least 85% of the population is unemployed.