30 June 2012
Last year, Sierra Leone’s office of Registrar-General, generated substantial revenue totalling Le 7.6 Billion.
This was money collected through fees paid for business registration, registration of business names, registration of conveyances, estate fees, registration of trademarks and marriages as prescribed in the 2007 Review Act.
John Baimba Sesay, Sierra Leone’s information attaché in China, had a chat with Haja Mariama Seray Kallay - the Secretary of the country’s Registrar-General, during her recent visit to the People’s Republic of China.
She is also acting Commissioner for the Political Parties Registration Commission, following the recent death of the substantive post holder – Justice Ademusou.
In this interview, she talks about the reforms she has brought into the operations of the office, the contribution her office has made in public sector revenue collection, and the support she is getting from the President.
This is what she said:
Madam Registrar-General why are you in China?
Ans: I am in China to attend a diplomatic conference on copyright organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization.
As you know, in July 2011, Sierra Leone enacted a copy right law that makes provision for adequate protection of the economic rights of artists – including musicians, singers, authors, etc.
However, the law does not contain provision for the protection of audiovisual copyrights for performers and broadcasters.
As a member state of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), we are hoping to develop and maintain the protection of the rights of performers in their audiovisual performances in a manner as effective and uniform as possible; especially, recognizing the need to introduce new international rules in order to provide adequate solutions to economic, socio-cultural and technological developments.
There is also the need to maintain a balance between the rights of performers against those of the public, particularly as regards education research and access to information.
At the conference I just attended in China, WIPO member states have decided to develop a proposed treaty to be adopted and domesticated by all member states.
The thrust of the treaty is, to provide protection for copyright holders, where none existed before now; to ensure that member states protect rights of their nationals and also that of foreign nationals within their jurisdictions, especially their economic and moral rights.
So you will notice that my coming for this conference was actually of great necessity and help to us as a country.
You are the Administrator and Registrar-General of Sierra Leone. What is the role of your office, especially in terms of functions and responsibilities?
Ans: The Office of the Administrator and Registrar-General (OARG) has been in existence for years. It was created by statutory provision. It was established under the State’s General Registry Act as amended.
The office is responsible for the registration and administration of businesses, with the exception of companies. But we do continue to register sole proprietors.
We have the Trade Marks and Patent Office, which deals with registration of intellectual property with the exception of copy right.
As far as patent registration is concerned, we are still faced with the old law, where Sierra Leone cannot administer original registration of patent right. The UK is still responsible for this.
But that will soon be a thing of the past, because there are two legislations in the pipeline: Trade Mark and Patent and Industrial Designs legislations, which, when once enacted would enable Sierra Leone to register patents for the first time.
These Bills also call for the establishment of an autonomous body – the Sierra Leone Intellectual Property Agency.
The Registrar’s office also perform civil marriages and is responsible for the registration of all marriages with the exception of customary marriages.
We also have the land Registry where land transaction documents within the western Area and certain provincial leases are registered. We are also empowered to administer estate in certain circumstances.
Since you were appointed as Administrator and Registrar-General, there must have been some reforms in the office. Am I right?
Ans: You are quite right. When I took office in 2008, there were some amendments to the Business Law, especially the one relating to starting a business; such as doing away with the payment of advanced taxes, the necessity to have lawyer prepare documents for you and the renewal of business licenses.
There was little awareness of the new Laws and to an extent the existence of the office itself. But with much publicity, we were able to raise awareness. We also shortened the business registration process.
So, I could say, publicity greatly helped in terms of our success in reforming the office. The office was finding it difficult to implement the new provisions of starting a business. But with the help of Investment Climate Facility (IFC) and DFID, we were able to achieve our objectives.
We also established a one-stop-shop, which has also greatly helped to improve the nation’s ‘ease of doing business’ ranking.
During some research I did, I came across some articles on the issue of creation of a one-stop-shop, which I then initiated in my office by bringing together the National Revenue Authority and Freetown City Council under one umbrella.
That has now further shortened the time it takes to register a business in Sierra Leone.
The office is also a beneficiary of a grant by Investment Climate Facility (IFC), under an OARG Modernization Project, which is also partly funded by the Government of Sierra Leone.
A major component of the project is the automation of all records and refurbishment of the office in line with President Ernest Bai Koroma’s Agenda for change. The loan from ICF came as a result of President Koroma’s efforts.
We are also now working on the possibility of enabling customers to register their business names electronically, because at present, it is being done both manually and electronically.
We are about to open up new offices across the country, which is in line with the President’s desire to effect the country’s decentralization process.
On the IT aspect, we now have VPN satellite connectivity with the ministry of lands at the surveys department; the fast track commercial court and our three offices in the provinces.
For the first time, the registration of businesses and lands are going to be done up in the provinces, as we have got new offices in Makeni, Bo and Kenema, which are now operational.
This was the dream of the president upon assuming office: giving easy access to everyone across the country to register a business. And we hope in the future, to establish more offices.
A key factor for the success of your agency is that of collaborating with other agencies. You mentioned the one-stop-shop that has been established as part of your reform process and this involves working with NRA. How has it been like in terms of getting NRA’s support?
Ans: Indeed collaboration is paramount to our work and so far, it has been good. NRA staff on the ground work in concert with my staff are ensuring that there is no unreasonable delay in the payment of revenues.
As a result of the effective collaboration with the NRA, we have seen an improvement in the revenue collection aspect. Revenue from OARG has been an average of 1.7 billion a year since I took office.
Previously, revenue generated was between Le200 million and Le700 million. Last year -2011, my office generated over Le7 billion for NRA.
This is an indication of business investment growth; creating a conducive business environment in starting a business goes a long way in attracting an investor. And this is an indication of the strides the office has made in terms of legislative and institutional reforms.
Take us through the political support from government, especially from the office of the President and other government ministries that have direct dealings with your office
Ans: It has been great. We are getting support from the Ministries of Finance and Trade and of course the Office of the Attorney-General and Ministry of Justice. The President has been very supportive of us. I told you about the loan we got from IFC, which came as a result of the President’s support.
The progress we have made in terms of decentralizing our offices and functions also came as a result of his support. So indeed, we have been getting the support of the central government.
Let us look at the crucial aspect of staff morale. How does that stand at the moment in your agency?
Ans: I have done a lot to improve on that. When I took up office, there were only two graduates, but that has now changed. We now have graduates in almost every sector and I have sought and obtained training facilities both within and out of Sierra Leone for my staff, which has helped to build staff morale. It has largely helped in capacitating them in enhancing the delivery of services.
You have said a lot, but it also would appear you have a lot of expectations. Am I right in suggesting that?
Ans: Indeed the office is expecting a lot, but not just from the general public. Change is not easy to come, but as of today, it is visible that there is some kind of a change of attitude and the President is succeeding in his campaign for a change of attitude amongst Sierra Leoneans.
My workforce is now on a different level in terms of delivery of services and in terms of revenue generation. They have got it right, that if we provide enough revenue for government, then, the benefit comes back to us in terms of having the required working environment and financial benefits.
They feel good that the office is producing as it should and that they are being exposed in the course of participating in training programs both in and out of Sierra Leone.
The most important factor for us to improve standards is to continue to get financial support from government for the sustainability of the agency.
We have so many computers, printers, satellite connectivity, etc. But when there is no electricity, work cannot go on and that means loss of revenue. It means, not creating a conducive atmosphere in doing business. It is necessary that we have the financial support.
And it is encouraging that we have made progress in the delivery of energy as a country. It is also necessary that the government considers providing remuneration for my workforce, commensurate or almost commensurate to that of a government parastatal.
Author’s note: Photo credit goes to Mr. Alhaji Jalloh, Press Attaché in Sierra Leone’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia.