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International Funding Donors Embroil in Local Politics: Who Pays the Piper calls the Tune 

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

12 January 2010

Sierra Leone's International Funding Donors’ press statement published today in the Awareness Times (see below), urging Sierra Leoneans to support the government's newly introduced Goods and Services Tax (GST), will no doubt add to the political furore that has been ignited in the country by the introduction of this unpopular Tax. Many in Sierra Leone are now left feeling perturbed, wondering about the role and function of the international Donor Agencies in the 21st Century.

Sierra Leone is a young multi-party democracy, which like the mythical phoenix, has risen from the ashes with rejuvenated youth, to give hope for the rebuilding of a better future. That future can only be built on trust, honesty, and the upholding of liberal democratic freedoms. The voice of the 48% of electorate that did not vote for the present government is just as important as the 52% who did, and that must be respected.

No one in their right mind in Sierra Leone is arguing against the need for taxation to raise revenue. But in the absence of a robust, credible and trustworthy management system and infra-structure, for businesses to collect payment, issue receipts and make annual taxation returns, it matters very little whether the principles and values underpinning the GST are laudable or not. Billions of Leones in taxes will continue to remain uncollected.

This unfortunate press statement by the International Funding Providers, will only serve to feed the frenzy of suspicion and distrust that have been nurtured in the minds of those that believe in the 2006/2007 regime change policy of the international community in Sierra Leone. Conspiracy theorists will no doubt say that this statement is designed to consolidate and perpetuate that policy.

The ill-conceived and erroneous notion, that everyone must be supportive of every strand of government policy irrespective of its merits, smacks of the stuff that dictators are made of, and is contrary to the values of a liberal, free and democratic society.

Of course the people of Sierra Leone want to pay taxes. But the overwhelmingly low propensity to pay this arbitrary, exorbitant and misunderstood15% GST, is the main reason for the unfolding ‘non-compliance’. Prior to GST, there were seven individual consumer taxes, with an average of 5% levied on each. The GST burden of price hikes could have been reduced if the government had introduced the GST at 8% rising to 15% by the end of 2013.

The International Funding Providers ought to have advised the government of the unfairness, disproportionality, and untimeliness of the GST proposal, in order to avoid the present debacle. Perhaps they should have asked the government to commission a review of the GST framework and implementation strategy.

That the International Donor Agencies see the need to disseminate such press statement, is clear evidence of insufficient support in the country, either for the GST or the manner in which it is being implemented by the government. In which case, the expectation would have been for the Donor Agencies to have respected that status quo and proffer proper advice to the government.

The International Donors have a duty to safeguard and maximise the financial contributions that they are providing to poor countries. But it is also, certainly, incumbent upon them to ensure that they respect the democratic rights of citizens in those countries to challenge the efficacy and veracity of policies being implemented by their respective governments. That is the democracy that Africans are yearning for, which with the support of the Donors, they can realise.

Any perceived interference in the affairs of the country is unfortunately bound to raise and reinforce suspicions, as to the impartiality of the Donor Agencies operating in Sierra Leone, irrespective of which political party is in power.

While Sierra Leoneans are thankful for the $300 Million support given to the government to pay for essential services such as education, health, and water; there is a fine line to be drawn between charity and servitude.

The people of Sierra Leone desperately need help in developing the country’s non-mining industrial base, especially the manufacturing sector which has the potential to create at least 200,000 direct jobs and another 50,000 indirect jobs through the supply and value chains. This is where sustainable tax revenues could come from.

Expansion of the economy through industrial diversification, private business development and job creation, surely, must be the priority for President Koroma's government with the support of the International Donors, if they are truly serious about building the scope and diversity of the government’s tax base.

This sad episode is a reminder of the importance, for the people of Sierra Leone to be encouraged to become the masters of their own destiny and the government - their servant, in achieving that dream, and not the other way round.

So please give the people of Sierra Leone a chance to enjoy their newly found democratic freedoms, and right to peacefully and constructively engage with the government in order to shape public policy, without any external coercion or otherwise.
The introduction of the highly unpopular Poll Tax by the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher in 1990, was met with rejection by the British people who felt that the tax was unfair, disproportional and untimely. This led to the repeal of the Poll Tax in 1993, to make way for a fairer tax, known as the Council Tax. That is the democracy that Africans are yearning for.


“The introduction of the new goods and services tax (GST) on the 1st January 2010 marks a historical milestone in the economic development and prosperity of Sierra Leone. The new single rate for GST replaces the previous domestic and import sales tax, and other taxes, which complicated the tax regime and caused low payment compliance.

Sierra Leone has one of the lowest domestic revenue bases in the World, at only 11.3% of GDP in 2009. This makes the Country overly dependent on foreign aid obstructs economic development. Increased tax revenue is essential for the improvement of public services. All GST revenue are to be used to expand and improve the quality of public services delivered to the citizens of Sierra Leone such as health, education, roads and water. A strong tax base is also a fundamental part of a democratic, accountable state.

For these reasons, the World Bank, European Commission, African
Development Bank and UK Department for International Development join the Government in calling on all citizens, particularly businesses, to support the implementation of GST in the correct manner, and without a negative impact on the poor. The economic development and future prosperity of Sierra Leone depends on it.”

DFID, World Bank, EU and the African Development Bank - 7th January 2010, Freetown.

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