Our marine sector, our revenue collectors and the ‘Agenda For Change’

John Baimba Sesay

4 March 2012

When President Ernest Bai Koroma assumed power in 2007, his major priority was to work towards the implementation of an ‘Agenda for Change’. This ‘Agenda for Change’ aims at moving the country to a new direction in the areas of agriculture, infrastructure, education, health, energy and power.

And so far, there has been tremendous progress in these areas. Significant progress has been made in the country’s socio-economic development, in terms of meeting its infrastructural needs.

This could be seen in the area of the country’s road network. There is a positive trend in the government’s commitment towards the fight against corruption, as well as its determination in the implementation of the free health care delivery.

In my view, the flagship in evaluating a post Koroma’s Presidency after 2017 will be his success in the fight against corruption, infrastructural development and the success in the free health care initiative.

As a result of this initiative for pregnant and lactating mothers, in 2011 alone, 41,000 women gave birth through the program.  But these are not just the areas that the country has continued to make progress; we may also be tempted to look at the nation’s marine resources – from the perspective of effectively managing the nation’s fishing sector.

Again, the government’s revenue collection efforts, from the viewpoint of NRA’s role from 2007 to date are determinant factors in telling the successes of President Koroma.

Our marine sector

Sierra Leone has a coastline that is fed by a number of rivers and abundant rainfall.This in turn provides some elements for a productive marine fisheries.  Sierra Leone’s marine sector has a lot of potential.

The sector is reportedly providing employment for an estimated 100,000 persons directly and, indirectly for about 500,000 persons, representing about 10% of the country’s population.

Also, the coastal areas – Bonthe, Shenge, and Tombo, are made up of mostly fishing population, and about 25% of the male population of working age reportedly involved in part-time or full time fishing.

The sector generates about 10% of the country’s Gross Domestic Product. The artisanal sector alone accounts for about 70% of the fish consumed by Sierra Leoneans.

Despite these positive trends in the sector, it is also faced with challenges. Poor management has always been one of such, and could only provide substantially lower returns than expected.

Also, destructive fishing gears and practices – inshore shrimp trawling, nets with tiny mesh sizes are damaging susceptible nursing grounds and capturing baby fish. The high level of illegal fishing is also another challenge facing the sector.

The problem of adding local value to fish is another problem since a good percentage of the fish caught by industrial vessels is transshipped at sea for export.

The Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources is headed by Dr. Soccoh Kabia,  charged with the responsibility of regulating the fisheries sector in the country.

This ministry has been working over the years to ensure the sector’s contribution to the country’s growth. At present, the ministry is implementing a five years West Africa Regional Fisheries Project that is aimed at strengthening the country’s capacity to effectively manage their fisheries sector.

It has three interrelated components; namely; good governance and sustainable management of the fisheries; reduction of illegal fishing; and ensuring an increase Local Value Addition to fish products.

The project seeks a 50% reduction of fishing vessels that are observed fishing within the 6-mile Inshore Exclusion Zone by the end of the project life cycle.  It supports the strengthening of the Monitoring, Control and Surveillance of the country’s marine sector so as to reduce illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

On the revenue collection front, the ministry has been doing well in recent times. We have seen how the ministry has embarked on moves aimed at tracking industrial vessels that are illegally fishing in Sierra Leone waters and how this has positively impacted on the country.

Late last year, Soccoh Kabia, Minister of Fisheries spoke of the need to ensure the country’s laws “governing the fisheries sector are adhered to so that regulations on illegal fishing…are respected.”

And because of this commitment on the part of government, through the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, we today witnessed a  French Fishing Vessel, STERENN  paying  the sum of $ US 703,970 as fine levied on it in respect of various infractions for which it was arrested by the Ministry.

The French Fishing vessel, according to media reports was arrested for failing to clearly display its name and  call sign on both sides ,contrary to section 42 (1and2) of the Fisheries and Management Act 1994.

It also reportedly failed to supply the ministry of fisheries information with regards entering  in Sierra Leone waters to fish , contrary to section 11(9) of the fisheries Act and also failed to send daily catch report, contrary to section 68 (2e)of the fisheries Act and as stated in the fishing license.

This move by the ministry deserves commendation and it is one that is geared towards supporting President Koroma’s Agenda for Change.

When more revenue goes into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, President Koroma is sure of making impact in improving the lives of people. And this is more the reason I am moved by the hard work of the Fisheries Ministry.

In a Joint Progress Report on the Agenda for Change January 2009 – June 2010, it is stated, that there has been progress in establishing effective fisheries surveillance mechanism to prevent illegal fishing.

To unlock the potential associated with marine resources in the country, an effective management system is necessary to ensure sustainable fishery exploitation. One of the most effective tools for fostering sustainable exploitation for wealth creation from fish resources is through the setting up of a robust monitoring, control and surveillance system. (http://www.un.org/en/peacebuilding).

Monitoring, Control and Surveillance has been of great impact in recent times. It  is also encouraging, that  the New Partnership for Africa Development Agency (NEPAD) the Department for International Development Agency, (DFID) have  expressed their  desire to assist the Fisheries and Marine Resources Ministry in developing the country’s fisheries industry in a number of areas, including: Trade, Quality Control, Governance, Aquaculture, Monitoring, Control and Surveillance.

Revenue collection

In 2009, President Koroma  referred to the National Revenue Authority (NRA) as an institution playing an major role in his government’s ‘Agenda for Change,’ noting the institution is “vital in our efforts to secure the resources to finance the Agenda for Change and manage them responsibly…”

The NRA is the agency responsible for the collection of major revenue for government .It has Haja Kallah-Kamara as Acting Commissioner-General.

This agency was created in 2002 by an Act of Parliament  to ‘formulate and implement plans for developing and maintaining effective, fair and efficient revenue collection system….’ among other functions, as outlined in section 12 of the NRA Act, 2002.

The Act mandates the agency to lodge all revenue collected for government into the Consolidated Revenue Fund. And since its creation in 2002, the agency has continued to perform its traditional role of revenue collection.

But what has taken a different twist, especially under the government of President Koroma is the increase in revenue collected yearly by the institution. For the year 2011 the NRA collected a total of 1.428 Trillion Leones exceeding their target (Le1, 321 trillion) by 108.1 Billion Leones.  (http://www.awoko.org/2012/03/30/).

In 2003, there was an annual target of 267,961 billion Leones to be generated by the agency and it collected 314,896 billion Leones for the government, meaning it exceeded its annual target.

Comparatively, the agency has continued doing well since its formation. In 2003, following its formation in 2002, there was a target of 267,961 billion Leones to be collected and it collected 314,896 billion Leones.

This trend continued unto 2009 when the agency had a target of 668,343 billion Leones. But as a result of the commitment of its workforce and with the support it was and still continues to receive from central government, it went far beyond target and generated over 700 billion Leones.

At the time, there was the global economic meltdown.  The year 2010 was very exceptional for the institution, with the revenue target shifted several times unto a final target of 930 billion. Again, the agency exceeded the target by over 20 billion Leones.

Now, what this mean is that, we have seen a dimension in the country’s revenue collection effort in which, much importance has been put in using such revenue for the development of the country.

And this is more the reason why the NRA should be commended and staff motivated to continue to do what they are doing for the good of the country.

The introduction of the automated system at customs must be making some impact, the merger of the Income Tax and GST under the Domestic Taxes Department must also have helped in raising the needed revenue for government.

Again, the determination of Haja Kallah-Kamara and the staff at NRA must have been a motivating factor.  But the political will on the part of government, through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development must have also been a determinant factor in taking the NRA where it is today, in terms of revenue collection.

I therefore would say, bravo to you all at NRA for working hard in collecting revenue for government which is been used for the development of the country.

 

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