Jenkins Sulaiman: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 April 2019:
President Julius Maada Bio has just marked a year at the helm of state in Sierra Leone, amid challenging economic conditions. Impressively, the president and his team have been able to keep the ship of state afloat by relying mainly on tax revenues.
Sierra Leone’s National Revenue Authority (NRA), the body responsible for the assessment and collection of government revenue, has modernized a hitherto moribund system of tax administration and financial management.
This, among other things, has strengthened awareness of the link between taxation, expenditure and accountability and legitimacy of the State.
Ostensibly, the NRA has broadened the domestic tax base, improved tax compliance, and curbed tax evasion thereby increasing tax revenues.
Still, president Bio and his team must steer the ship of state in a turbulent water of malfeasance and cravenness inherited from Ernest Bai Koroma, the man known by his admirers as “World’s Best”.
The politics of “World’s Best” was one of venality and pusillanimity. In like manner, it was also brazenly characterized by the massive looting of the national treasury to the detriment of the suffering masses of Sierra Leone.
Nonetheless, Bio has never given the impression that he was not capable of turning things around and anchoring Sierra Leone on a footing that would spur economic development and prosperity. Indeed, the signs of this are as palpable as they are auspicious.
For example, by establishing the Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation under the directorship of an MIT- trained scientist, Bio has positioned Sierra Leone as a country that can leapfrog in science, technology and innovation.
Also, the president in promoting human capital development has successfully launched the Free Quality Education Program that now serves over two million elementary and secondary school pupils.
Correspondingly, Sierra Leone also offers scholarships to students studying science, technology, engineering and mathematics at the country’s public colleges.
Much of these successes have been the result of the president’s relentless fight against corruption and his ability to stop leakages in the country’s financial management operations.
Yet sound financial management and taxation must be augmented by production for a truly developmental state to rise in Sierra Leone. Although the taxation economy has kept Sierra Leone afloat for the last year, it is production and not taxation that creates wealth.
By taking goods of lower value, adding knowledge and labor, and creating goods of higher value, production undoubtedly creates wealth.
Although taxes can raise revenues, they can be instruments of control and regulation. Additionally, taxes can reduce disposable incomes thereby forcing taxpayers to reduce expenditures on necessities. A reduction in disposable incomes also affects savings and investment adversely.
Mindful of the pitfalls of taxation, president Bio has been working relentlessly to move Sierra Leone from a taxation economy to production based.
This move, the president has emphasized, must be built on the initiative of protecting the preferential option for the poor while making the machinery of government work to deliver the benefits of progress for all Sierra Leoneans.
The president has also emphasized that his production economy considers human capital development, private sector development and domestic entrepreneurship and innovation, infrastructural development, tourism development and agricultural development as areas where macroeconomic stability and growth can be anchored.
Thus, as the government pursues policies to attract foreign direct and domestic investments, projects like the Regional Off-Grid Electrification Project (ROGEP) in Northern and Eastern Sierra Leone, when completed, will provide the country and other West African countries with the support needed to foster a sustainable and scalable off-grid electrification.
Bio’s multidimensional initiatives, especially his relentless fight against corruption and his pursuit of human capital development have won him praise around the globe.
The president and his minister of agriculture are also pursuing a program of agricultural development in all districts of the country that would ensure food security soon.
Thus, sooner rather than later, it would not be farfetched to consider Sierra Leone a case study for human capital development and best practice in the fight against corruption in Africa.