Alan Luke: 15 December 2019:
The NGC Party’s December Press Briefing exposed the Bio government’s insincerity and lack of commitment to create the enabling environment for businesses to succeed, creating the much needed jobs and kickstart sustained economic growth.
This was the NGC party’s second salvo. Whereas the first press briefing relied on data collected from March 2018 to October 2019, to show sustained price inflation on essential commodities, December’s briefing presented a series of examples, based on personal stories or the views of the business community.
The briefing exposed deliberate action by government and / or officials which is not just designed to frustrate businesses, but to cripple them, even if doing so, resulted in businesses relocating to more business friendly countries.
We learned that one company wanted to register 15 trawlers in Sierra Leone, but they were asked to pay $50,000 per trawler. As no commercial operator would accept such draconian charges, the company relocated to the Gambia, taking with them the job opportunities, which would have gone to our country’s youths.
This deliberate policy is not just directed at foreign vessels, but local artisanal fishermen. They saw the licence fee for their Ghana boats increased from Le150,000 in March 2018 to Le1.5m and subsequently Le1m following a public outcry.
As a consequence local fishermen resorted to smaller boats, which they cannot take out too far into sea. The impact of this is they are only able to catch smaller fishes like herring; and job opportunities for those living in fishing communities are obliterated.
We also learned that Cold Storage have moved operations to neighbouring Guinea, resulting in job losses, compounding our trade deficit, increasing our demand for foreign currency and depreciating the value of the Leone.
The press briefing unpacked the impact of low earning power, exorbitant rents and the burden of heavy taxation, amongst other issues, to explain to Sierra Leoneans, why di gron dry.
It highlighted the government’s dismissiveness to the party’s suggestion at the first press briefing, to consider the present situation as an economic emergency and to invite key economic operators to a roundtable to discuss the issues, their concerns and possible solutions.
It is evident that the government has weaponised debt repayment to local contractors. Making available only $30m available to repay local contractors, when $340m is owed, is a recipe for industrial scale graft and forced conscription into the party’s ranks, in order to ensure your debt is settled. This must be crippling to businesses and no wonder they are shutting down.
The NGC briefing also highlighted the nightmare that businesses face, greasing the palms of officials at Africa Link, Standards Bureau, Port Health, Clearings Agency, Customs Bollorie, Port Owners, Port and Dock workers, Shipping line, Phyto-sanitary, PMB, local transport owners, security checkpoints and Trade Ministry.
These agencies add little or no value to the clearing process and must be streamlined as a matter of urgency.
Notwithstanding the damning assertions made at the press briefing, we are yet to hear any response from the Anti-Corruption Commission, which continues to demonstrate either unwillingness or incompetence in tackling institutionalised corruption.
What saddens me most, is the failure of interest groups like the Chamber of Commerce, the Sierra Leone Trades Union, fishing communities the length and breadth of the coast, to echo these concerns and demand change, despite the effect on their members.
It would also appear that when faced with the inevitability of closure, business owners themselves would choose to remain silent and accept the inevitable, than to make a stand.
Thanks to the NGC leadership for being an effective voice on the bread and butter issues, affecting the country.
Author: Alan Luke – NGC UKI.