Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 December 2016
Sierra Leone’s social media went viral last week, when a story about alleged government’s plans to impose a 25% tax on all remittances sent to families and friends in Sierra Leone by Sierra Leoneans living abroad, was published. (Photo: Can the hand of the ruling APC be trusted with the cash in your pockets?)
Although the government has since denied the reports, there are fears in and out of the country that given the government’s cash-strapped desperation to squeeze every cent from wherever they can, overseas remittance may not be spared.
The Koroma government is more than $200 million short of balancing its finances, plunging the economy into a serious recession, which many analysts believe could have been avoided, had the government spent the last nine years working hard to diversify the economy.
The Sierra Leone government relies heavily – if not exclusively, on mining export revenue. But the last two years have seen a massive fall in the prices of minerals – especially its main export iron ore.
Sierra Leoneans living abroad are contributing over $300 million every year into the country’s economy, in the form of much needed cash sent to relatives and friends, as well as investments in business and real-estate property development.
But there are suspicions that this $300 million may no longer be safe and kept out of reach of the government’s grubby fingers. It is rumoured that senior ministers in the Koroma government are planning to impose a 25% tax on every single cent, transferred into the country by hard working Sierra Leoneans.
Should the government go ahead with its plans, it will raise over $75 million in taxes from Sierra Leoneans living and working hard abroad.
Such a retrogressive economic policy, would be hugely unpopular and suicidal for the government, whose political fortune is now in serious doubt, as presidential and general elections approach.
Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora are unable to vote outside of the country, but their views and opinions are crucial in forming the choices and decisions of voters back home, as to who governs the country.
Hence, any decision by the Koroma government to rob them of their hard earned cash, will most certainly spell doom for the government at the polls in 2018. The government has been accused of incompetence, corruption and chicanery.
But government spokesman – Abdulai Bayraytay has been quick to denounce the social media story about the alleged government’s ‘Diaspora Tax’ as mischievous.
He said: “The WhatsApp message making the rounds on social media that His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma will announce a 25% commission for any money transfer into the country on January 1, 2017 is not only totally false, but blatantly mischievous as well.
“Whilst the Government recognizes the invaluable role the social media continues to play in promoting the ideals of democracy, the protection and defence of human rights, development journalism and providing alternative avenues for citizens’ voices to be heard, its misuse, unfortunately, is undoubtedly defeating the very essence of the social media. It is in this regard that Sierra Leone continues to align herself with the likes of Facebook, WhatsApp and other social media providers in finding lasting solutions of addressing the publication of fake news and other forms of misuse of the social media.”
But responding to that statement from the government, critics are accusing the presidential spokesman of government tyranny, and veiled threats to clamp down on the use of social media.
What is certain though, is that the people of Sierra Leone are paying a very high price for the Koroma government’s mismanagement of the economy since elected in 2007, as economic growth falls, inflation rises and unemployment grows.
Last week, the country’s human rights group – the Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI), issued a public statement, strongly condemning the government’s austerity measures. This is what it said:
“Nine weeks have gone by since the government of Sierra Leone introduced the much touted austerity measures, ostensibly to reduce unnecessary spending and stabilise the country’s ailing economy. But the imposition of austerity measures has had wide-ranging financial and human rights implications for the citizens, especially the poor and marginalized.
“We believe that the root causes of the country’s financial crisis should be addressed, using rights-based approaches to financial regulation, macroeconomic policies and economic recovery.
“Austerity measures often lead to retrogression in the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights because cuts to public spending on programmes that benefit the poor can impact rights to education, health, food, water and social security.
“Furthermore, austerity measures that affect spending on social welfare programmes and public services disproportionately impact the disadvantaged such as the poor, women, children, persons with disabilities, the aged, people with HIV/AIDS and small medium enterprises (SMEs.)
“In recognition of these and other impacts of the financial crisis on employment, social welfare expenditures, and human rights, the CHRDI Chief Executive, Abdul Fatoma, recently spoke on national radio to remind the Government of Sierra Leone of its obligations to use the maximum available resources to fulfill economic, social and cultural rights, even in times of crisis.
“He urged government to focus on regulatory reform, improved job training and creation policies, social security, education and health for all. The CHRDI believes that a rights-based response to the economic crisis is derived from the inalienable human rights of all persons. It is legally prudent, economically sound and broadly supportive.
“We believe that citizens’ human rights should not be trampled upon in the implementation of government policies. Therefore every effort should be made by the government of Sierra Leone to ensure citizens are not made to suffer unduly and are able maintain their dignity at all times.
Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI ) is a Rights based social-policy advocacy Organisation. We Draw attention to the responsibility of duty-bearers to uphold human rights, and seek to support rights-holders to claim their rights. CHRDSL is in Special Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council and accredited to many UN Agencies.