Open letter to president Bio about the removal of fuel subsidy

Native Consortium and Research Center; Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2018:

Dear Your Excellency – We want to start by thanking you once more for the fiscal reforms you have instituted, especially the single treasury account, spending cuts, and leapfrogging our monthly revenue from Le 240 billion to an average of Le 320 billion.

Mr President if you may recall, I was invited by the IMF to a joint meeting held between your Government and the IMF in April this year. In my submission there, I congratulated you on behalf of our Consortium and advised that if you can tighten the leakages and drill deeper in diversifying the economy, you would have the capacity to garner five times the revenue collected than the previous administration.

I unequivocally stated in your presence and that of all the donor partners that the prices of rice and fuel should not be meddled with and that any attempt to increase the prices of these two political commodities in the name of removal of subsidy or what you may, will be resisted with a peaceful protest.

We were diametrically opposed to this move, even after former President Koroma took the ECF loan in 2017 and we are not prepared to compromise with you on it.

Mr President, we believe that some of your appointed officials hold a parochial view that we hate your Government or we are looking for recognition but we would like to allay your fears by letting you know that as Civil Society Activists, we have made the supreme sacrifice to stand with the oppressed and are unwavering in our fight for the wretched of the earth.

We showed this with our sweat and blood in the 8 May 2000 protest against Foday Sankoh; we also represented the voices of the poor when former President Kabba (late) harmonised the price of diesel, petrol and kerosene; we staged three successive protests against former President Koroma; and succeeded in convincing President Koroma to reduce the pump price of fuel from Le 4,500 to Le 3,750 in early 2015, when the price per barrel plummeted in the World market.

Please rest assured that we are all in the struggle together in ridding this nation of decades of bad policies and practices aimed at depriving the average Sierra Leonean the life that he or she deserves.

His Excellency, it is without a doubt that you inherited a crippled economy, one that we have long before now, described as a failure by design, but we must remind you that the former regime failed because the leader became insensitive to the rice and palm oil or bread and butter livelihood issues of the poor.  That was one of the key reasons why the people voted for a change.

Sir, it is with the above in mind that we want to bring to your notice our position on the unfortunate supplementary budget submitted to Parliament by the Finance  Minister on 13 July 2018, which announced an increase in the pump price of fuel from Le 6,000 to Le 8,000 per litre.

Mr. President, I need not overemphasise the untold hardship this has caused the ordinary man.  We feel that poor Sierra Leoneans have been cheated, especially when the Trade Minister is on record, promising the people of Sierra Leone that Government has no plans to increase the price of fuel in the short term, and confirmed that the country has enough fuel in stock to prevent any change in price.

The public feels betrayed, because there is still no clear messaging or plausible explanation from your government about the reason for the fuel price increase.

We also believe that the minds of the people were not well prepared for this price increment and for us the reasons were not convincing.

It is also in stark contrast to what the previous administration used to do, to prepare the minds of the people by holding consultations with relevant actors.

Mr President, our position on this matter is well documented. The previous administration accused us of being SLPP functionaries when we staged protest actions in Makeni after we initially registered our disapproval to the former President for any increment in the pump price of fuel, when we found out that the second tranche of the ECF loan was due.

Now we are being accused of being APC operatives because of a peaceful protest we mounted against this new Le 8,000 per litre increment. Therefore, we shall not be deterred in our stance against your government’s action, no matter how we are labelled. A price increase on such a politically charged commodity is not a partisan issue; it affects everybody.

Additionally, we want to quickly bring the following developments and points to your attention:  

a) In keeping with the constitutional rights enjoyed by the people of Guinea to protest, Citizens staged a two-week protest action following which the President of Guinea reduced the pump price of fuel. The President responded to the reality of the economic burden of the price increment on the people by reducing the pump price of fuel.

b) I must also inform you that just after my arrest, our Consortium received calls from our civil society comrades in Liberia that in order to ease the economic burden on Liberians, President Weah has announced a price reduction in the pump price of fuel.

c) Therefore we would want to ask a question. What are you waiting for? Why is our Government adding on the suffering of the already suffering Sierra Leonean when it can be avoided removing some bogus taxes like Infrastructure cost and remain with the Road maintenance fund?

His Excellency sir, we believe that the lack of transparency and accountability in the Petroleum Pricing Formula in Sierra Leone, including many tax components, led to the price hike.

Sad to say, the poor man continues to be the primary casualty of this fuel price formula that we think lacked transparency and accountability, even before the introduction of the single treasury account.

However, it will shock you to know that we don’t even own or subscribe to the Petroleum Platt in the world market, which leaves us at the mercy of the Oil Importers, who state whatever price in their invoices, with the average stated in the monthly platts.

Sir, as soon as you instituted the single treasury account in April, the Petroleum Regulatory Authority (PRA) and Oil Marketers increased the Platt from May 14 to 28, even when the price per barrel remained relatively constant. That is to say we think the Oil Marketers are seemingly behaving like ‘Corporate Gangsters’.

Mr President, the expectation of the suffering masses on bread and butter issues is really high, and needs to be treated as an emergency issue in the short term.

We are well aware of the giant strides you have made to mobilise revenue but sadly it has not reflected on the standard of living of the poor people. The prices of transport, food and basic commodities have risen on the market, and, unfortunate as it may seem, traders are blaming it on the price of fuel and the depreciation of the Leone.

Your Excellency, most economic barometers by International moral guarantors to assess GDPs have failed successive regimes across Africa because they do not only lack context but three fundamental components; (a) Pro-poor/Poverty eradication-drive; (b) Sustainability and (c) Economic diversification.

My President, as an organisation, our advocacy has primarily focused on the economic emancipation of the poor. That is what we have been doing and known for in the past two decades, so we will also complement your government in our own way as we have done with the last two former Presidents.

His Excellency, we are also aware that the country is losing huge revenues in the  marine and fishing sector. According to Frontiers in Marine Science, “Results show considerable loss of revenues for Mauritania, Senegal, The Gambia, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Sierra Leone, estimated at 2.3 billion USD annually…” This estimation puts our loss at $383.3 million. While according to the former World Bank Country Manager in Sierra Leone, Parminder P.S. Brar, West African countries are losing $10 billion each year to illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing – which puts our average loss at $588.2 million. This is far from the reported $50 million currently making the rounds in the media.

Mr President if we can have a target of $100 Mil Projected revenue then our economy will be guaranteed to score a 30% GDP record growth rate.

Your Excellency, to conclude, we would like state our conviction that a sustainable and people-oriented drive to economic diversification would address the issues of fuel and rice and would prevent Government from risking subsidies on them.

We have booked an appointment to have a meeting with you where we will submit our report on the pricing formula and are still waiting on your protocol team to give us a date. (Photo: Edmond Abu (Jr.)

We look forward to hearing from you on our submissions and to discuss our petroleum report and other issues with you at your earliest convenience.

Thanking you in advance for your usual cooperation.

Respectfully, Edmond Abu (Jr.) – Executive Director (Tel 076-617240)

Cc: Chief Minister, Minister of Finance, IMF Country Representative, Speaker of the House, Bank Governor, Fuel Dealers/Transporters, Standard Bureau, Petroleum Regulating Agency, All Citizens, Clerk of Parliament, All Hon Parliamentarians, Media Organisations, Christian Aid, Civil Society Organisations, World Bank, DFID, Diplomatic Corps, Bike/Keke Riders, Motor Drivers Union,NCRC-NTT Legal team.

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