Puawui – Dr Sama Banya: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 April 2019:
There are reports doing the rounds that government plans to divest its direct involvement in the running of the Sierra Leone Produce Monitoring Company, SLPMC, the successor to the former Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board, SLPMB.
Many would agree that commercial enterprises should be left to the private sector. But there are equally sound reasons why a paying enterprise like the SLPMC or the SLPMB before it, should belong to the government and therefore the people of Sierra Leone.
The main argument and a strong one at that is that like the SLPMB this is an income generating enterprise and the benefits of which should be enjoyed by the majority of the population.
It has to be admitted that due to bad management there were two very sad episodes in the affairs of the then SLPMB. The first was in the last years of the Albert Margai Premiership and again just before the NPRC overthrow of the Momoh APC regime.
In both cases, the situation was aggravated by the very successful activities of private exporters, a situation that was brought under control when the old SLPMB was dissolved and more recently replaced by the SLPMV with its role of monitoring rather than exporting.
A few weeks ago, the company announced handsome profits under the current management of Dr Vibbie. As already stated, I will not delve into the reasons why the Privatisation Commissioner has arrived at his decision.
In the 1980s the Conservative government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher decided to privatise Britain’s Telecommunications system. But instead of selling all the shares to the multinational companies, a large proportion was floated so that the man in the street could avail himself of the opportunity to invest in a public company.
In short the shares were distributed evenly. Today the British Telecommunications Company of British Telecom is a very successful thriving enterprise under private management and with no government involvement.
The country’s non-mineral exports under the supervision or monitoring of the SLPMC are mainly cocoa and coffee, with some piassava and some cashew and groundnuts.
The main cocoa and coffee growing areas are in Kenema, Kailahun, Kono and Pujehun districts with a certain amount in Bo district.
Piassava is produced mainly in Bonthe and Pujehun districts while Moyamba district is renowned for ginger.
SLPMB had large oil palm plantations in the Mange area of Port Loko district, while Pujehun and Kailahun have huge oil palm plantations that are largely in private expatriate enterprises.
My information is that the big hawks that are waiting to pick up the lucrative Produce market are a handful of people in the fuel industry and in Banking, who between them, account for less than a tenth of the country’s population.
By Sierra Leone standards, this small group of people between them have already created a prosperous financial empire. Should they be allowed to own the only commodity to which our poor farmers can have access under proper arrangements?
My answer is an emphatic “NO.” Cooperative societies are being reorganized. So much has been devolved to Local governments by the present government with the prospects of more.
Various districts now have development associations whose primary objective is to enhance the government’s development plans for their areas.
With expert financial assistance, all of the above could be effectively organized to buy shares directly or through a credit system. (Photo: Dr. Sama Banya).
But this government will be doing a great disservice to our people if they are deprived of the opportunity to own what is produced in their areas.
Maybe the Commissioner for privatization may like to take another look at his present plan.