PUAWUI – DR SAMA BANYA: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 August 2019:
After pumping thousands or is it millions of United States Dollars into the Sierra Leone financial system and hoping for an upturn in the fortune of our national currency – the Leone, the Central Bank Governor has taken some bold steps to control the crazy financial market.
Would anyone really tell what else needs to be done to shore up the Leone, in addition to the Governor of the Central Bank Professor Kallon stepping in to instil some sense and discipline into the volatile market?
He has been criticised or ridiculed by the columnist of one of our very serious newspapers for doing too little and even too late.
The columnist queries why the Governor (Photo) hadn’t taken these bold steps immediately on taking up office. “Really?” I ask.
Let me once more delve into an area which is the domain of financial experts and their contemporaries.
But again my intervention is based on the down-to –earth experiences of my friends out there, who know more about this kind of market than is often realised by many people.
As Minister of Development and Economic Planning in President Siaka Steven’s government in 1978, my portfolio included liaising with the Mano River Union (MRU), the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the Economic Commission for Africa (ECU) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) among others.
Most of our ministerial discussions in the MRU and ECOWAS in particular centred on the Customs Union, especially the harmonisation of Tariffs. Those discussions were still going on when I was shown the Red Flag, and I am not aware that much progress had been made but for one recent good news.
That is the recent decision of the Heads of State or The Authority of ECOWAS to adopt a common currency for our sub-region – known as the ECO; or is it ECHO, effective 2020 or thereabouts. The advantage of this cannot be overemphasised. Some will say, but the United Kingdom has voted to leave the EU, although she was never a part of the common currency the -Euro.
Italy is threatening to leave but this has to do with its internal politics and wrangling. A great advantage of a common currency is its effect on smuggling and on the trade; and speculation in foreign currency transactions by rogue dealers.
But let me help both the Minister of Finance, the Bank Governor and the Commissioner General of the National Revenue Authority (NRA), especially its customs and excise division of a rampant exercise of which they may not be aware. Again this advice is not vintage Puawui, although my vanity would have liked me to take credit for it.
Like I have mentioned before, I get a lot of financial knowledge including the vexed question of the US Dollar versus the Leone situation from my friends.
The NRA’s Deputy Commissioner General (my adopted daughter Kpakanya) launched an ASYCUDA at Gbalamunya customs post between Sierra Leone and our sister Republic of Guinea last week.
It is hoped that this will enhance increased revenue collection and contain smuggling at the same time. It must be admitted that smuggling at the Guinea and Liberia borders pose the greatest threat to the survival of the Leone.
But the installation of the most sophisticated systems by itself will not be enough. What is needed is a combined customs, military and police vigilance at our borders. Otherwise our best endeavours in the fate of our currency will be in vain, and here is why.
A container of cigarettes as an example lands in Conakry, and all customs and exercise duties to the value of U S $500,000 is paid. The container of cigarettes is then moved to the Sierra Leone border as it often happens, to a secret hideout. It is from there that the consignment is brought into Sierra Leone in batches, genuinely or otherwise and often only a fraction of its real value is paid in duties.
Once in Freetown and elsewhere the consignment is disposed of quietly and at great profit to the importer/smuggler because of the next to nothing duty paid. With threefold profit in his pocket that trader will and does buy United States Dollars at whatever price and by that all the dollar is bought off the market.
He doesn’t care because he is assured of more than a handsome profit. The exercise is repeated until the container in the Guinean hideout is exhausted and the process is repeated. Are we surprised then that the dollar carries such a high value vis-a-vis the Leone?
The government needs to plug those leakages as it has successfully done in other areas. In the words of the SLPP slogan, it is the only way out and the only way forward. Over to you our “Talk-and-do” President; you are equal to the task; take the lead now.
Let’s put an end to the nauseating habit
Will someone please tell me, because I have never experienced it. Never have I heard anyone boast that the government of Sierra Leone at any time, be it late Sir Milton’s or Sir Albert Margai’s, Siaka Stevens’, Joseph Saidu Momoh’s, Tejan-Kabbah’s or Ernest Bai Koroma and on to our own Maada Bio, especially as a mark of defiance or show of influence, that the government is in their pocket.
Jamil Sahid Mohamed and Tony Yazbeck – both had tremendous influence on Pa Shakie; the young Khadi and others had a lot of influence on Joseph Saidu Momoh; Tejan-Kabbah, Ernest Bai Koroma all had their special friends; and even Maada Bio – but not one of those favoured ones ever boasted that the subjects or their governments were in their pockets.
This allegation is one of the easiest and perhaps most destructive ways that some people adopt in order to destroy the reputation of others, especially the foreigners among us. On Thursday of last week while driving along Pademba Road, I caught a glance of a front page headline that quoted somebody boasting with the words: “The Bio government is in my pocket.” The Rotarian would ask, “Is it true, is it fair etc., etc”
I wonder when this kind of gutter journalism will stop!