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Strengthening Sierra Leone’s revenue mobilization efforts for the good of its people

Strengthening Sierra Leone’s revenue mobilization efforts for the good of its people

When you look at a country like China, from the viewpoint of development and then, you are told how the country was, years back, you will come to appreciate the commitment and dedication that each and every Chinese has shown to the growth of his or her beloved country. Today, Beijing, the capital has become tuneful and a livable and lovable city not just for its citizens, but foreigners as well. One thing that the Chinese people do not joke with is the issue of their obligation to tax payment and for this reason I hold the view that China has continued to make tremendous progress in all areas.

One major issue that has always helped countries reached their apex of development has to do with the willingness on the part of their citizens to meet their tax obligations.  Taxes have greatly helped nations like the US, China, and Britain become the envy of the world, in terms of socio-economic development. And this is where I think we need to actually come together as a post war country and see how our little taxes could help develop Sierra Leone.  There are a number of revenue collection agencies that we need to give our total support to, among them, the local councils across the country and the National Revenue Authority.

The local councils, just as in the case with the NRA, are bound to help the central government in meeting the social needs of our people at the local level. State functions are devolved with the notion, that when once the councils are I charged of the development of their localities, they (councils) can be in a position to get community people involved in determining their needs.  The introduction of the local councils in 2004, through the Local Government Act 2004 was in line with the need to provide for the decentralization and devolution of functions, powers and services to local councils ( http://www.sierra-leone.org/Laws/2004-1p.pdf).  Part V of the Act stipulates the functions of local councils and councilors. Section 20, sub section 1 of the Act states, that “A local council shall be responsible, generally for promoting the development of the locality and the welfare of the people in the locality with the resources at its disposal and with such resources and capacity as it can mobilize from the central government and its agencies, national and international organizations, and the private sector.”

There is one key element here; “…generally for promoting the development of the locality and the welfare of the people in the locality with the resources at its disposal…This is crucial, since it is expected that the councils will also have in places mechanisms aimed at generating revenues, so as to complement government’s effort, notwithstanding the subventions coming from central government to the councils, in the form of Development Grants. How strong the revenue collection efforts in most of our councils are today remain a debatable issue. And it is only when revenue collection efforts are strengthened at the council levels, that they can be able to get enough resources at their disposal for the development of their locality.

What I noticed, especially immediately following the introduction of the councils in 2004 was that, there were not enough mechanism aimed at ensuring checks and balances to see whether the councils have, in a way been contributing effectively in the area of revenue collection. No wonder, that most of the councils across the country were embroiled in corruption scandal.  Corruption almost overtook the running of the country between the periods, 2004-2007, but for the coming of the present government that has restored public confidence in some of the councils.  From the Bonthe Municipal Council, to the Western Area Rural District Council and the Freetown City Councils, there were a lot of challenges. The first four years, following the introduction of the decentralization process, were dedicated to series of trainings for councilors and council officials. What we now should see is a total commitment to support government’s Agenda for Change, by effectively working on revenue mobilization at the local levels.

Speaking at the formal opening of the first general assembly and CLGF dissemination workshop Friday, September 16, 2011, President Koroma spoke of his government’s commitment to the process of decentralization, thus, stating, that his government “has deepened the decentralization process, and increased their capacities for the performance of their mandates. We have made huge investment in training local government staff, constructing state of the art offices, and installing solar systems in several council office complexes that may not immediately benefit from the national electricity grid. On the fiscal front, a stable and transparent inter-governmental fiscal transfer system has been developed and is being implemented….” And that there has been tripled Government’s annual release to Local Councils from the consolidated revenue fund from 7.5 billion Leones in the last quarter of 2007 to 54.7 billion Leones in the last quarter of 2010. This progression will continue in line with Government’s efforts to strengthen the technical and managerial capacities of Local Councils to guarantee the effective performance of functions devolved to them. (http://www.statehouse.gov.sl/index.) This is indicative of the political will, on the part of the central government, in making sure the councils perform. But the councils should also be seen putting more efforts together.

Councilors, especially, should be made to have a clear understanding of the Local Government Act, if they are to be seen contributing to the revenue collection effort of the Serra Leone.  The whole of subsection 2, Section 20, of the Act deals with specific functions of the councils and councilors across the country.  This should be part of the councilors’ diaries, laterally.  Instead of a councilor, getting himself involved in kidnapping scandals, there is more he can do for his people, in providing them with their basic needs through advocacy.

Another institution that also needs public support insofar as Sierra Leone’s development could be discussed is the National Revenue Authority. Not only public support, I hold the view, that the NRA should be constantly watched with close eyes by the government, because it is the life blood of the nation and no government will want to toy with that.

The National Revenue Authority was created through an Act of Parliament, as a central body for the assessment and collection of national revenue…’(http://www.sierra-leone.org/Laws/2002-11.pdf) This was done with the sole aim of not only generating revenue for government, but at the same time for the socio-economic development of the state. Over the years this revenue collection agency in Sierra Leone has been doing well in terms of revenue collection.  I have submitted often and again, that the support that developing  nations have continued to gain from development partners like the World Bank, European Union, DFID and the African Development Bank will also serve as a catalyst for change and development  (http://www.sierraupdate.co.uk )  When the NRA is seen to be doing its work effectively and efficiently, the development of the country will be realised with a decade or so. But again, there is also the need for the concerted effort of Sierra Leoneans.

What we should be seen doing, in terms of our support to state institutions like NRA is by not only prosecuting  smugglers, but even  those working at revenue collection institutions should be seen putting the national interest above all else. There have been moments when the President will have to go down to the Customs and Excise Department, one of the  three departments of  the NRA, to pay unannounced visits and thus, have a feel of what is actually happening. Customs is one such important department, that it accounts for an average of 55-60% of total revenues collected by the National Revenue Authority. So, it therefore, would mean, if this department, just like the others are not seen working in line with the general expectation of the President and the people of Sierra Leone,  it won’t tell well for Sierra Leone’s development agenda.

I am, in no way, suggesting that the NRA is not working in line with the Agenda for Change. In fact, what we have continued to see in the revenue collection aspect of that institution sounds good, especially as they now are talking of having collected over a trillion Leones for the government. Perhaps, they only will need to redouble their efforts. They will need to actually look at whether the Automated System for Customs Data- ASYCUDA has helped in brining the change that President Koroma has been expecting, whether the system has helped in terms of revenue collection among others. The public will need to be updated on these and many areas.

I also would suggest, that the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources continue to work in line with its contribution to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. At present, the ministry is contributing about 10% to the country’s Gross Domestic Product. This is good but it means, when more effort is put together, they can do more.

The bottom line is, we need to strengthen our revenue mobilization efforts. President Koroma will have all he good plans he will wan to transform the live of the average Sierra Leonean but when the resources are not there it will be difficult. We have seen how today, the road network has taken a different dimension, e have seen some reforms in our energy and power sector, the fight against corruption have taken a different direction, but if we are to continue doing more, and shaming our detractors, people should be ready to support the development goals of Sierra Leone for the common good of all.


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