Sierra Leone’s Administrator and Registrar-General speaks on reforms, political support and staff morale
At a welcoming ceremony of the United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995, held in Beijing, Jiang Zemin, then Chinese President said, “we attach great importance to the development and achievement of women, and we have made gender equality a State policy. In a work, titled Reference Book on Women of China’ complied by the All-China Women’s Federation, it is argued, that “great importance should be attached to women’s status and roles in the nation’s socioeconomic development…” Sierra Leone is no exception to countries that append great importance to the development of women, especially under the leadership of President Ernest Bai Koroma. (Photo: John Pa Baimba Sesay, IA, Beijing, China)
Sierra Leone has continued to have women in both her socioeconomic and political development. As a way of moving in line with international trends, Sierra Leone has continued to formulate and or revise laws and regulations that affect all aspect of women’s lives, in terms of marriage, employment amongst others. At present, under the Presidency of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, Sierra Leone has witnessed the involvement of women in state governance, including but not limited to the Commissioner-General of the revenue collection agency in the country, NRA, the country’s Chief Justice, the country’s Minister of Health who, as a result of her hard work, has just been appointed to another international job by the UN Secretary-General.
We also now have a female Brigadier-General in the Republic of Sierra Leone Army and a female Administrator and Registrar-General who is also a woman. Again, we have seen how a woman, under the Koroma Presidency has been able to effectively manage the affairs of the country’s elections body-NEC. At the diplomatic front, we have two women serving as Ambassadors; one in Liberia and another in Senegal. This is how President Koroma has continued to ensure women’s empowerment and their participation in state governance.
Haja Mariama Seray Kallay is the country’s Administrator and Registrar-General. She is also a Commissioner for Oaths and doubles as for the Political Parties Registration Commission. She has been a women’s right activist. At one point she served as member of the constitutional review committee, representing women issues. By 2011, the office of Administrator and Registrar-General, which line Ministry is that of Justice recorded a total of Le 7,635, 319, 632 (Seven Billion, Six Hundred and Thirty- five Million, Three Hundred and Nineteen Thousand, Six Hundred and Thirty- two Leones being revenue returns from January to December, 2011. The office was able to raise the sum of money last year through fees paid for business registration, registration of business name, registration of conveyances, estate fees, registration of trademarks and marriages as prescribed in the 2007 Review Act.
In this interview, she talks about the reforms she has brought into the operations of the office, the contribution of her office in the area of revenue collection, the support she is getting from the Presidency and related Ministries and other related issues.
During her recent visit to the People’s Republic of China, I caught up with her, and first asked her to tell readers why she was visiting the People’s Republic of China:
Thank you for this interview. Indeed, I am in China to attend a diplomatic conference on copyright organized by the World Intellectual Property Organization. As you know, in July 2011, Sierra Leone enacted a copy right law that makes provision for adequate protection of the economic right of artists including musicians, singers, authors etc. however, the law does not contain provisions for the protection of audiovisual performances such dancers, broadcasters etc.
As a member state of World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) we are desiring to develop and maintain the protection of the right of performers in their audiovisual performances in a manner as effective and uniform as possible and especially in recognizing the need to introduce new international rules in order to provide adequate solutions to questions raised by economic, social cultural and technological developments. There is also the need to maintain a balance between the right of performers in their audiovisual performances against the public interest, particularly education research and access to information. From the conference I just attended, WIPO member states have decided to develop a proposed treaty to be adopted by all the countries and when adopted, it can be domesticated by member states. The trust of the treaty is to; provide protection for copyright holders where none existed before now; to ensure that member states protect rights of their nationals and also that of foreign nationals within their jurisdictions, especially their economic and moral rights. So you will notice that my coming for this conference was actually of great necessity and help to us as a country.
You are the Administrator and Registrar-General of Sierra Leone, would you introduce your office to the reading public, especially in terms of functions and responsibilities?
The Office of the Administrator and Registrar-General (OARG) has been in existence for years. It was created by statutory provision. The Office of Administrator and Registrar-General was established under the States-General Registry Act as amended. The office is responsible for the registration and administration of businesses, with the exception of companies, but we do continue to register sole proprietors. We have the Trade Marks and Patent Office which deals with registration of intellectual property with the exception of copy right. As far as patent registration is concerned, we are still faced with the old law where Sierra Leone cannot do original registration of patent right but by UK. But that will soon be a thing of the past because there are two bills in the pipeline-Trade Mark and Patent and Industrial Designs Bills which, when once enacted would enable Sierra Leone to register patent for the first time .The bills also call for the establishment of an autonomous body-the Sierra Leone Intellectual Agency. The office also performs civil marriages and is responsible for the registration of all marriages with the exception of local ones (customary marriages). We also have the land Registry where land transaction documents within the western Area and certain provincial leases are registered. We are also empowered to administer estate in certain circumstances.
Since you came in as Administrator and Registrar-General, there must have been some reforms in the office. Am I right?
You are quite right. When I came in, in 2008, there were some amendments to the Business Law especially the one relating to starting a business; such as doing away of payment of advances taxes, the necessity to have lawyer prepare documents for you and the renewal of business licenses. There was not that awareness of the new act and to an extent even on the office. But with much publicity, the office was able to put those measures in place which shortened the registration process, in terms of explaining to people. So, I could say, publicity greatly helped in terms of our success in the reform aspect. The office was finding it difficult to implement the new provisions of starting a business. But with the help of IFC, and DFID, we were able to do some awareness raising activities with the new provisions and that largely helped us as an office.
There is the reform in terms of getting a one-stop-shop, which has also greatly helped to improve the nation’s doing business ranking. During some research I did, I came across some articles on the issue of creation of a one-stop-shop which I then initiated in my office by bringing together the National Revenue Authority and Freetown City Council under one umbrella. That has now further shortened the time of registering a business. The office is also a beneficiary of a grant by Investment Climate Facility (IFC), under an OARG Modernization Project which is also partly funded by the Government of Sierra Leone. The major component of the project are; automation of all records and refurbishment of the office in line with President Ernest Bai Koroma’s Agenda for change. The loan from ICF came as a result of President Koroma’s blessing.
We are also now working on the possibility of doing the assignment of business names electronically because at present, it is being done both manually and electronically. We are about to commission our new offices across the country, which is in line with the President desire to effect the country’s decentralization process. On the IT aspect, we now have a VPN satellite connective with the ministry of lands at the surveys department, the fast track commercial court and our three offices in the provinces. For the first time registration of businesses and land are going to be done up in the provinces as we have got new offices in Makeni Bo and Kenema which are at present operational. This was the dream of the president upon assuming office-giving easy access to everyone across the country to register a business and we hope in the future, to establish more offices.
A key factor to the success of your agency is that of collaborating with other agencies. You made mention of the one-stop-shop that has been introduced as part of your reform process and this involves working with NRA. How has it been like in terms of getting NRA’s support?
Indeed collaboration is paramount to our work and so far, it has been good. NRA staff on the ground work in concert with my staff to ensure that there is no unreasonable delay in the payment of revenues and in this respect officers also introduce a two-stop payment for the registration of business instead of paying as you go. As a result of the effective collaboration we keep getting, say form NRA, we have seen how we support the revenue collection aspect. Revenue from OARG has been an average of 1.7 billion since I came; before then, revenue generated was between 200-700 million. Last year-2011, my office generated over 7 billion for NRA. This is an indication of investment growth; creating the conducive business environment in starting a business goes a long way in attracting an investor and this is an indication of the strides the office has made in terms of legislative and institutional reforms.
Take us through the political support from government, especially from the office of the President and government Ministries that have direct dealings with your office
It has been great. We are getting the needed support from the Ministries of Finance and Trade and of course the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister of Justice. The President has been very supportive of us, I told you about the loan we got from IFC which came as a result of the President’s support. The progress we have made in terms of decentralizing our offices and functions also came as a result of his support. So indeed, we have been getting the support of the central government.
Let us look at the crucial aspect of staff morale. How does that stand at the moment in your agency?
I have done a lot to improve on that; when I came in, there were only two graduates, but that now has changed. We now have graduates in almost every sector and I have sought and obtained training facilities both within and out of Sierra Leone for my staff which has helped to build up staff morale. It has largely helped in capacitating them in enhancing the delivery of services.
You have said a lot, but it also would appear you have a lot of expectations. Am I right to suggest such?
Indeed the office is expecting a lot but not just from the general public. Change is not easy to come but as of today, it is visible that there is some kind of a change of attitude and the President is succeeding in his campaign for a change of attitude amongst Sierra Leoneans. My workforce is now on a different level in terms of delivery of services and in terms of revenue generation. They have got it right that if we provide enough revenue for government, then, the benefit comes back to us in terms of having the required working environment and financial benefits. They feel good that the office is producing as it should and that they are being exposed in the course of participating in training programs both in and out of Sierra Leone.
The most important thing for us to improve standards is to continue to get financial support from government for the sustainability of the project…we have so many computers, printers, satellite connectivity etc but when there is no light, work cannot go on and that means loss of revenue, it means, not creating a conducive atmosphere in doing business, it is necessary we have the financial support. And it is encouraging that we have made progress in the delivery of energy as country. It is also necessary that the government considers providing remuneration for my workforce commensurate or almost commensurate to that of a government parastatal.
Author’s note: Photo credit goes to Mr. Alhaji Jalloh, now Press Attaché in Sierra Leone’s Embassy in Saudi Arabia.
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