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“Local Content Policy” – a clarion call for action

“Local Content Policy” – a clarion call for action

When the Legacy of President Ernest Bai Koroma will be appraised by objective patriots and African historians, the Local Content Policy , and his change of attitude campaign, will compete as his most enduring, most profound, Legacy.  So grave and exhilarating is the Local Content Policy  that it is for Sierra Leone a question of War or Peace; Egalitarian Wealth or Universal Poverty….  The Local Content Policy will ensure that the shameful paradox that Sierra Leone has been over a hundred year period will now end – one of the wealthiest countries in terms of marketable natural resources with people who are one of the ten poorest on earth.  The Local Content Policy, when made into a law, is likely to transform our tiny 71,000 square mile land of 6 million people into a Singapore or Switzerland… This is the  first piece in a clarion call to all our citizenry within Sierra Leone, and in the Diaspora,  to understand the dynamics of the Local Content Policy and to accelerate its being made into law, and being speedily implemented.  (Photo: His Excellency, President Ernest Bai Koroma)

The Local Content Policy Attunes with our 1991 Constitution

The Local Content Policy of the APC government led by President Ernest Bai Koroma is already in the form of  a draft bill that will be put before Parliament shortly.  It gives greater teeth to these provisions in the 1991 Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone: Chapter II,  7 (1) : The State shall…: a. harness all the natural resources of the nation to promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy; b. manage and control the national economy in such a manner as to secure the maximum welfare and freedom of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of opportunity; c. protect the right of any citizen to engage in any economic activity without prejudice to the rights of any other person to participate in areas of the economy; d. place proper and adequate emphasis on agriculture in all its aspects so as to ensure self-sufficiency in food production; and  e. ensure that Government shall always give priority and encouragement to Sierra Leoneans to participate in all spheres of the economy in furtherance of these objectives….  At a wild guess, I state that 95% of the citizenry  in our country are ignorant of the aforementioned constitutional provision – and this includes even the educated elite.  The  Local Content Policy (soon to be law) would just add specificity and enforceability to the economic provisions  of the 1991 Constitution.

Cabinet has Approved the Local Content Policy

The cabinet of President Koroma  approved the Local Content Policy in May of 2012; and a couple of months ago, also approved a ‘utilization plan’.   In simple terms, the Local Content… insists that when foreign businesses operate here, they should employ qualified Sierra Leoneans to do all their jobs, except where there are no qualified Sierra Leoneans.   Foreign firms should give contracts to competent Sierra Leonean-owned companies, and only when it is shown beyond ‘all reasonable doubt’ that Sierra Leonean companies cannot perform should a foreign firm be subcontracted – this ranges from haulage of minerals, road maintenance, provision of diary and grocery products, cleaning and laundering, etc.  The Local Content Policy makes it mandatory for foreign companies to source materials from Sierra Leone to do their production, and only when such materials are not available locally, should they be sourced internationally.  And, perhaps, the most groundbreaking provision of the Local Content Policy is this one: Sierra Leoneans should OWN shares in these foreign companies!!!!! Sierra Leoneans!!! Applaud!! Dance!! Sing!! Revel!!!!  And gird your lions to fight!!!

Make the Local Content Policy into Law. Now!!!!!!!!

The Local Content Policy is… A policy.  Not a law.  Foreign firms operating in the country can adhere to it. Or, ignore  it.  For now, reliable information is that most of the largest foreign firms are operating in Sierra Leone like they would in Apartheid South Africa nearly all their senior management jobs go to foreign white people; and, for some of them, even when qualified Sierra Leoneans are equally qualified, experienced, and do the same job as these foreign white men, the expatriate  white workers would be paid TEN TIMES more than Sierra Leoneans.  In some mining companies, cooks, cleaners, masons, carpentars, bulldozer drivers, etc. are all brought in from foreign countries. The fattest contacts  of these foreign companies – haulage; supply of heavy duty machinery, etc. – go to other foreign companies.   According to my research, and observation, there are a few foreign companies that are more ‘Local Content Policy’ compliant than others.

The ‘Local Content Policy compliant companies’  include London Mining staff (this year, I took a film crew to London Mining’s operations in Port Loko, and, all the workers who were at managerial and supervisory levels from start to finish of their operations where Negroid Sierra Leoneans); Sierra Leone Brewery, makers of Star Beer (they are buying huge quantities of sorghum from local farmers; financing them, and guiding them to grow more sorghum, and lessening their use of imported barley to manufacture Star Beer)..  If you ask the foreign companies that are less Local Content compliant (most notorious among them is reported  to be  African Minerals, which disdains all attempts to even provide trade ministry officials with data on its operations; construction company, CSE, which imports not only white men from France, but, Senegalese and Guineans from West Africa) they would tell you that Sierra Leoneans are not qualified to do most of the work in their operations.  How true this is can only be ascertained when my clarion call is listened to; when our parliamentarians, especially the majority APC in parliament,  do realize that the Local Content Policy becoming law and enforced will  help give the APC easy victory in the 2018 General Elections…..

Popularize the Local Content Bill….

There is now a draft bill on the Local Content Policy that has been prepared by the Law Officers Department.  This bill has been circulated to 155 stakeholders – which includes most ministries, departments, and government agencies; and all the big and small medium enterprises in the country; as well as the Chamber of Commerce; the National Youth Commission, etc.  A reliable source in the trade ministry informed me that three weeks after this draft bill had been circulated, not a single one of the 155 stakeholders have made a comment on it yet.  I fumed: “Why hasn’t this bill been put in the public domain”.  My source said that it is the norm to let the “stakeholders” represent the people in such legal matters.  I was indignant: Nonsense!!!!

Bills are kept from the people – then made into law

That is one of the charades of our democracy.  Legal men draft bills to be made into laws  ‘for the people’ – almost always in archaic language that would only be understood by other lawyers.  They sometimes would pass such bills to be discussed by ‘stakeholders’.  These ‘stakeholders’ would most often than NOT read these bills.  Then, in one or two workshops, these bills would be superficially addressed. And, later passed on to parliament.  Depending on what party is the majority in parliament, or, what vested interests are able to lobby parliament, since the time of our re-born democracy in 1996, bills would be made into laws without thorough thinking and analysis, without the involvement of the people.  This must change with the Local Content Policy that is a bill…..We must learn not to repeat the nauseous part of our history that led to a dastardly war.

Local Content ‘law’ will mean our nasty history not reoccuring

Between 1991 and 2002, Sierra Leone was embroiled in one of the nastiest and most brutish civil wars in human history.  The ‘root causes’ of the war, according to a Truth and Reconciliation Commission report, was the impoverishment of the majority of the people in a land which was (still is) one of the wealthiest in the world in terms of marketable natural resources. To prevent this war recurring must mean there should be sustained economic growth – and spread of wealth to the majority of the people.

The IMF forecasts glowing economic growth figures for Sierra Leone – GDP growth of 34% to reach $3.8bn in 2012.  Government and the IMF estimate that by 2015, annual revenues from mining should reach £130m, or 29% of all government revenue. However, despite its well-documented record economic growth, few of this economic growth  has been reaching the majority of the citizenry, especially the potentially volatile majority youth population.  The Local Content Policy becoming law aims to addresses these challenges, and reversing   them, to the benefit of the majority.

To be successful, Local Content must be nuanced….

The Local Content Policy is fraught with economic hazards though.  A recent study conducted by  the trade ministry and the British’s DfID revealed that even for small time jobs  – operators of heavy duty trucks; welders of mining plants, etc. – in the big mining companies the majority of Sierra Leoneans are ill-equipped with ‘Technical Vocational’ knowledge to perform efficiently.   The tertiary institutions are woefully unprepared with courses that will equip students for jobs in the emerging industries, generally.  There are a few exceptions – like Njala University, Institute of Advance Management and Technology (AIMTECH) , FINIC, GIZ  in the Eastend of Freetown.  There must be a race to overhaul the entire educational systems of Sierra Leone if the Local Content Policy is to measure up to its glorious expectations.  No African government dares force foreign companies to employ its citizens when they cannot  efficiently perform – it would be ‘economic suicide’; as such foreign firms will close their businesses,  and other foreign companies would shy away from such a country.   The issue of Sierra Leoneans owning parts of foreign companies is tantalizingly exciting – but, there has to be a dramatic change in the mentality of Sierra Leoneans. Even the very rich among Sierra Leoneans would prefer to, for example, invest  half a million dollars in putting up a building than in investing $100,000 in a mining venture.  This is just a clarion call….I invite public or private comments.  (Send to: oswaldernesthanciles@gmail.com; tel: 076757634)

Oswald Hanciles

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