Mar 1

Address Delivered at the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Annual Dinner

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Address Delivered at the Sierra Leone Chamber of
Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, Annual Dinner
By
Gladys Strasser-King (President)
st On 1 March 2013

Your Excellency, Hon. Speaker, Hon Chief Justice, Ministers, Hon. Members of Parliament, Governor Bank of Sierra Leone, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, Your Worship the Mayor, Development Partners, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture, I extend a warm welcome to you all to our annual dinner. I particularly wish to welcome one of our members, in the person of His Excellency the President, and congratulate him for his re-election to the Presidency for a second term. I also congratulate Ministers who have been reinstated and the new entrants into cabinet. On this note, I welcome the appointment of Mr Boie Kamara as Minister of Trade and Industry. I am confident that his long experience with private sector players in the mining industry, positions him for strong interaction and cooperation with, and support of the Chamber. The peaceful outcome of the November 2012 Elections in Sierra Leone was a win for all Sierra Leoneans and private sector operatives. Consequently, I think we should all congratulate ourselves and the entire citizenry.

Your Excellency, in our speech at last year’s dinner, we commended the phenomenal strides in infrastructural development, especially nationwide road construction. Other complementary initiatives included energy provision, the Free Health Care Scheme, increased Agricultural Production,improvement of the status of Women, the Youth and the Disabled, under the umbrella of the “Agenda for Change”.

Mr. President, today the world economy has entered a new phase of globalization, one in which inclusive and sustainable development is imperative. As a result, policy makers today must adopt a paradigm shift in the development of policies to mobilize investment and unleash entrepreneurial capacity for sustainable development. It has long been recognized that investment, both from public and private sources, and the development of
entrepreneurial capacity are key drivers of economic growth. It is our expectation that as we exit the ‘Agenda for Change’ and roll in the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ these considerations would be given by those developing the eight pillars of the agenda.

Chamber recognizes the strides Government is making towards a conducive environment for business activities in the country. Permit me Your Excellency, Ladies and Gentlemen, to highlight some of the significant developments and challenges that impact on the business climate in the country today.

A. Doing Business Reforms in Sierra Leone

In the World Bank ‘Doing Business 2013’ ranking, Sierra Leone stood at 140 out of 185 economies globally, up by 8 places from 148 in 2012. In the Doing Business 2013: Smarter Regulations for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises,
Sierra Leone is ranked among the top 15 economies that improved their business regulatory environment since 2005.

If this trend continues the national and international competitiveness of our local businesses will be enhanced, ranking Sierra Leone as one of the destinations of choice for doing business in Africa.

B.Bank Reforms and the Business Climate

The business community in Sierra Leone has benefitted from the reforms adopted by the Bank of Sierra Leone. We are currently experiencing stable exchange rates, interest rates and declining rate of inflation which have resulted in a stable macroeconomic environment, conducive for doing business in Sierra Leone.

The credit reference Bureau is assisting in the collection of credit information on individuals and business entities. We have observed benefits such as increased private sector lending, shorter/faster loan approval process,
reduction in the overall default rate and lower interest rates for those who are low risk customers.

The modernization of the payments, clearing and settlement systems, which will also be harmonized with other countries in the West African sub region, will enable the settlement of large value interbank transactions faster, and reduce the element of risk.

C. Barriers to Growth

Mr. President as your Government is taking steps towards the privatisation of many state owned enterprises such as the NIC, SLCB and the Rokel Commercial Bank, consideration should be given to indigenous investors if we are to access the potential within these markets.

Access to affordable capital is a perennial challenge, despite persistent efforts to bring this to the attention of successive governments. The macroeconomic landscape has not been fair to our SMEs, and more seriously, do not favour
the provision of affordable capital to them. Interest rates from financial institutions are still killing our domestic owned businesses with rates ranging from 22% to 29%. Our businesses pay the highest interest rates in sub Sahara Africa. We are recommending the highest consideration of a system of funding which will provide favourable lending terms to SME’s and avail them of access to affordable capital.

Access to land, for large scale enterprises, particularly in the provinces, is still very challenging. Government should have a clear policy for land acquisition to obviate some of the tension often arising between landowners and
investors.

D. Tripartite Investment Project

Chamber is pleased to learn that the TIP will feature in the Agenda for Prosperity. This project, you may recall, addresses the construction of:

a modern international airport at Lungi
the Lungi – Freetown bridge and
a new city at Lungi, to de-congest Freetown

A technical committee, including Chamber, is being set up by the Strategy and Policy Unit at State House, to work out details of the projects and several investors have demonstrated interest in participating in the project.

We also note that a contract for a new international airport at Mamamah, near Songo, has been signed. We hope that the contractors and Sierra Leone Airport Authority will work with a dedicated, high-level project planning and
coordinating committee involving relevant stakeholders, to ensure smooth and speedy execution.

The realization of these projects should position the country as a major business hub in the sub region.

E. Local Content Policy

We applaud recent steps taken by Government towards formulating a Local Content Policy which elicited the views of Chamber. This policy, if well implemented will not only increase the use of locally sourced goods and services but also promote Small and Medium Enterprises and enhance job creation.

We urge Government to ensure its full implementation. In this vein, we ask that Government follows the policy up with relevant legislation to ensure stronger compliance and sharper teeth.

F. Operation WID

Last year we urged government to take action to curb the seemingly unregulated, uncontrolled and lawless behavior of okada riders in the city. We therefore applaud the recent action by government in setting up a Presidential Task Force which has mounted ‘Operation WID’. This initiative addresses Waste Management, Improved Road Safety and Decongestion of the City.

Chamber and indeed the general public are encouraged by the initial positive response and apparent collaboration of traders, pedestrians, drivers and riders. However, it would appear that after the initial successes of the
operation and public acclaim, the situation is sliding back to pre WID days. The W in WID is of particular concern.

The greatest challenge to WID and concern of the public, is the sustainability of the operation.

We urge government to further empower the task force and provide adequate resources to
enhance its activities.

Chamber is open to work with the Task Force and help identify innovative Chamber is open to work with the Task Force and help identify innovative ways for resource mobilization, to ensure sustainability of the operation.

G. Energy & Water Resources

Chamber recognizes the huge investments government has made in the last few years into the power and water sectors; but these appear to have had very little or no positive impact on electricity supply to consumers. The importance of these basic utilities for sustenance of society in general and business in particular deserves no elaboration. The power sector is critically important to the continuing growth of the economy, as access to electricity is inextricably linked with productivity.

Power supply today is so sporadic that most consumers have resigned themselves to accepting that electricity is non-existent in the city.

Mr President, Chamber implores you to focus on this sector with a view to restructuring it for a more robust management and greater efficiency.

Similar attention needs to be paid to the water sector. It is heart breaking to see the massive wastage of treated water all over the city, through an inefficient water distribution system; not to mention the damage it causes to roads and streets, some newly constructed. We believe that it is necessary to roads and streets, some newly constructed. We believe that it is necessary to roll out a comprehensive water distribution plan for the city and work towards its implementation. Let us not forget that ‘water is life’.

H. Information & Communications

The landing of the Africa to Europe fibre cable and incorporation of the Sierra Leone Cable Ltd (SALCAB) are welcome developments, since information technology has revolutionised every aspect of life today. The private sector is encouraged by the President’s announcement at the commissioning that SALCAB is open to the sector as well. We, like the rest of the country, look forward to faster, and hopefully cheaper, internet connectivity that this promises to bring.

However the services provided by mobile operators in the country today deserves no commendation. The poor service and hidden increases in tariff are unacceptable to businesses and the general public. NATCOM needs to perform its regulatory functions more robustly, to ensure that the public gets acceptable service and value for money.

I. Agriculture

Significant strides were made in the implementation of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) which led to the formulation of and adoption of the National Sustainable Agricultural Development Plan (NSADP); the implementation of which should boost agricultural productivity. However the population is concerned that these and other interventions do not seem to be making much impact on food sufficiency, particularly our staple food, rice, which is still largely imported.

We call on government to provide incentives to attract private sector investment in large scale rice cultivation in places like Tomabum and the investment in la Rhombe swamp.

J. Mineral Resources

This sector holds great promise for the development of our national economy, through increased mineral production and export. But Mr President, we stand to generate much more if the products are upgraded locally before export. This should not only provide employment for our youth but stimulate the growth of small industries.

The recently established regulatory body, the National Minerals Agency, should be continually monitoring the industry in the national interest.

In this sector, we are encouraged by the tremendous interest shown by International Oil Companies in petroleum exploration off shore Sierra Leone. We look forward to the establishment of commerciality and hope that our national interest will be paramount in any agreement reached with the IOCs. We offer our fullest co-operation in these developments.

K. Education

Sierra Leone was once a pioneer in education and the envy of the sub region, even referred to as the Athens of West Africa; it was therefore disheartening when a deputy minister, recently described our university as the ‘Ashes of West Africa’. No doubt educational standards have declined through lack of basic infrastructure, poor remuneration and uncommitted teachers and lecturers.

Mr. President, regrettably, statistics from WAEC has shown that cheating in public exams has increased tremendously. This distressing situation is further compounded by poor parenting and the rampant indiscipline and disorder which afflict the entire educational environment, especially in the tertiary institutions.

Perhaps full implementation of the Gbamanga report may address some of these problems.

L. Problems with clearing goods at the Port

Problems associated with clearing of goods at the port still persist, resulting in delays, loss or theft of goods, accumulation demurrage charges, which are passed on to consumers. In our recent deliberations with stakeholders, decisions were taken to alleviate the situation. Effective supervision of the contracted examining verification and clearing agents should ease the situation, reducing the time and cost of clearing, thus resulting in valuable savings to consumers. The Chamber will continue to dialogue with Stakeholders and Government on this all important issue.

M. Youth Employment

We have already treated the issue of youth employment under other sections, but the problem is so pervasive, complex and grave that repetition cannot be superfluous. Youth unemployment manifests itself in lawlessness, dishonesty, economic disruption, family and community destabilization.

Whilst measures being adopted by Government point in the right direction, more should be done to attract foreign direct investments, creation of industries, and other private sector interventions.

The emphasis we placed last year on the need to educate our youth for entrepreneurship and middle level skills training should be vigorously pursued.

N. Millennium Challenge Corporation – Sierra Leone’s Eligibility

Mr. President, the Chamber congratulates your Government’s for gaining the MCC Compact award.

We can assure Your Excellency that the committee set up by State House, which includes Chamber, to undertake the preparatory work leading to project execution, will ensure that all conditions precedent to release of the funds, will be fully and speedily fulfilled.

O. Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) 2000

As part of its vision to stimulate external trade and foster effective collaboration between Trade Promotion Organisations in Sierra Leone, Chamber, which is the focal point for AGOA activities in Sierra Leone, recently
collaborated with one of its strategic partners, SLIEPA, to organize a stakeholders workshop on the theme “Enhancing Prosperity through Export Competiveness”. The workshop objectives were two fold; to stimulate national participation in the AGOA process and to support government’s policy of SME development.

Following the participation of Chamber at a recent AGOA meeting in the USA, a number of USA businesses have expressed interest in some of our local products and have engaged Chamber in discussions leading to export
facilitation.

P. Sierra Leone National Carrier Agreement Ratification Act 2012

Even though the Sierra Leone National Carrier Agreement Ratification Act 2012 has been enacted, the private sector is unhappy with the nonadherence to the normal and accepted protocol that precedes such Acts. We believe that some of the provisions are inimical to the interest of large scale importers and exporters.

We therefore implore government to suspend enforcement of the Act and revisit its provisions in concert with private sector stakeholders.

Q. Regional Trade Facilitation

The West African Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FEWACCI) with the support of the Private Sector Division of ECOWAS is establishing a Sea Link Project for transportation of bulk cargo along the coast, between Senegal and
Cameroon. The project is to be implemented by ‘Sealink Promotional
Company’, a Special Purpose Vehicle already incorporated in Nigeria.

This project, when fully implemented, should facilitate greater ease of moving bulk cargo between ECOWAS States and enhance regional trade.

The Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce is in discussions with ECOWAS Bank for Investment and Development (EBID) for support to SMEs. The engagement is progressing satisfactorily and details will be made public when finalised.

R. Conclusion

Your Excellency, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, as I reflect on my year in office, an outstanding feature has been the degree of loyal support given by the membership of Chamber to its first female President. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the collaboration of all members, particularly the members of staff, and to dedicate myself to the full realization of Chamber’s goals and ideals.

I would like to thank all our development partners whose contributions and support to Chamber have proved invaluable to our programmes.

Let me also thank all our sponsors, without whose generous contribution, this dinner would not have been so successful. We value your support and look forward to our continued partnership.

I would like to express my personal gratitude on behalf of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture to Your Excellency and everyone here this evening. Your presence and contribution to this dinner will, I am sure, help to make this event a memorable success and significantly advance SLCCIA’s mission to contribute to our economy and making investment a catalyst for development.

Before I resume my seat, I wish to take this opportunity to inform you all that our annual trade fair is scheduled for April. We look forward to your usual support, and assure you that this year’s fair would be as exciting as always

I thank you all for your patient attention.

Gladys E. O. Strasser-King (Mrs.)
President
Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture
March 2013