Mr. Tanu Jalloh went on to say: “presently, we are unable to compete with these two countries even though we are all in the ECOWAS basin, where we have programs like the ETLS, the ALIZA, and other West Africa programs.” He added however that when one looks at the expenses of importers in Sierra Leone, “we find out that it is very difficult for us to meet with the competition in the region.”
He pointed out that in the area of buying air tickets, “our people are being forced to travel to Guinea just to buy air tickets simply because at home (Sierra Leone) they tell you that air ticket to travel to China for example, costs between $1,500 to $1,900; and to travel to Dubai your ticket can cost between $1,400 to $1,600.”
He lamented however that “when you go to our neighboring country Guinea, you can buy air tickets there at $900, $600 and $800 respectively. So you begin to ask yourself: Why are we all in the same region but we can’t compete.” He added: “So people are forced to travel to Guinea to purchase air tickets because they are saving from $500 to $1,000 when they buy air tickets in Guinea to travel business class and can use this amount to pay for their lodging and use part of it to purchase their goods.”
He went on to say that when you come to the freight aspect there are also challenges. “Containers come to Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia but you find out that the rate of transit is on the increase in the country because our own business cost is going up tremendously.” He went on to say that for instance, “our freight charges in Sierra Leone and freight charges in Guinea are very different.” He recalled that when the Freetown Terminal contract otherwise known as Bollore was initially signed, there were promises that freight charges would come down drastically because they (Bollore) are in contact with international shipping lines. He lamented that since they started operations the situation has not changed. “We still pay the same rates and if you look at the amount we are paying, it is very difficult to see someone who is paying direct except big importers. But for the struggling or smaller importers that come together (8, 9, 10 to 25 etc) to bring in one container; you find out that they have to consult a freight forwarder. But freight forwarders don’t give you the correct freight you must pay as they also put in their own service charge and other charges as the case may be and so it goes as high as $7,000 compared with someone taking the same container to Guinea who pays as low as $4,000 to $4,900. So you see the different profit you have made when you haven’t even cleared your goods from the quay.
The clearing process is also problematic in Sierra Leone these days and it is not stagnant. And honestly, all over the world, if your clearing process is not stagnant, then you bring uncertainty. We do not want white elephant investors. We have three types of investors. But the investor who would come quickly is the one engaged in financial investment like financial institutions which can weather all storms. But those investors engaged in stock exchange and the like do not come here because the currency is not stable here so they are unable to operate here. Those involved in general merchandise manage to come here. But when you look at serious investors, it is very difficult because of the way we do things here and things are very expensive here compared to our neighboring countries. And the most shocking thing is that I have started receiving intelligence reports indicating that investors are moving away from Sierra Leone to build companies in Guinea and Liberia. When you look at the Finance Act 15, it tells us that when you invest up to one million, five hundred thousand United States Dollars to open a company, you will get five years protection; but that is not for Sierra Leoneans because even if a Sierra Leonean wants to open a company he cannot get the bank that would loan him such amount – so Sierra Leoneans are ruled out of this arrangement. So they should go back to the drawing board to say: anybody that makes any manufacturing industry; whether if it is frying cakes, rooting cassava etc., as long as long as there is export facility and jobs are being created for Sierra Leoneans, that individual should have the same protection the investor that injected one million, five hundred thousand US Dollars into a factory project has. When this is done, we would begin to see our country moving. It is shameful for us to see Liberia which is half our population instead of being behind us are leading us in the area of high manufacturing rate, their export rate is going up while in Sierra Leone, our export rate is falling. I think we should start taking these things into serious consideration. I am also calling on the government to put partisan business aside and start to govern. Call people that are ready to sacrifice themselves for the good of this nation. There are quite a number of Sierra Leoneans that come from very challenging background. But they are major exporters and business tycoons today. Call up these people and see how they can be encouraged to invest heavily as this would go a long way to improve our ailing economy.