Why Bio Should Act Tough On 419ers

 

The success of President Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio’s dreams and aspirations for the betterment of Sierra Leone during his tenure in office as outlined in his government’s ‘New Direction’ manifesto crucially depends on his ability to attract more direct foreign investors, particularly when he told the nation upon assumption of office in April this year that he inherited a bankrupt and heavily indebted economy.

In order to actualize his promises such as the free education and employment for the youths, these depend largely on his government to attract more investors into the different sectors of the economy.

As it stands, the President must be mindful of 419ers who have, over the years, duped investors that came into the country with their hard earned or borrowed capitals for business purposes.

It could be recalled that very recently, the newspapers reported about an American-Chinese investor staying at one of the hotels in the country that was robbed off the sum of US$140, 000. Another incident that was widely reported in the media was that of Indian investors who were duped by one renowned 419er, Mohamed Mbakui who also attempted to kill one of the said investors but however ran of luck and is currently serving jail sentence at the Pademba Road Correctional Centre. Also, a Spanish investor who came into the country to invest in agriculture was reportedly duped whilst another was a Russian who intended investing in the mining sector also fell into the hands of 419ers.

The pathetic side of the story is that many of these foreign investors that are duped are left stranded unless they call on their families and friends abroad for rescue, or as a last resort, call on their embassies here to help them return home.

From our investigations, what emerged clearly is that these 419ers allegedly work in league with some unscrupulous police and court officials for their protection. Our investigations further revealed that these 419ers frequent the Lungi International Airport, hotels and the beaches looking for investors as prey.

There are other 419-ers who lure investors in the agriculture sector into setting up fake companies with bank accounts into which they tell investors to deposit money for the project only to end up disappearing and no trace of the company to be found in the books. When these investors who have been defrauded return home, they tell their story to their people in the business community. The news spreads and Sierra Leone gets a bad name as not being a friendly place to do business or to visit as a tourist. That is why whilst countries like Gambia and Senegal continue to attract huge numbers of investors and tourists, our country is shunned. This is should not come as surprise to the Minister of Tourism. Sierra Leone has a bad name abroad which the government must work very hard to repair.

With all these happenings, it is but prudent that President Bio in his desire to attract more investors into the country turn a bright search light on to ferret out of our midst those unscrupulous 419ers that have discouraged investor from venturing into the country. This is a serious concern which President Bio should not just sweep under the carpet. A criminal syndicate made up of so-called well placed Sierra Leoneans working in concert with some rogue elements in the criminal justice system have for the past two decades reduced the country into pariah state for overseas investors by duping investors and getting away with it.

The Bio administration must be aware of the fact that the country lacks investors and must ensure that it does everything within its purview to attract potential investors by weeding out 419ers. The Exclusive sees no reason why the country should suffer at the expense of the luxury and comfort of these unpatriotic elements that have tarnished the country’s image abroad.

Given the pallid state of the economy and the high level of unemployment and economic deprivation among the majority of the people, it goes without saying that the country needs investors more than ever before, especially when the Leone is fast depreciating against strong foreign currencies.

Much as President Bio has promised to seek investors to build the Lungi bridge, provide free education, expand activities in the tourism, fisheries, agricultural and minerals is laudable, he must ensure that he creates the enabling environment for potential investors as those projects can be achieved with the involvement of foreign investors and diversification of the country’s economy.

The government also needs to consider revisiting its tax policies particularly at the Customs and Excise Department as a way of attracting more investors despite the fact that it relies greatly on taxation for development programmes.

On the other hand, it should know too that it is when the economy is booming that more taxes would be collected not by keeping taxes high. The same thing goes for bank interest rates in this country, especially for medium and long term investors. Taxes and bank interest rates for such investors should be lower than 5% as investments in agriculture and manufacturing take a long time before they start paying dividends. Nothing is impossible if one is flexible and open minded.

The country needs more investors, as the government alone hasn’t the financial wherewithal to boost the economy to the level required to create more jobs, reduce poverty and create national wealth.  As a country, we must also know that the President and his government alone cannot achieve the country’s development aspirations without full cooperation and active participation of non-state actors. Therefore, it goes without saying that we should all join hands together, irrespective of tribe, region and politics to do the things that we know will push forward Mama Salone’s development.

In this regard, the media as educators and sensitizers of the masses have a big role to play in serving as the bridge between the government and the people in terms of informing the latter  accurately about the activities of the government and vice versa.