Why Salone Needs More Investors

 

Today, the entire world, including the great United States of America (USA) and her sister block of nations across the Atlantic, the European Union (EU) look at the economic success of the People’s Republic of China with envy.

This is because what took the USA and Western Europe over 200 years to accomplish, dating from the days of the Slave Trade, China since she aggressively started moving in the 1970s and 1980s from under-development to development has achieved in the space of fifty years.

As the Government of our beloved Sierra Leone continues to seek economic development for the people, we need to sit back and ask ourselves how China achieved her economic miracle. The answer is very simple: it was due to a combination of good leadership, vision and massive injection of capital resources from all over the world, but principally from the USA, EU and Russia.

The point to be noted is that China on her own would have spent decades, if not a century, building up the capital stock that she required to diversify the economy and to in the process create the millions of jobs that today contribute to taking 10 million Chinese every year out of poverty.

It is in this light that as a poor developing nation whose per capital income is still less that $500 per head annually, we should understand President Julius Maada Bio and the ‘New Direction’ government’s ambition to scout the world in search of genuine investors that can help the country to diversify its economy.

It could be recalled that during the 2018 presidential campaign, President Bio promised that if he won he would diversify the economy. He cannot do this from using only internally generated funds given that when he assumed office, he pronounced that the country’s economy was literally not only broke but also heavily indebted domestically and internationally.

Therefore, the bulk of the funds for diversifying the economy in key development areas such as road infrastructure, energy, mining, agriculture, transportation, fishery, tourism, health, education, among others have to come from direct foreign investment.

Thus immediately he took over power in April, President Bio attended the Commonwealth Heads of State Summit in the United Kingdom, followed by a visit to Qatar with the intention of seeking both government and private sector investments for the country.

Now President Bio and a big government delegation were this week in China at the invitation of the Chinese President to take part in this year’s Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) summit. The visit afforded the President and the delegation to interact with a diversity of government and private sector investors with several commitments made by the Chinese to undertake feasibility studies including the construction of Lungi Bridge, Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for 200 buses for the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC), the strengthening of the country’s digital backbone, among other agreements.

This effort by President Bio to search high and low here and there for investors to fast-track the country’s economic growth and development is laudable and a vital step in the right direction because without foreign capital interventions, the development pace will be slow and have very little impact on the growing problems of unemployment, poverty and low national revenue generation that we are faced with.

Put in context, Sierra Leone needs more investors to create jobs, incomes and tax revenues that will enable the country’s gradual transformation from mass poverty to shared prosperity. With this, the nation will be more peaceful, safe, secure and attractive for tourists and other categories of visitors.

However, let it be said that the President’s running up and down to attract investors to the country would not bear fruit if we do not take into consideration the fact that old habits die hard – particularly bad habits.

It has been a culture in this country for a very long time that people who work in the civil service had forgotten their primary mission of working to deliver effective services to the people and concentrated more on how to use their offices and positions to enrich them-selves. This has had a very negative effect on investor confidence as it has led to many foreign investors coming and leaving in frustration.

Unwieldy, cumbersome, deliberately slow bureaucracies that put a lot of stumbling block in the way of investors are a great disincentive for attracting business into the country; so too red-tape (costly, intricate procedures, processes and inexplicable time-consuming rules and regulations).

If the country is to attract big genuine investors, not the fly-by-night ones that only come here to seek quick gains, leaving nothing behind for the country and its people, those personalities and offices that investors come in contact with in the process of setting up their operations must change their mentality from me to thinking first and foremost, I am working for the people of Sierra Leone.

This is very important to attracting investors because if, for example, the officer that is responsible for signing certain documents or authorizing some facilities for an investor drags its feet, slowing up the process because money has not changed hands, that will discourage the genuine investor who in frustration will pack his or her bags and leave with no intention to come back.

Thus, as President Bio is up and running searching for investors, he must impress it on all those working for government that they have to work diligently, honestly and selflessly to enable Sierra Leone’s ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index to rise up dramatically as a very serious precondition for attracting more foreign investors into the country.

Another issue that needs to be dealt with in the country’s attempt to woo investors is the activities of 419-ers who have left many innocent foreign investors wringing their hands in misery.

Warn the dog, but warn the bone too not to fall in the path of the dog. Truth is many of these so-called foreign investors that have been fleeced by 419-ers have themselves to blame. They do not come here with any intention to do business through the front door but through the backdoor. Consequently, instead of coming openly to buy gold and diamonds or make long-term investment because they do not want to pay taxes and other obligations to the government, they go through dubious agents that are smarter than them and that is the end of the story.

Foreign investors are advised to first and foremost seek advice from our embassies, high commissions and consulates abroad as to which authorities and agencies to work with before coming into the country. And when in the country, if in doubt, they should seek advice from the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Industry, the Sierra Leone Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Commercial Banks, among others, that will readily furnish them with the relevant information and assistance they need to do business genuinely in the country.