By Sorie Fofana…………………………..
Let me address the issue of Toll Charges before I handle the issue of Airport Security Tax, which has become the most topical issue in the country today.
Sometime last week, a junior official in the Ministry of Youth Affairs (whose identity remains obscure) emerged from the blue, claiming that, he was the Director of Programme Management at the said Ministry.
He claimed at a training session that the first phase of the toll road being built by a Chinese construction company called China Railway Seventh Group (CRSG) has almost been completed. It covers a stretch of road between Wellington and Yams Farm.
The Chinese company would begin to implement the toll road charges in July this year. The duration of the toll road contract is twenty five years and it will cost US$165m.
The Chinese company claimed that, by the time they finish constructing and widening the Wellington/Masiaka highway, they would have invested a total of US$165m (One hundred and sixty five million dollars) on the pre-financed project.
It has to be pointed out that, there is no alternative vehicular route between Wellington and Masiaka. That is the only route vehicles use to enter and leave the capital city from the Provinces.
All over the world, there are alternative routes to toll roads. Toll roads are always used by people who can afford to use them. There are alternative routes for those who can hardly afford to pay the toll charges on toll roads. The introduction of toll charges has led to pandemonium in several Asian and Asian Pacific countries.
The implementation of toll charges has led to change of governments or has made several governments become unpopular and even unelectable. The question many people are asking is: why introduce new killer taxes and charges in an election year? Only the uncaring APC government can answer that question!
Certainly, the Airport Security Tax and the Toll Road Charges will be major issues in the March 2018 elections. These charges will make the APC party more and more unpopular, because, they affect the livelihood of the ordinary people in our country.
The government should have engaged the people affected by these toll charges long before now. It is only last week that, the government, through the Ministry of Youth Affairs, embarked on sensitizing the people about the introduction of a toll charge in this country. How pathetic!
How can the government be so callous and insensitive to the sufferings of the ordinary Sierra Leoneans? Why can’t the government defer the implementation of the toll charges until the entire stretch of road has been completed? So far, only 10% of the road has been completed or almost about to be completed. So, why implement the charges? This is no brainer!
Those APC Politicians that stand to benefit from this senseless contract should be bold enough to tell their friends at the China Railway Seventh Group that, the implementation of the charges can wait until the entire stretch of road has been fixed.
It is only an uncaring government that can add more financial burden on its people in the midst of such hard and difficult time in the country.
Now, the Ministry of Youth Affairs says that they have hired sixty young people (what a ridiculous figure) to embark on a door-to-door sensitization about the benefits of the toll road system. This is bunkum! What do poor people really expect to benefit from a toll system? If anything, it just improverishes them further.
The APC party claims to be a party for ordinary people. And it is this same party that continues to introduce all sorts of killer charges and taxes that affect the ordinary people they claim to be fighting for. What an irony!
Airport Security Tax
The new Airport Security Tax of US$80 (Eighty United States dollars) for every passenger passing through the Lungi International Airport came into force on 1st April, 2017. Nobody knows why air travelers have to pay US$80 for coming into and leaving the Lungi International Airport.
Is this same form of taxation being implemented in other ECOWAS member States? Is this in line with the ECOWAS Harmonization Policy? Or is Sierra Leone the only country in the ECOWAS sub-region that has implemented this killer tax? How would other ECOWAS member States retaliate when their citizens complain that, they have been forced by the Sierra Leone government to pay for airport security at the Lungi International Airport?
How many tourists will come to Sierra Leone when they learn that, on top of the expensive airfare to Sierra Leone, they have to pay an additional US$80 for airport security?
Some of these policies are not well-thought out by the government. No government worth its salt would implement such killer taxes and charges in the middle of an election year.
It is no secret that the government is really finding it difficult to even pay workers salaries on time.
It is also no secret that, the government is finding it difficult to pay contractors and suppliers because of lack of money.
This lack of money to pay contractors is even affecting indigenous companies like Gento Group. Now, some workers at the company are complaining that, they have still not received their salaries and wages for the month of April.
Even though Gento Group’s bank loans at GTB are guaranteed by the government (I don’t know whether or not it is a sovereign guarantee), the company is in a serious financial difficulty.
Gento Group will soon face Parliament over disagreements with NRA in tax payments.
On the issue of the introduction of toll charges in July, the government should prevail on the Chinese company to defer it to at least 2020 or, at the very least, 2019. That will help poor rural commuters along the Wellington/Masiaka highway.
On the issue of Airport Security Tax, the government should scrap it altogether because it is not in the interest of the country.
The APC party supporters behind Securiport (the American company that is behind this killer Airport Security Tax) should tell the company to be very transparent in their dealings.
Nobody knows how much the company has invested on the project and for how long will the poor Sierra Leonean travelers will continue to pay US$80 for just coming in or leaving their country.
The government should be bold enough to scrap the Airport Security Tax or at the very least reduce it to at least US$10 (Ten US dollars).
Securiport should come clean on how much they have collected or how much they expect to collect every month from Airport Security Tax at the Lungi International Airport.
The APC claims to be a party for the ordinary people. But not anymore!