The Chief Executive Officer of the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA), Mr. Patrick Caulker has this week portrayed his organization as one of the major vehicles that the Sierra Leone government is using not only to bring foreign investments into the country but also to help indigenous Sierra Leoneans create business, help lower cost of doing business and to promote a better investment climate across the country.
The SLIEPA Chief’s comment, made at his Tower Hill office during an interview with Awoko Business appeared to be a deliberate attempt to confirm that the government’s policy has started to make great strides in reforming its business environment, whilst accepting that deeper and wider reform is still needed, if the government wants to create a favourable investment climate, which is vital for economic development.
According to the SLIEPA Chief, “the government of Sierra Leone is looking at winning itself off donor support.” He said investment is essential for economic growth, which leads to job creation, better services, and greater prosperity. However, Mr. Caulker agreed that the decisions of domestic and international investors are influenced by the country’s ability to provide an enabling business environment, thus allowing them to earn good returns on their investments.
On the issue of “aid for trade,” the SLIEPA Chief said that this policy championed by the British Department for International Development and the World Bank Group has been very successful. The “aid for trade” policy has helped to provide funding for taxation and customs reform, the registration of new businesses and to help get goods to market and meet EU health and safety standards.
The World Bank Group and the UK government’s support for “aid for trade”, has produced tremendous benefits in Sierra Leone especially with the creation of the Removing Administrative Barriers to Investment (RABI) program, which ran from 2004 to 2010.
The RABI program pioneered a collaborative approach by working closely with the government, local institutions and the private sector to implement a comprehensive, integrated agenda that focused on key areas that needed reforms.
A report, called “Rebuilding Business and Investment in Post-Conflict Sierra Leone” recently published by the Investment Climate Advisory Services, indicated that; Prior to the RABI Program, Sierra Leone had one of the lowest tax collection rates in the World-only 10% of GDP in 2008, well below the African average of 22%.
According to the report the RABI team in Sierra Leone and in collaboration with the IMF and stand-alone DFID-funded efforts, worked with the National Revenue Authority in Sierra Leone to restore the social contract between taxpayers and the government. And the immediate impact of these efforts was a 40% increase in the number of taxpayers-from 4,650 in 2008 to 6,593 in the first quarter of 2010.
Today, the RABI Program is on track to exceed its target of helping the government collect over 12% of GDP as tax revenue. In 2009, following RABI’s intervention, the NRA collected 11.7% , and in 2010 tax revenues are projected to reach 12.3% of GDP.
The Removing Administrative Barriers to Investment (RABI) Program was also one of the first of its kind to operate in a conflict-affected country, which demand specialized and targeted support solutions. And many, if not most of those within the business community in Sierra Leone and donor agencies agree that the RABI Program was innovative and responsive, and that those who work within the Program were able to conduct rapid diagnostics, then proposing integrated solutions and moving quickly into implementation with supported staff on the ground.