The very high powered Sierra Leonean delegation to Guinea have arrived home, after realising that we are being played like pawns in a chess game we have no control over.
Prof Alpha Conde knows fully well the cards he holds in his hand. He knows that he does not need to use his soldiers to cower us and bring us to our knees to suit his bruised ego.
But that is not our focus now. Our concern is the strategic advantage which Guinea continues to exert over us all because our very own compatriots are bent on self-satisfying-first rather than country. The fact of the matter is, Conde knows how much we (Sierra Leone) depend on Guinea for not only foodstuffs, but a lot more.
Recently (late last year) pepper was short in the local market. That is when we realised the greater part of the supply actually comes in from Guinea. Last week it was ‘Cow foot.’ The local refuse scavengers who collect used soft drink aluminium cans and used plastic bottles and sachets from “Bomeh” dumpsites, found their trade slowing and income disappearing because they could not get their scavenged materials over to Guinea where they have a plastic recycling plant which has been buying the scavenged materials.
Sierra Leoneans have complained about the rising prices of agricultural products, arguing that these are not “imported” or “made abroad.” Thankfully Corona has made us realise that they are ALL imported, whether from Guinea, Senegal, Niger or Europe, Asia or America. The good thing is that the government is making inroads into the agricultural sector, but that is not enough.
Sierra Leone does not have a registered dealer for Apple products and many other branded products; infact whereas half a million Leones can get you a brand new computer in Guinea, nothing short of a million can get you one here in Sierra Leone and it is usually even a brand new second hand.
The truth is, a lot of imported goods from Europe, Asia and America, come in through Guinea. Importers prefer to land their goods laden containers in Guinea and then transport the offloaded goods across in trucks. Obviously Guinea gains from low tariffs at its port and our government gets a pittance at the border while a significant percentage goes into private pockets to build big and useless unrentable houses.
The point here is if the importer finds that landing his/her goods in Guinea and moving them across the border is less expensive and yields more profit for them rather than passing the goods through our own port – Water Quay – then simply put, we have to fix our Water Quay.
What we need to do now is to drop our import/clearance charges/tariffs down to cater for the ‘Quick Penny’ rather than maintaining high tariffs and albeit foolishly running after the ‘Slow Pound.’ Siaka Stevens said “Na sens make book no to book make sense.”
Local importers with “street sense” have been saying this all along, – drop these charges and instead of them struggling to bring in two containers they will begin to bring in ten. But this has constantly been resisted by our policy makers, none of whom have ever run any business in their lives yet they believe they know more than the seasoned businessmen.
Let’s face it NO government, can stop the smuggling (even now with the so called border closure people, goods and vehicles cross over on a daily basis,) but who profits … it is individuals and not the government. This is why no serious policy can be implemented because those who advise on the policy changes are the ones who benefit most from the bribery and organized confusion.
Infact, when the last (APC) government raised tariffs on imported beer to protect SL Brewery and Sorghum farmers, more Carlsberg and Becks were still selling in the shops and they were not coming in through Water Quay’.
This highly strategic move by Alpha Conde must teach us a lesson, that it is time to address the issue of Water Quay’, otherwise we will continue to be held to ransom now and then by successive Guinean administrations.
Whilst Prof. Conde’s move might not be very obvious or discernible to the customs official at the border or water quay or even the top levels of NRA, (albeit they are not strategic thinkers) it is the business of the political leaders to start thinking more positively and giving us value for money.
No country must allow itself to be manipulated so strategically by another country. We must see this and act on it now. It is a weapon that can be used much like the western nations use sanctions to destabilise countries.
We have said it. Lonta.