The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa has disclosed that they will be supporting economics students at the university with resources to undertake real-time research on economic issues affecting the country. He made this disclosure during the signing ceremony of the Memorandum of Understanding between the Ministry and the Department of Economics and Commerce, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone, last Friday. “To have an objective look at the issues we have come to the conclusion that we cannot do it alone as we have to engage. We will not allow any consultant to come and ask us questions and write about the country. They have to work with our team as we need to build our in-house capacity; knowledge and skills transfer is key” he said. By getting to the root of it, Minister Saffa said that they will now be constantly engaging the university by collaborating with them. The Research Center currently under construction at the Ministry will be replicated at the FBC where student can go and check their data. “We are going to support dissertation writing. A lot of people, because they don’t have money they are unable to go and collect field data rather they just sit down and collect series data from the Bank of Sierra Leone. We need research to support and formulate our policies and assess the impacts” he said.
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But with support from the Ministry they will now be able to send out questionnaire and work on the data they generate. “No institution is ready to support them, so we are going to put good amount money aside just for such purpose. The institutional framework of doing that will be defined with the Central Bank, Statistics Sierra Leone and the Ministry” he said. The standards to qualify for such grant he said will be high and based on quality. The Ministry and the university he went on will also be holding public debate on economic issues which will be conducted in April/May so as to inform them as they go into preparing the national Budget. Minister Saffa said that they have been making economic decisions not based on real figures or evidence-based because what they have been engaged in were time bound, “but we have to make them, I could sense the lapse, sometimes we come up with policies and we do not check them how they are working” he said. “One of the frustrations that I have is with our current tax policy, every year we do what we call the Finance Act, but we have not been able to really quantify for each of these changes we make in the Act” he said. He noted that, if there is a reduction in corporation tax from 30 to 25 percent that should be backed up with an analysis as to how the 5 percent will impact the industries. “We are still not there, my own idea is that before any Finance Act we should have been able to analyse no matter how rudimentary, some of the changes it has had on the fiscal situation before ever we come with the new policy” Minister Saffa said. In his remarks Abdulai Brima, Head of Economics and Commerce at FBC said that the formal collaboration with the institution responsible for the country’s economy is something they have been looking forward to. “This collaboration will equip the department to reinforce our research capabilities in all of our engagements at the department. We have always thought of moving away from this self duplication style of training economists” Brima said. He went on to state that, over the years if one goes to the department his students are engaged in mainly learning macro or micro economic theories but with this collaboration and the establishment of the economic lab it will now give his students time to actually look at the macro economic theories. “It will help us see how we can establish relationships that involve both social and economic variables and use statistical techniques that we do teach them, to determine the significance of those relationships” he said. In addition, “by extension we will end up bringing up practical domestic economists with clear understanding of the economic structure of Sierra Leone and can formulate policies that are typical of the country and that will provide benefit to the Ministry of Finance and other MDAs.” He is hopeful that their future informed research will guide the Ministry whether to make change adjustments to the trajectory of using template economic policies to research based economic policies.
By Zainab Iyamide Joaque
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