• November 14, 2023

Parliamentarians are falling short in defending the interests of the people – Basita Michael

Parliamentarians are falling short in defending the interests of the people – Basita Michael
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By Basita Michael

The recent approval of the Finance Bill 2024 has triggered widespread discontent among Sierra Leoneans, primarily due to the imposition of several new taxes, notably a 5% import duty on rice. Sierra Leone, being a food-deficit country, relies heavily on rice as a staple food for most citizens. The imposition of a 5% import duty on rice is anticipated to escalate its price, potentially rendering it unaffordable for many Sierra Leoneans and, consequently, posing a significant threat to food security in the country.

This development has revived a prevailing sentiment that Parliamentarians are falling short in defending the interests of the people with the expected diligence. Of particular concern is the swift passage of the Bill through all the legislative stages in a single day, prompting questions about the thoroughness with which our Parliamentarians examined the practicality and impact of these taxes on economic growth and the financial well-being of citizens. This rapid approval raises doubts about the efficacy of these taxes in delivering on the budget’s promise of “restoring macroeconomic stability while protecting the poor and vulnerable.” The accelerated process also limited opportunities for public engagement, feedback, and meaningful consultations with constituents, thus undermining transparency and accountability in the legislative process.

Acknowledging the necessity of taxation for a country’s sustenance, it is imperative that such taxes be just and fair, taking into account the economic landscape and the earning capacity of citizens. Currently, people are struggling to meet their basic needs, and these tax hikes are poised to further increase the costs of already expensive goods, creating an unfavourable perception of a tax regime that is punitive. The imposition of new taxes can potentially dampen economic activity and may discourage investment and impede economic growth.

The existing tax system in Sierra Leone is regressive, placing a disproportionate burden on the poor. A more equitable and progressive tax system would ensure that everyone pays their fair share of taxes while safeguarding the most vulnerable members of society.

The reality is that the small fraction of citizens fortunate enough to have employment are already grappling with the escalating cost of living, with many not having experienced a substantial salary increase for a long, long time. The plight of ordinary jobless citizens is even direr. As the Bill awaits the President’s assent, it is hoped that His Excellency will attentively listen to the concerns of Sierra Leoneans.

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