The Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Bangura last Saturday engaged drivers, petty traders, traditional authorities, Civil Society Organisations and ordinary citizens in northern Sierra Leone informing them about government’s plan to remove fuel subsidy.
He stressed the need for the removal of the fuel subsidy which he noted is not economically viable for the country at the moment.
“Fuel subsidy must be removed now due to the current economic challenges facing the country,” he stated, stressing “government cannot continue to pay for fuel subsidy at this moment.”
He urged the northerners to take a lead role in the country especially at this “trying time.” He noted that the leadership of the country is not limited to the President alone but to all and sundry. “If the country’s economy is in good shape, it will benefit the citizens and not SLPP or the APC,” said Mohamed Bangura.
He hinted that Sierra Leone’s economic reforms over the years have been largely successful, maintaining that the economy proved resilient during the twin shock of the Ebola epidemic and the sudden collapse of iron ore prices.
“We have suffered a lot as a country, from the rebel war to the Ebola outbreak,” he admitted, stating “we are here specifically to inform you that as a government we have agreed to remove fuel subsidy to stabilise the economy.”
He explained to his audience that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank which have been supporting the government financially have instructed the removal of the fuel subsidy.
“We have spent 89.5 billion Leones on fuel subsidy in 2016 alone, which is why the international communities have recommended it removal so that the amount will be used for another developmental project,” he stated.
He said Nigeria which is one of the largest fuel producing nations in Africa removed subsidy on fuel in 2013 and therefore emphasised that it was necessary and timely for Sierra Leone to also follow same.
Reacting, Director of one Human Rights organisation in Kambia, Ibrahim Bakarr Fofana said fuel smuggling in the country has nothing to do with the ordinary man in Sierra Leone. He believes that if government removed the fuel subsidy it will affect the citizens greatly.
“We are aware that fuel smuggling is a challenge on the side of the government, but has nothing to do with the ordinary man,” he added, noting “the removal of subsidy premised on the actions of smugglers will create more economic hardship on the poor people.”
He appealed to the Minister to rescind their decision at the moment until the economy is stabilised.
For his part, Member of Parliament for constituency 49 in Port Loko District, Honourable Alhaji Seray Dumbuya, said the Ministry of Trade should be involved in the sensitisation and that measures pronounced to stabilise the economy should be respected at all times.
Honourable Saidu Baba Kamara of constituency 58 also noted that no sooner a price of a particular commodity shoots up in the country, it will never come down. He, however, blamed it on poor regulations and recommended the passing of a bill seeking to tackle price control.
It should be recalled that IMF staff review mission to Sierra Leone had in a press statement on the 27th September 2016 recommended to the government the removal of fuel subsidy based on their preliminary findings on the country’s economy.
After the meeting, government pronounced the austerity measure to remove the country’s economy in shambles.
The IMF recommended that in other for the economy to grow, government policy should focus on continuing to anchor economic stability through sound fiscal monetary and debt policies.
“Fiscal policy should focus on increasing revenue, while raising the efficiency and quality of public spending. This would increase the fiscal space for pro-poor social expenditure,” they advised.
The IMF Mission added that the practice of keeping the price of retail fuel constant by reducing the excise on retail fuel whenever oil price rise or the exchange rate depreciates is no longer sustainable since the excise on retail fuel has now reached zero.
They mission further instructed that “the government should now take steps to adjust retail fuel price as needed to ensure that this does not become an increasing burden on the budget.”