As debate on the 2017 Appropriation Bill continues in Parliament, the main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) has called on the government, through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, to review the content of the budget, describing it as “not credible in terms of process, content and implementation.”
Jacob Jusu Saffa, economist and analyst, said in a press release last Friday that the party has problems with the credibility of the budget, fiscal strategy statement, revenue and expenditure, external and domestic debt, taxation, sectorial allocations, duty waiver and removal of fuel subsidy, among other issues.
Saffa, who once served as scribe of the main opposition, told newsmen in a presser at the party’s head office that most ministries, department and agencies boycotted the budget hearing session, blaming it on the fact that actual disbursements they received in the previous year was at best 60 percent of allocated amounts, and therefore did not deem it fit to attend.
He said the Fiscal Strategy Statement 2017 notes that the new retail price for petroleum products will be increased from Le 3,750 to Le 5,500 per litre and will remain unchanged until June 2017, but that the ‘insensitive’ APC government has increased the price to Le 6,000 per litre.
The SLPP strong man described as propaganda by the National Revenue Authority (NRA) that it would exceed its yearly targets, while domestic revenue mobilisation remains a key economic challenge and grossly inadequate to finance the huge expenditure.
The opposition SLPP stated in the release that the government should not blame the downward trend of the economy on Ebola as neighbouring Liberia and Guinea were equally affected by the disease and a fall in iron ore prices, but have performed better in revenue mobilisation.
The party also called on government to reduce borrowing, particularly on non-essential goods and services and avoid accumulation of arrears, while also noted that while they were in power between 1996 and 2007 they successfully negotiated debt relief after meeting all economic and structural benchmarks with the IMF and World Bank. Consequently, the statement added, the country’s debt stocks were reduced from US$1.6 billion to US$250 million in 2006.
The party also said they recognised the imperative to mobilise domestic revenue and the rationale to protect local industries, but believes that taxes should not hurt the poor and therefor detests any tax policy that causes economic hardship on the population. They noted that the budget has proposed increase in tariff rates on many goods and services which will be translated in increase in prices.
“Revising income tax rates upward for commercial vehicles and motorbikes will affect transport prices. The SLPP calls on government to review the proposed 2017 Finance Bill with a view to reducing the impacts on the people,” the released urged.
It also noted that the sectoral allocations are inconsistent with the theme and violates international treaties. According to the release the theme of the budget is “Recovery through Economic Diversification and Fostering Entrepreneurship” and that only Le 63.27 billion representing 4.1% of the budget is allocated to the agricultural sector.
According to the release, nothing is specifically allocated in the budget as livelihood support to Ebola survivors though the government says it is implementing the National Post-Ebola Recovery programme.
“The SLPP views this as cruelty and corroborates the fact that this APC government is not sensitive to the welfare of the Ebola survivors,” it said.
The SLPP also called for salary increase to civil servants in order to cushion the effects of skyrocketing prices and a reduction in the size of government by mainstreaming many of the functions of subvented agencies into the service.
The release noted that the outcome of ‘careless’ economic management was an increase in prices of goods and services and the attendant increased hardship on the population.
The party also cautioned development partners, particularly the International Monitoring Fund and neighbouring Guinea, to respect the sovereignty of Sierra Leone and allow the people to freely discuss economic and political issues as required in a democracy.
“Unofficial public statements in favour of the Government will be perceived as interference into our local politics. The SLPP therefore calls on development partners to observe and support our democracy but not to interfere in our local politics,” the release said.