By: Winstanley.R.Bankole. Johnson
In my rustic mindset, the recent Radio Democracy 98:1 FM with a Mr. Mallador Sowe, (purported owner or driver of an enterprise outfit called PEC-Sierra Leone) did nothing to advance his endearment to a good many of us. So even at this outset, and insofar as it concerns the collection of properties rates within Local Councils country wide, I will respectfully urge the government not to enter into or support any purported legally binding agreement with PEC-Sierra Leone, that might just ultimately officially sanction the exploitation of an already overburdened citizenry.
In fact if anything, Mr. Mallador Sowe emerged from that interview leaving more questions unanswered, and exposing him as a malleable front man being remotely micro-managed by a wide ring of handlers (who had possibly previously managed other pseudo-corporate enterprises that have crashed) that still have strong political connections, and who are hell-bent on bleeding property owners further, except that this time round, their intentions and actions will be officially sanctioned. That is to say once their plans succeed, they will then possibly be the only ones better positioned to amass as much surplus wealth (as all looting machines in Africa do) as would put only them into pole positions to acquire shares in, or completely buy out Para-statals as and when they would be offered up for privatization.
To my mind, credible indicators suggest a need to properly re-examine not only the capacity of PEC-SL to collect properties rates, but also the entire structure of the proposed agreement so that neither the government nor the Local Councils, nay property owners come off the worse for it. Permit me to detail as follows, a few of the gaps that evolved from Mr. Sowe’s interview-:
For crying out loud, “PEC” is a generic name in several countries that is used by as varied a number of enterprises, and it can mean anything – from cheap air tours agents, to educational consultants, trading, export and manufacturing consortiums – just like the “Alibaba” trading websites. In fact in Angola to be precise, PEC stands for “Pestolozi Education Centre”.
It is only here in Sierra Leone that “PEC” is doing “Smart Light Metering” and Property Tax collection, and in neither of each case did I notice a single evidence of a synergy between PEC-SL and any of the sub regional countries Mr. Mallador Sowe made references during his interview to wit-: The Gambia, Liberia and South Africa. For all anyone may care, The Gambia and not least South Africa will never (I repeat never) be as naive as us here as to ever contemplate ceding a sector with such a huge revenue generating potentials to Mr. Sowe – as a foreigner. God forbid!! But let me go back to more gaps in that Mr. Mallador Sowe’s 98:1 Democracy Radio interview.
For years, all Local Councils have been verbally impressed with the effectiveness of a cadastral properties mapping system that is yet to be “practicalized”. That cannot be denied. But could the system not have been best piloted on a “Build Operate and Transfer (BOT)” basis so that against a definitive timeline (say not more than twelve months), the Councils properties rates collection capacity (a major own revenue base) would have been extensively improved so as to reduce their reliance on government subventions? Put in another way, could the role contemplated by PEC-SL not be more effectively and accountably performed by a few of our reputable local Accounting firms and with the direct involvement of the Councils in the various localities so that eventually they would simultaneously (a) stimulate our economy, (b) reduce unemployment and (c) improve on the Councils’ “Own Funds” generating capacities?
This should be food for thought by a De-Centralization Secretariat whose remit it is to exploit such glaring capacity building potentials upon which the Local Councils can grow.
From investigations, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development whose prior fiat all Local Councils are by Law required to obtain before entering into any financial obligation – whether as borrower of lender – appears oblivious of any legally binding arrangement between WARDC and PEC-SL. So it wouldn’t be out of place to enquire whether in fact the MoFED did have an overview or prior knowledge of such property tax collection agreements between PEC-SL and Local Councils so as to have the aggregate proceeds included as a major revenue stream in our annual national budget preparation (see below).
When you consider a statement attributed to the Deputy Minister of MLGRD in <awoko.org> on-line news of 14th November 2016 that his Ministry “is going to ensure that they harmonize the system in all nineteen Councils……..” you will further consider it most disingenuous that they would ever contemplate or support such a monopolistic empowerment of one single firm (PEC-SL) in the collection of properties taxes, having regard to the volumes of buildings to be handled to wit-: over 200,000 (two hundred thousand) within the WARDC and over 400,000 (Four hundred thousand) within the Freetown metropolis – not to mention approximately a further 800,000 buildings in all the other properties in the rest of the other 17 Local Councils. Even at a modest Le50,000 (Fifty thousand Leones) per structure, it means PEC-SL will be managing an aggregate portfolio in excess of Le70billion (Seventy Billion Leones) annually effective 2017. The total portfolio could clearly exceed that conservative figure of Le70billion, when you further consider that more than a half of those buildings are multiple storey-blocks, and would therefore attract multiple rates above the Le50,000 baseline stated.
I believe it was to avoid such a monopolistic empowerment of just one mobile (GSM) company in this country that the government in its wisdom decided to open the playing field as wide as possible so that citizens can exercise their rights to choose from amongst the multiple GSM service providers. Why the MLGRD would not consider replicating same for properties taxes collectors, but would entrust the responsibilities to just one service provider – PEC-SL whose uncompetitive tariff structure cannot be challenged – beats my imagination.
Unless all PEC-SL “Agreements” are revisited, we will be left with two obvious monopolies: A “Sowe” at Flour Mill (which because of the new Customs Tariff increase from 10% to 35% has forced small-time flour importers like yours truly to close shops) and another “Sowe” officially empowered to be collecting our properties taxes countrywide. To better appreciate the risks inherent in those arrangements; I will leave readers to reflect on their primary school days lessons on “synonyms” and “antonyms”.