THIS WEEK IN PARLIAMENTECOWAS Parliament discusses Protocol relating to Community LevyMarch 30, 2021
By Abu Bakarr Kargbo
Members of the ECOWAS Parliament converged at the Bintumani Hotel Conference Center on Tuesday to discuss issues relating to Community Levy in the Sub-Region. The Fifth Parliament opening Session of Parliamentary Seminar focused on the theme “Involvement of ECOWAS Parliament Members in Monitoring the Application of the Protocol relating to Community Levy”. The event is the very first activity that brings together in person, all Members of Parliament, more than a year after the installation of the Fifth Legislature in March 2020.
The Community Levy is a mechanism set up by ECOWAS Heads of State and Government and has been operational since 2003. It is meant to mobilize the funds required for the accomplishment of the missions of our common organization. This 0.5% levy, imposed on goods from the non-ECOWAS Member States, is intended to cater for around 80% of the Community’s budget revenue.
“Sadly, we are witnessing a low mobilization of the said resources which has been around 30% of forecasts over the past three years. The import receipts on which the Community Levy is based have also dwindled due to the impact of the health crisis on the global economy,” says His Excellency Sidie Mohamed Tunis, the Retired Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament during his opening remarks, and added that faced with such difficulty and with the peril which threatens the implementation of community projects and programs, as well as the execution of the activities of the Community institutions, the President of the ECOWAS Commission, on the occasion of our Second Extraordinary Session for the year 2020, held via videoconference, in July 2020, requested the assistance of the Parliament in the implementation of the ECOWAS Protocol on the Community Levy.
He pointed out that the seminar forms part of the continuation of Parliament’s efforts to make a significant contribution to the resolution of this priority challenge. “It, therefore, offers all of us the opportunity to make relevant and innovative proposals and thus provide the full complement of the effectiveness of parliamentary action. We are therefore entreated during our discussions, to define an intervention framework for parliamentarians in the strategy of mobilizing the said resources and to find the means to achieve the effective application of the ECOWAS Protocol, because, the Community Levy is the very expression of the solidarity and responsibility of our respective Governments in the process of integration and the achievement of the regional agenda,” he said.
The Commissioner for Finance at the ECOWAS Commission, Mrs. Halima Ahmed said the seminar is coming at the right time because the question of Community Levy is important for confronting the challenges of health, security, and development of the ECOWAS Community.
“The Commission and all the Institutions of the Community are delighted with the holding of this seminar, which would not have been possible without your involvement and commitment,” he said and added that the Commission is grateful to the Members of the ECOWAS Parliament for the positive disposition towards their involvement in the mobilization of the Community Levy,” she remarked.
Sierra Leone’s Planning and Economic Development Minister, Dr. Francis Kaikai said the ECOWAS should consider addressing the following areas: to continue projecting the aspiration of people by advocating for the strengthening of good governance and deepening democratic principles in the Sub-region; to advocate for social and economic investment in border communities, often very far away from the seat of government and power. “We call on the ECOWAS Parliament to support the finalization of the ECOWAS vision 2050 which is the successor program for Vision 2020,” the Minister remarked.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nabeela Tunis acclaimed the successes of the ECOWAS Parliament. “From the consolidation of peace and security and youth empowerment, promotion of trade and investment, etc, our regional organization is consistent in constantly breaking new grounds to inspire stability, cohesion, consensus and deepen people-to-people exchanges,” she said and furthered that the Government of Sierra Leone continues to ascribe great significance to the common values of ECOWAS in carrying out its broad mandate of ensuring collective peace and security as well as serving as the critical axis for regional action to achieve sustainable development and common prosperity.
“We have been consistent in the support put at the disposal of the ECOWAS community. Quite apart from the fact that Sierra Leone has constantly availed its brightest minds to the ECOWAS Community to serve in various high profile and strategic capacities, we continue to make other meaningful and tangible contributions to the general Work processes or the ECOWAS,” the Minister noted.
She recalled that the Government of Sierra Leone had provided 17 acres of land for the establishment of a Peace Support Operations Logistics Depot at Lungi which is still in progress. “More importantly, Sierra Leone has consistently complied with the Community Levy Protocol including the payment of arrears since 2019,” Madam Tunis said and furthered that Sierra Leone recognizes the stark financial realities that its regional bloc faces. She revealed that over the years, Sierra Leone has benefitted greatly from ECOWAS interventions in the areas of peace and security, Governance, especially support to electoral processes technical support to health, education, and other critical growth sectors, which is evident that such support has serious financial implications and it is why the country attached great importance to the seminar.
Finance Minister, Jacob Jusu Saffa said Sierra Leone has been complying with its financial and other obligations to ECOWAS and that it is further committed to continue in that trend. He registered his government’s support in facilitating the Protocol relating to Community Levy.
Honorable Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu, Speaker of the Sierra Leone Parliament recalled that he was also at the center of the process of galvanizing support, both intellectual and political, for introducing the Community Levy as the only enduring solution to addressing the acute and perpetual challenges the Community then faced about financing its activities, challenges that had become perennial since the very inception of the Community in 1975. “How can I ever forget the number of times, mostly close to the end of each month, that I felt the compulsion to hop from one ECOWAS capital to another with cap in hand begging the delinquent Member States, including my own country, to make good their budgetary pledges? I sometimes succeeded to get a little contribution here and there but most times I failed, turning my strenuous efforts into a worthless and unrewarding endeavor. The countless failures I suffered in this regard ultimately triggered the intellect into a reset mode of capturing an innovative approach of how to get the Member States to fulfill their financial obligations to the Community budget as painlessly as possible and without recourse to their domestic budgetary allocation,” Dr. Bundu said and revealed further that this was how the idea of the Community Levy was conceived, as it was designed with the intention not to create additional financial burdens on Governments but rather to translate painlessly their financial commitment into actual payment through a process of collecting and transferring through the Central Banks a small levy on their extra-Community imports.
“This is the idea captured under Article 72 of the Revised Treaty. It makes provision for a Community Levy the purpose of which was to generate resources for financing Community activities. This Levy was a percentage of the total value of import duty derivable from goods imported into the Community from third countries but the actual level of the Community Levy was left to be determined by the Council of Ministers. By a subsequent Protocol, a Community Levy of 0.5 percent was agreed for goods coming from non-ECOWAS States. This is to be collected as long as Governments continued to collect import taxes and it was to be transferred as long as the Central Banks of the Member States remained the custodians of the Consolidated Revenue Funds or the bankers’ bank. In short, so long as the political will stays intact and the benefits of regional integration to be enjoyed remain palpable, the ECOWAS Community was perceived as an entity that would never encounter much of a problem in harnessing the financial resources needed to drive the integration process forward.”
Hon. Bundu told his audience that another contention has to do with the question of proper management and utilization of funds, in short, the principle of accountability. “There is a local adage that says if you tell the dog not to eat the bone, you should also be prepared to tell the bone to properly dispose of itself. There is an implicit fiduciary obligation on the ECOWAS Commission and Parliament, and indeed on all the institutions of ECOWAS, to ensure that funds are better managed and judiciously utilized and that every Member State has reasonable cause to believe that its citizenry would have equal access to or at least equitable entitlement to the distribution of the costs and benefits of economic cooperation and integration flowing from the Institution to which it transfers 0.5% of its tax revenues on goods originating from non-ECOWAS countries,” the Speaker said and that “this is the fundamental principle enshrined in Article 4(k) of the Revised Treaty. A sheep farmer cannot be expected to send his herd to have a head-dress at a saloon managed by lions; otherwise, his sheep pen will simply never grow or multiply.”
He implored all to do the needful in your discussions of how to secure the active and meaningful involvement of Members of Parliament in monitoring the implementation of the Community Levy.”
Earlier, the Head of Delegation of the Sierra Leonean Members of the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Chernor Maju Bah, in his welcome address, thanked the ECOWAS Parliament for electing Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis as Speaker. He assured of Sierra Leone’s continued contribution to the development of the Su-region.