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Open Tax Initiative unveiled

December 16, 2016

A group of journalists interested in business and the economy have assembled in the southern city of Bo for a two-day engagement that eventually led to the formation of a media network, Open Tax Initiative.

Giving the importance of advocacy journalism and the fact that it would be the biggest tool in the hands of network members, a university lecturer from the mass communication department gave an hour-long talk on the need for a new genre of media engagement.

Isaac Massaquoi was quoting Robert Niles when he said: “With any sign of political turmoil, weak government, or economic crisis, comes advocacy journalism”.

He added that advocacy journalism, unlike propaganda, was a genre of journalism based on facts that intentionally and transparently adopts a biased viewpoint, usually for some social or political purpose.

Founder and Executive Director, Tanu Jalloh, told his colleague that the meeting, supported by the National Advocacy Coalition on Extractives (NACE), was to commit network members to reporting on general tax issues with a view to increasing tax education and calling for fair, just and accountable tax system.

“The aim is for journalists, civil society and academics to come together and discuss issues of tax waivers, tax evasion, tax concessions that are characteristics of unhealthy tax competitions. Tax competition continues to cost resource-rich but weak countries like Sierra Leone a huge amount of badly needed revenues”, he said, adding that people were willing to pay their taxes but they needed proofs that their resources were being used to alleviate poverty and improve their lives.

Tanu, a social entrepreneur and business editor at Politico Newspaper in Sierra Leone, added that: “We are particularly inspired by the fact that, more than ever before, there is need for effective strategic media-led campaigns in Sierra Leone. We believe that the social, political and economic benefits of such a cause will first come in the form of improved tax education and heightened awareness around tax justice.”

While explaining the history of the media-led advocacy initiative, Tanu recalled that it all started after he received training in illicit financial flows in 2015 organised by Tax Justice Network and the Centre for Investigative Journalism at the City University in London for journalists, campaigners and academics from across the world.

He therefore called on his colleagues to network at country level so that they could embark on researching, reporting and calling for open, transparent, accountable and just tax regimes.

Other founding members also agreed that the objective as agreed at the meeting was to promote open, transparent and accountable tax system and encourage reporting on illicit financial flows, money laundering and corruption.

Margaret Mansaray, a broadcast journalist from Kabala in the Koinadugu district, north of the country, said based on the two-day engagement that there need for increased tax education so that people could comply while tax authorities would be forced to run an open and just administration.