By Jariatu S. Bangura
Members of Parliament on Tuesday ratified four bilateral agreements between the Republic of Sierra Leone, the State of Qatar and the Republic of The Gambia for the promotion of investment, trade, economic, commercial, air services and technical cooperation, among others.
Whilst presenting the agreement to Members of Parliament, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mamadi Gobeh-Kamara, said the objective of the three agreements signed between Sierra Leone and Qatar was to broaden the bilateral relation between the two countries in the area of mutual benefits.
She said the agreements will also explore opportunities of the country’s economic growth by elevating the attribute of trade and investment, tourism, transport and other sectors.
She noted that Qatar presented many opportunities to President Bio upon his visit in 2018 and among them were the agreements for major investment in various sectors.
The deputy minister said the reciprocal promotion and protection of investments agreement was intended to create and maintain the most favourable conditions for investment, recognizing the need to promote and protect investments and after care of investment and foster economic prosperity for the people.
She further stated that the air services agreement was expected to generate employment, boost the tourism industry and also create a platform for the transfer of extra knowledge in the aviation industry.
She said Air Qatar is one of the largest and most advanced airlines in the aviation industry, therefore an agreement of that nature will create competition and foster international air links which will support revenue generation.
As for the Gambia trade cooperation agreement, she said the two countries have sustained long bilateral support and that the joint cooperation agreement will support the two countries’ development creations and promotes socio-economic growth, trade and investment.
“It will reduce trade barriers; promote favourable conditions for development shipping with Banjul and Freetown, facilitate the movement of goods to stimulate economic growth,” she concluded.
Responding to the question as to what goods will be brought into the country from Banjul, she said after years of friendship with the Republic Gambia, they have noticed that Sierra Leone has not benefited a lot hence they were making ways to create more tangible protocols that will show forth the benefit they will bring into the country.
Hon. Mark Mahmoud Kalokoh commended the effort made by the Foreign Ministry and stated that both countries will mutually benefit from each other after the ratification of the agreements.
He said there were some grey areas that needed clarification and that the minister should tell the plenary which clause that shows wherein goods will be coming from the Gambia to Sierra Leone that will make the economy viable.
He said there has been lot of evidence to show goods leaving the shores of Sierra Leone to Gambia many times.
Hon. Kandeh Kolley Yumkella said the agreement between Sierra Leone and The Gambia was in place as it will help to explore the market in both neighbourhood, especially in the African continent.
He said Sierra Leone being a small country stands to benefit a lot from the Qatar agreements through its friendship and added knowledge. He said for a long time now within the family of the United Nations, Qatar has been looking at the issue of food security and the possibility of investing in third world countries.
He said the country can learn from Qatar sometimes for a better economic diplomacy and also gaining value from their new discovery of gas and natural resources after the ratification of the agreements.
He said the more airlines in the country, the more short time revenue, but questioned why the country has one of the highest charges on air rates, shipping cost and others, than any other country.
He said it is fundamentally wrong to form a policy that will give short term benefit with huge cost attached, rather they should be able to make policies that are longer with lesser cost on the citizens.
He said import duties as well are high when goods are taken to The Gambia, Benin, Mali and Guinea by road, adding that trade within the sub-region should be looked into for the benefit of all.
Hon. Chernoh Bah said the aviation industry needed to put things in place and that when such provisions are ratified, there was need for the market to exist and not be compared to what the Turkish Airline is currently doing.
He said most people are suffering in the hands of the Turkish Airline and that such issue need serious attention, adding that the problem they wanted to avoid during the previous government was to create easy access of people coming into the country as the access from Lungi to Freetown poses challenge.
He said the challenge will continue to be, even with the rebranding that has just been done.
“We are not against the rebranding; our problem was the accessibility coming to Freetown after a long flight. All of us are using the ferries and we know the challenges,” he said.
He said the $25 saga is still ongoing at the port, but urged that when Parliament makes laws to encourage tourism, other ministries have the right to play their own part as well.