28.3 C
Sierra Leone
Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Setting the records straight

DECEMBER 10, 2014 By Mina Horace – National Coordinator, SLEITI

Mina Horace is the National Coordinator of EITI in Sierra Leone (SLEITI). Here, she shares her story on how public scrutiny is leading to improved resource governance.

When you go to a supermarket, you get a receipt as proof of your transaction with the shop. The receipt tells you what you got for the money you paid. The shop also tracks every transaction for their records to manage their business. As every business owner knows, keeping good track of income and expenses is the key to running a successful business.

Similarly, when the government receives taxes and other revenues, it should issue a receipt and document how much it received. That way it can keep track of what the state receives for its natural resources, can plan the budget and answer to citizens’ questions on how the money is spent.

Lack of keeping track

In Sierra Leone, poor record keeping was the mirror image of the improper management of revenues from the extractives sector. The second EITI report, published in 2012 and covering 2008, 2009 and 2010, found that sizeable revenues received by government agencies were not proven with a receipt. Not only did the District Councils, Chiefdom Administrations and the regional government administrations fail to keep appropriate records, major revenue collection agencies including the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and the National Revenue Authority showed poor record keeping.

In fact, poor record keeping was one of the reasons Sierra Leone did not pass its second validation exercise in 2012.

With the extractive sector becoming increasingly important to the economy, such matters draw a lot of attention from the public, media and the government. In 2013, the mining contributed 23.2% to the country’s GDP. Mining is a significant source of income for regional governments:  10% of the mining revenue reported in the 2011 report was paid directly to the regions.

Now, with the promise that the EITI would bring about transparency and accountability in the extractive sector, the public eagerly awaits the publication of each new EITI report to not only reveal the amount of money received by the government from mining and oil & gas companies, but whether each transaction is supported by evidence.

Citizens are asking questions

When we published the second report in 2012, the public was alarmed that large sums of monies were changing hands without receipts and other forms of evidences to show for it. This revelation brought the subject of transparency and accountability to centre stage amongst civil societies and NGOs, in town hall meetings and in many other quarters where the report was shared.

The public knows that our natural resources are not only limited, but have yet to be fully accounted for. Two years after the findings, reporting entities, the District Councils and Chiefdom Administrations in particular, have realized how important it is to record and maintain evidence of payments received.

Authorities know that citizens are looking over their shoulders. We have seen some improvements but this is a work in progress.

Stepping up efforts

The EITI in Sierra Leone supports on-going efforts to improve documentation in the extractives sector. The newly established National Minerals Agency set up an online repository with a mining cadastre administration system, which provides up to date information on all mining licences. A new unit within the National Revenue Authority was created to improve compliance in the extractives sector. Both reforms permanently strengthen our governance and serve the broader EITI objectives.

SLEITI, for its part, continues its job of sensitizing the relevant government entities to make their institutions transparent and accountable through good record keeping. There is now improved collaboration amongst key government institutions. The Ministry of Finance & Economic Development also supports this goal through capacity building and training programs for finance officers and chiefdom administrators. The Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development is now more aware of the need to recruit skilled personnel that understand and can respond to the demand for transparency.

Better record keeping is showing first results

When we produced our last EITI report, covering 2011, we observed that revenue collecting entities were able to produce authentic documents in support of payments received, thus making it easier to track payment flows. Also far less discrepancies were recorded. Revenue and tax collectors now handle their records of payments received with greater caution with the future in mind.

We passed our second attempt to become compliant in April 2014 having addressed these weaknesses in our documentation.

I am glad that the government is starting to see good governance in the extractive sector as a means to leverage socio-economic development. Good governance means building trust and will serve as the foundation for sustainable development.

Defending our fragile achievements

Our history on mismanagement of our natural resources cannot be changed and will always be a harsh reminder of how we did business in the past. We can make those bad memories go away if only we can decide to put our country first.

The Ebola crisis is showing us how fragile our achievements are but we at the SLEITI secretariat continue to do our best in the midst of the current state of emergency.

Building on our gains will require Sierra Leoneans to work together to create and sustain institutional structures that will guarantee good records management and strong governance in the sector.

NOTE: Due to the Ebola epidemic, the EITI Board granted for Sierra Leone an open-ended extension to produce the 2012 report. The original deadline for submission of this report was 31 December 2014.

Related Articles

Latest Articles