April 28, 2016 By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
The Sierra Leone Timber Association has accused the government of Sierra Leone of discriminating against indigenous businessmen in the timber industry as they were not considered by the Office of the Chief of Staff at State House when granting licenses for the exportation of timber, instead granting the concession to foreign companies.
Addressing journalists at the Harry Yansaneh Hall at the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists headquarters on Campbell Street in Freetown, National Chairman Alan Barrie said the government in 2014 lifted a temporary ban on the exportation of timber, while the Chief of Staff at State House gave exclusive right to Ali Suma to export harvested timber.
He said that early this year, the government again lifted the ban on timber exportation, but this time around they granted export licenses to three foreign companies – Banico Holdings, a Nigerian company and two Chinese companies – to clear and export timber that have already been harvested, excluding indigenous companies.
He said the Sierra Leone Timber Association was not pleased with the government’s discrimination against indigenous businessmen in the timber industry.
He noted that although the permission granted by State House was only restricted to harvested timber, they have been reliably informed that the three foreign companies are in fact actively engaged in exporting raw timber.
He told journalists that prior to the ban on timber export in 2013, they were paying US$3,500 to process a container of timber, from which amount US$2000 went to the National Revenue Authority as tax, while the remainder went to the government for reforestation.
However, he alleged that the three foreign companies only pay US $1,000 to NRA.
“The Association is calling on the government to review the policy on timber export with the view to accommodating indigenous Sierra Leoneans in line with President Ernest Bai Koroma’s most trumpeted Local Content Policy. The Association believes that the policy of granting monopoly for the export of timber to foreign companies is not only discriminatory but has also led to the devaluation of timber,” he said.
He further called on the government to ensure that the new policy on timber benefits local communities where timber is harvested and empower indigenous timber traders, adding that the responsibility of issuing timber licenses should be the purview of the Ministry of Trade, with the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security playing a supervisory role.
He also called on the government to launch an investigation to determine why the three companies are paying only US$1,000 tax to NRA per container instead of US$2,000.