Tax, EDSA and tariff increases: Is the government taking Sierra Leoneans for granted?

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President Bio should listen to the cries of the masses

By Alhaji Haruna Sani

The alarming economic management under President Bio’s Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) government has raised serious concerns. The administration appears to be placing the entire economic burden on citizens, while majority, who are poor, are left to shoulder the luxurious and extravagant lifestyles of politicians. It is evident that the government is not taking meaningful steps to alleviate the effects of the current global economic challenges on the Sierra Leonean populace.

Since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019, the SLPP government has consistently increased tariffs and taxes without implementing any policies to mitigate the impact on citizens. The Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA), the Guma Valley Water Company, the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority, and mobile tariffs regulated by the National Telecommunications Authority have all raised their rates significantly, seemingly without consideration for the hardship these increases impose on the public. For example, just a month ago, the cost of obtaining a driving license skyrocketed from NLe 500 to NLe 2000 for the AB category, with similar hikes across other categories.

The prices of essential commodities, including fuel and rice—the staple food for Sierra Leoneans—are rising exponentially and unchecked. This trend may suggest that the government is taking the people for granted. The situation is exacerbated by the nation’s political polarization, where legitimate concerns are dismissed or politicised. Any attempt to critique government policies, which are responsible for the suffering of ordinary citizens, is often met with accusations of being an opposition sympathizer. This is a deeply troubling state of affairs.

The government’s approach to raising taxes and tariffs without prior notice to the public further reflects disregard for citizen welfare. A notable example is the recent increase in the Goods and Services Tax (GST) on mobile tariffs and electricity rates where consumers were never properly notified. The Sierra Leone Electricity and Water Regulatory Commission (SLEWRC) announced that effective May 8, 2024, the T1 Social Tariff Band would be removed. However, this notice came only after the tariffs on EDSA and mobile money had already been increased on June 1st, leaving citizens to cope with the sudden hikes. My usual Nle 100 EDSA Recharge which uses to give me 32 units within the first five days of every month was reduced to 20 units this month of June, which means an unannounced increase has already been made.

The SLEWRC public notice stated that electricity bills issued from June 8th onward would reflect the new tariff structure, a change that many found frustrating, given the lack of transparency and communication. Additionally, citizens are already struggling with recent toll gate fee increases and exorbitant airport charges, which added to the already financial strain on the public.

The government’s continuous tax and tariff increases are causing significant hardship on Sierra Leoneans, who are already battling a tough economic climate. It is crucial for the administration to reconsider its approach and adopt more citizen-friendly policies. Sierra Leoneans are pleading for the government to address their concerns and ease the economic burden rather than exacerbate it. The current trajectory not only undermines public trust but also threatens the socio-economic stability of the nation.

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