Tollgate, airport, mobile and electricity tariffs: Govt. knees on Sierra Leoneans’ necks

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By Alhaji Haruna Sani

The people of Sierra Leone find themselves ensnared in an increasingly dire economic predicament as the government imposes a series of measures, including tax hikes and tariff increases and the recently introduced 2024 Finance Act is further exacerbating the situation.

Introduction of new taxes is triggering a cascade of hardships, with citizens feeling the weight of soaring prices, inflation rates, and a sense of economic suffocation.

Upon assumption of power in 2018, one of the government’s purported victories was the renegotiation of the Karpowership Agreement, which they said secured them a net savings of US$20 million over two years. But that took an unexpected turn. Despite promises to lower electricity tariffs, the revised agreement has resulted in a threefold increase in tariff costs, plunging citizens into the darkness irrespective of exorbitant costs and citizens still faces erratic power supply. The essential service provider, Karpowership, supplies 95% of electricity to Freetown, making the impact felt nationwide.

The completion of the Lungi International Airport’s facelift introduced a new financial burden with the imposition of a $25 ‘Airport Security Fee. Additionally, Government has also announced over 100% increments in existing taxes, coupled with unprecedented increases in mobile tariffs, transportation costs, and tollgate fees. The tollgate fee hike is expected to have a cascading effect, influencing the prices of goods and services as they travel to and from the capital, Freetown.

The tollgate contract, initially initiated under the previous APC-led government, was promised to be renegotiated by the current SLPP government. However, instead of witnessing a reduction in toll prices, Sierra Leoneans are grappling with an unimaginable proposed increase, sparking widespread discontent and potential resistance is what citizens faced.

As citizens express their dissatisfaction, there is a growing call for the government to engage in constructive dialogue and transparent communication to address concerns effectively.

The introduction of 50 buses under the “Waka Fine” initiative, backed by the World Bank’s Urban Resilience Project, intended to enhance public transportation, has, unfortunately, become an added burden. The government’s pricing strategy has left citizens with a system that is twice as costly and has become economically unsustainable.

Market women and traders, who form the backbone of Sierra Leone’s informal economy, are feeling the pinch as the cost of basic commodities skyrockets. This has resulted in slowed business activities, affecting everyone from office messengers and security officers to street cleaners, drivers and riders.

The December 2023 inflation rates, with consumer price inflation at 52.16%, highlight the urgency of the situation. The government’s attempts to attribute these challenges to global crises, such as the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian-Ukraine war, are met with skepticism. Many citizens believe that corruption within the regime is a significant factor driving tax increases, worsening the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone.

The 2024 Finance Act, coupled with the surge in prices and inflation, has created an unbearable situation for Sierra Leoneans, calling for immediate and effective solutions to alleviate their plight. The unprecedented level of suffering requires urgent attention and collaborative efforts to pave the way for a more stable and equitable future.

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