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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

THE DECISION TO BAN THE SALE OF TIMBER WITHIN SIERRA LEONE- WHOSE BRAIN DEAD IDEA WAS IT ?
By Raymond Bamidele Thompson, Sr.
Apr 14, 2010, 17:18
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How could anyone in his or her right mind talk about development from one side of the mouth and from the other side ban the domestic use of timber? Why do those in authority always come up with easy solutions to problems, instead of sitting down and solving problems with practical solutions?  Should a ban on the exportation of timber also have encompassed a ban on the domestic use of timber? 


The decision to ban the sale of timber locally, which is used for the production of boards, widely used in the construction industry without doubt was a brain dead idea. Whoever dreamt of that brilliant idea as a means of curbing the cutting down of trees certainly had a short sighted solution to the problem of indiscriminate logging and never looked at the total picture critically. Although, thank God, the ban has now been lifted, the imposition of the ban has created serious hardship In the local construction and furniture industries, especially in the construction of homes, which is of such importance considering the destruction suffered by citizens during the rebel war, some of whom are only now rebuilding their homes without even any help or scheme from the Government. Yet it is this same Government that decided to ban the sale of timber, so badly needed by the victims.


In order to curb the exportation of timber, the Government in its infinite wisdom took the most simplistic approach as a solution to the problem. How smart and ingenious! To solve a problem, just go ahead and cut your nose to spite your face. Take a machete to kill a fly or instead of using a scalpel to make an incision, you go for an axe. Good governments take a scientific and reasoned approach in solving problems and do not use a broad brush to paint over the problem. This Government seems to believe that there is no middle ground in reaching solutions, which would be in the best interest of the nation. In other words, there is no gray area it is either white or black. Simplistic and easy solutions never equal development. Rather development is made up of a balancing act. The pros and cons of a given situation are put on a scale and what is in the best interest of the nation wins the day. A total ban on the sale of timber definitely was not in the best interest of the nation.


If this Government is so concerned about global warming and all its attendant consequences, let it start off by removing those Government vehicles from the roads, followed by commercial and private vehicles which pollute the city with noxious and nauseating fumes injurious to our health.

Bomeh, where refuse burning is the order of the day, should immediately be removed out of the city and even when moved out of the city refuse should not be burned. Those are acts which do not need any reasoning, as they would immediately contribute positively to global warming and to the good health of the inhabitants of Freetown, the most populated area of Sierra Leone. That is why Presidents have advisers and cabinet meetings are held for deliberations. However, when banning orders are issued willy-nilly it demonstrates the lack of consultation, deliberation and a well reasoned decision.


In the case of the ban on timber, it is very obvious that it will now take a while for the situation in the housing construction industry to return to normal and for timber to be available for construction and rehabilitation of private houses and commercial buildings. As In the case of any commodity, there would, as certain as the sun would rise tomorrow morning, be an increase in the price of timber, a very important commodity to the construction, furniture, funeral home industry etc. etc. 

Workers had to be laid off in the aforementioned industries, as there was no availability of timber with which to perform their work. The laying off of workers and their un-productivity comes with the attendant economic hardship to individuals and families. Thus, the need to be very careful in issuing banning orders for essential commodities. The rate of unemployment in Sierra Leone is so alarming that any decision that would compound the unemployment statistics should be weighed very carefully on a balancing scale. Concerns about Global warming and climate change should be carefully considered when there are competing interests with the welfare of our citizens. Blindly following the dictates of the developed world, that there should be no logging, when nations like America, Britain, France etc. etc. are carefully balancing the effects of logging vis a vis the welfare of their own citizens, only increases the hardship on our impoverished nation.  


The reader may wonder why if the ban on the sale of timber has now been lifted, should there be a discussion of the ills of issuing sweeping banning orders. The answer is simple. Future banning orders might pop up in trying to address problems that may arise. Since the APC Government came into power there has been a ban on the issuance of government owned lands, a ban on adoption, the exportation of scrap metal and sale of timber, both locally and internationally. There is certainly going to be other banning orders and all that is being asked is that before the banning order is issued the full repercussions and effect be studied and fully analysed, so as not to affect the citizenry as it has in the case of timber.


Draconian measures, that make no rhyme or reason, have been instituted in the 2010 Finance Bill. The Government in its infinite wisdom has levied a tax of Ten Thousand ($10,000) Dollars on each container of timber that is to be exported out of Sierra Leone. In the preceding paragraphs there has been reference to the fact that this Government, in this case, both the Executive and Legislature does not carefully craft laws, taking the interest of the nation into consideration. The 2010 Finance Bill presented to Parliament contained among other provisions, the colossal amount of $10,000 as export duty on timber. The rubber stamp Parliament, instead of taking time out to study the Bill carefully and weighing the resultant unemployment woes on the timber industry versus a naked ploy to raise revenue, went ahead in a hurry and approved the Bill as it was presented by the Deputy Minister of Finance. The export of timber thus goes from $1500 to $10,000.


It has been learnt from reliable sources that the 2010 Finance Bill, has been recalled for further deliberations in Parliament.  It is hoped that the Bill would be given the attention and proper deliberation it deserves. Parliament should not be a rubber stamp for all Executive proposals. Parliament is a co-equal branch of Government and should represent their constituents with alacrity and zeal. Approving what is in the best interest of the Nation and rejecting the inimical provisions of any Bill brought before them, regardless of party affiliations.   


The question to be asked is: Is this Bill dealing with timber export supposed to conserve our forests or raise revenue? Certainly, the latter is the answer. There is no provision in the Act for conservation of our forests. The Deputy Minister of Finances representation that the high tariff on export is to encourage the investors to use the timber locally to manufacture furniture for export, without any indication of this  anywhere in the Bill, does not give any assurance that this would be so. In fact if this is the intent, then conservation of the forest is not the primary purpose of the walloping hike of the tariff.


There is a foreign timber company known as Tarkor, which is crying bloody murder concerning   their investment , since 2006, of $20 million dollars and counting, which is threatened by a blatant breach of contract by this Government, to which Sierra Leone would be subject to a lawsuit.


If we are serious about attracting serious foreign investors who would come to Sierra Leone and take us out of the morass of unemployment and under employment, especially of our youths, we cannot be breaching contracts nonchalantly, exposing us to liability in millions of dollars, and expect that we will ever solve the volatile powder keg created by our inability to take our youths out of the streets into lucrative employment situations. Gone are the days when Sierra Leone was like an isolated village, in this day of our Lord 2010, whatever happens in Sierra Leone is readily available around the world with a click of a computer mouse.


Government policies should be crafted with a vision that investors and prospective investors are watching us, and would avoid Sierra Leone like the plague if our policies are not investor friendly. It is not only mining companies which should be given sweetheart deals. All investors are important and policies affecting them, especially in a particular investors line of expertise, should as a matter of prudence, include that investor in the decision making process. This writers investigation revealed that none of the timber companies were included in discussions aimed at reaching a policy concerning logging in Sierra Leone, and these companies are very angry and bewildered as to how the figure of $10,000 per container was arrived at, as the cost of export of timber already at the quay. The companies are pointing a finger at Sam Sesay, the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry, as the insensitive Government official responsible for their plight. That is why the Government official(s) who came up with the brain dead idea should be identified.


In fact Sierra Leone stands to benefit in the area of conservation of our forests if responsible companies already licensed by this Government, some of them recently, are allowed to continue in the timber industry. These companies have represented that in their legal logging operations, they have planted trees, constructed roads and bridges and have employed thousands of our citizens, especially youths. In the case of Tarkor, irrefutable evidence was provided that the company has constructed 57 kilometer of roads, built 68 bridges and hired over 1,000 employees since 2006.


There is the danger that if these legal companies are banned there will be free for all illegal logging, since those who were employed in the industry, such as the villagers, who were cutting down trees legally, would become unemployed and in a desire to earn a living would engage in indiscriminate felling down of trees, without even thinking of replanting. During the National Tree Planting Day last year, 2009, Tarkor, reportedly planted 5,000 seedlings and donated 1,000,000 seeds to the Government.    


Do we have those in authority with a vested interest in the export of timber, who would like to squeeze out other timber exporters?


This is a question, which needs an answer and the answer needs to come quickly from this Government.  The public need to know and have a right to know. 


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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