Bio Launches Health-On-Wheels policy

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His Excellency President Dr Julius Maada Bio has launched the Health-On-Wheels Initiative, the first such efforts by Sierra Leone at actualising its universal health coverage commitment with support from the Government of the People’s Republic of China.

“So, Sierra Leone’s commitment to achieving Universal Health Coverage has been evident in our international commitments, our partnerships with various nations and multilateral institutions, and our efforts to restructure our national health sector.

“We are one of few countries in West Africa to invest over 12% of our budget into health care. My Government has allocated over 75 billion Leones to refurbishing, improving, or rebuilding healthcare infrastructure right across the country.

“For the first time in fifteen years, I repeat, for the first time in fifteen years, my Government has undertaken to rehabilitate Makeni Government Hospital, Magburaka Government Hospital, Port Loko Government Hospital, Kabala Government Hospital and other regional hospitals,” he said.

President Bio noted that the impacts of those investments were significant by any measure and were above politics, adding that since 2018 maternal mortality had been reduced from 1,165 to 720 per 100,000 people with far fewer mothers now dying in childbirth. 

“Far fewer infants and children under five are dying. There has been a 100% increase in the number of people living with HIV receiving lifesaving treatment from just over 23,000 in 2017 to over 46,000. Malaria-related deaths have also been reduced by 47% – far fewer people are dying of malaria. Add these to our much-lauded fight against successive waves of COVID-19 and you will see that, in just 4 years, we have made great progress as a nation,” he concluded.

Minister of Health and Sanitation, Dr Austin Demby, who doubled as chairman of the occasion, said the launch of the health initiative was a laudable venture that was geared toward bringing health care services to people in remote areas and poor communities. He added that it would also embrace and advance the quality of human capital development of the country.

“The government of Sierra Leone, through the dynamic leadership of His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio, will continue to strengthen the health care system of the country. More hospitals will be built and more refurbished throughout the country. This will be done to give access to health care services to all citizens, regardless of where you are,” he concluded.

Country Director of Health Development Partners, Isaac Ahemesah, congratulated the Ministry of Health and Sanitation on what he called a great initiative on health-on-wheels that was aimed at bringing health services to the doorsteps of people as fast as possible. He added that the occasion also marked a significant milestone in their collective drive toward achieving universal health coverage in Sierra Leone.

“The Health Development Partners recognise the efforts that the government and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation are making to establish the Sierra Leone Health Insurance Scheme, which when fully implemented will reduce financial barriers and enhance access to health service in the country,” he noted.

Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone, Hu Zhangliang said he was honoured to be invited to make statement at the occasion and congratulated the government for their notable achievement in social and economic development, particularly in the health sector. He admitted that that facing severe challenges posed by the Coronavirus pandemic and complicated international and regional situations was tough but assured of the support of his country to Sierra Leone.

“China and Sierra Leone are reliable friends over the past 50 years since our two countries established diplomatic ties on the basis on a win-win result. China will continue to support Sierra Leone in its development trajectory. I sincerely wish the mobile health project will be a success,” he concluded.

SLCB favors gender equality in the workplace

International Women’s Day Celebrates

This year’s International Women’s Day celebration, themed “Breaking the Bias,” aims to promote gender equity across many sectors and domains by honoring women who have emerged as pioneers in their respective industries.

In honor of this day, SLCB, the country’s leading financial institution, has canvassed the active participation of its female employees in a bid to promote gender equality in the workplace, which would help illuminate and transform the lives of other women in the country. 

For the first time in the bank’s history, a panel discussion primarily comprised of female staff members shared their achievements, limits, and biases encountered in the workplace and other daily routine interactions. 

In collaboration with Timeless Magazine, Yusufu Abdul Silla, the company’s youthful and people-focused MD, organized an internal pre-recorded panel discussion program with representatives of the female staff on Friday, March 4, 2022, to commemorate that day.

In a brief statement to the staff before the panel discussions, Mr. Silla remarked that:

“We have to believe in our women because they play a key role in the economic, social, and cultural growth of our communities. Platforms like this allow us to lead the discourse about creating a society free of gender bias and discrimination; a world where women are allowed to live, grow and achieve their full potential while also contributing positively to national and global development.

At the 2022 International Women’s Day panel discussion, eminent staff of SLCB, which included Fatmata Samai, Head of Corporate Banking; Olayinka Phillips, Director of Internal Audit; Vera N. Orji, Head of Women’s Banking; and Catherine M. Kamara, Organization and Talent Development Manager, all spoke inter alia that SLCB’s participation in the celebration of Women’s Day illustrates the values of a bank that gives exclusive attention to women’s empowerment that would translate into the soon to be launched first Women’s banking system in the country.

This panel discussion will be streamed across multiple online platforms and aired on television stations on the 8th day of March 2022.

NRA Expect Akibo-Betts offers insight into Tax Issues

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I was on AYV News TV yesterday discussing the business strikes resulting from the introduction of Electronic Cash Registers to administer Goods and Services Tax (GST) for some businesses. As a leading tax firm, we at The Betts Firm believe it is our responsibility to discuss tax issues that impact the country.

I led the implementation of GST in 2010 and take great pride in the impact it continues to have on Sierra Leone’s Domestic Resource Mobilisation efforts.

The confusion and disagreement between businesses and the tax authority are mainly caused by the tax policy implication of reducing the GST threshold from Le 350 Million to Le 100 Million in Finance Act 2022, bringing smaller businesses into the GST net.

The new GST threshold is extremely low at approximately US$ 8,500, compared to the original threshold set in 2010, which was approximately US$ 66,000 (Le 200 Million). One of the reasons for the high GST threshold set in 2010 was informed by good international practice to exclude small and micro businesses from the GST net as tax compliance for GST puts more compliance burden on businesses, which increases compliance costs that they cannot afford.

With a very low GST threshold, smaller businesses suddenly became GST registered businesses overnight. Since they had not been sensitized and educated on the mechanics of GST, they couldn’t administer the tax and the ECR machines in a way that would lead them not losing revenue.

As in 2010, when businesses also went on strike for the introduction of GST, the NRA and the government must work closely with the business community to resolve this issue. Businesses are generally compliant when they understand the issues and know that the tax will not negatively impact their operations.

GST education is crucial in ensuring that businesses accept the ECR machines. NRA should also desist from levying penalties and taking enforcement action until newly registered businesses understand the tax. Also, for future Finance Acts, ACTIVE Public-Private Dialogues (PPDs) should be held when new tax policies are being proposed. This initiative will enable businesses to express their views on new tax policies and make a case for progressive tax policies that positively impact on the business climate in Sierra Leone

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