Finding a better means to address the contending issue of the toll gates new proposed taxes, the Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone has on Tuesday 27th February 2024 at Committee Room One Parliament building convened a stakeholders meeting chaired by the Hon. Speaker of Parliament Dr. Abass Bundu who firmly assured to reach a solution, making strong emphasis on upholding public interest.

The controversial highly attended public interest meeting was witnessed by the Speaker of Parliament who chaired the meeting, both leaders of representatives in parliament and other MPs, the Minister of Works and Public Assets, Deputy Manager of China Railway Seventh Group (CRSG), SLRA DG, Motto Drivers Union President. Representatives of Native Consortium Group, Civil Society Group, the Press, and other set of publics.

In his introductory statement after welcoming the distinguish representatives, the Chairman of the meeting Dr. Abass Dundu emphasized the shockwaves the matter had had to the public and went on to questioning sensitive aspects such as the commencement of tolls collection without the completion of the road, the propose increments and latter adjustment of tariff without first bringing it to Parliament and the present situation of the country and the world at large at the time of the increment and urged CSLG to understand the situation at hand. “The tariff of the agreement was brought in Parliament for ratification and if there should be any tariff increments it should equally be brought to Parliament for ratification,” he said.

In his response, the Deputy Manager of China Railway Seventh Group (CSLG) started off by expressing gratitude to the Government and People of Sierra Leone and went on underscoring the significance of the road and how it had been facilitating people’s movement to access crucial facilities in the city. He however, disclosed the challenges the company had been facing ranging from the sky-scraping inflation of the foreign exchange and fuel which forced the decision of increasing the toll gates tariffs. CRSG Deputy Manager read out some clauses of the agreement which he said supported and justified their decision of increasing the tariff.

He further disclosed that there had been some concessions outside the agreement such as the reduction of groups from nine to six, the convoys and more, which he said they also agreed to.

Detailing additional justification to the increment of taxes, the Minister of Works and Public Assets Dr. Denis Sandy also read out several clauses in the agreements that stood affirmative to the increment.

The Minister stated clause page 21 clauses 9 to 10 which gave permission to the commencement of tolls collection. He added that the clauses made provision and gave the concessionee which in this case CSLG, exclusive rights to make adjustment and without mentioning for the approval of Parliament or any other sector. The Minister said in order to get the tariff to where they are he had to call a stakeholders meeting, had a discussion and ended up to the figure which he detailed.

Getting from the aspect of the drivers, the President of Motor Drivers Union Mr Bah recalled that sometimes in December he attended a meeting at the Ministry of Works and Public Assets in which he was first informed on the decision of the CSLG to increase the toll taxes, adding that they didn’t have a conclusion on the final prices as it was heavily argued. Mr Bah said there was one group among the six groups which is group 5 which they were mostly dissatisfied with. He said they have serious challenge with group 5 which skyrocketed from 183 Leones to 700 per each toll gate. He affirmed that if the 700 for group 5 maintained, the drivers would have no other option but to park their vehicles as he said they would not be able to make any income. He pleaded with Parliament to intervene and also help separate the 10 tyres from the 24 tyres vehicles in group 5. At the end of his statement, he was ordered to go and consult with his members and come along with a generally agreed proposal of their comforted list of taxes.

Representing the people, head of Native Consortium Group Edmond Abu emphasized that the proposed toll gate taxes was a killing proposal. He said the Chinese had bridged a lot of clauses on the agreements in which he said the road made mentioned of cameras and other facilities which he said were not in the ongoing road construction. He pointed out article 2a clause 6.2.5 and several others which made provisions for an independent engineers or advisors to do a report on the road and not CSLG neither SLRA on matters of increment if deemed necessary. He totally rejected the increment and asserted that there should be no increment of tariff considering the current challenges and the coming challenges of Ramadan.

In his final words at the engagement, the Chairman emphasized the transparent manner of the engagement based on its public interest, and commended all the diverse categories of representations. The speaker affirmed that the ball was already in their court and assured that when Parliament resumes they would determine which way they should go regarding the solution to what he described as thorny issue of the toll gate increment. He emphasized that the agreement was valid and the purpose of the meeting was not to question the validity of the agreement.

“On the contrary, we are here to reaffirm it and to see whether what is being proposed is in conformity with the provisions or not as that is the function of the Parliament. We also have the concerns of the public through the various speakers and representations made. We certainly are going to take that into account. This is a listening Parliament; we would not ignore your concerns. We would not underestimate your interest by any stretch of the imagination. We would do due diligence and carry out our responsibility to the best of our ability,” he concluded.



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