I bring you all greetings from Sierra Leone, a country very committed to sustaining the fact that it now has the second fastest growing economy in the world. I come to this dinner with this goal in mind, and to invite you to be participants in this remarkable transformation of a country which just over a decade ago was called a failed state, but which is now a hailed state attracting hundred of millions of dollars of investments in mining, agriculture, energy, airports, and infrastructure.
We applaud the Netherlands Africa Business Forum for co-hosting this networking dinner. It shows a willingness to listen and be part of the emerging narrative of opportunities for private sector investments and returns in our country. We are also heartened by the interest being shown by Dutch Companies in ports development, logistics, mining and agriculture. These are growth areas for us, and it is our obligation to ensure fruitful cooperation with a friendly country like the Netherlands for investments that are mutually beneficial to both countries.
Sierra Leone is very much at the fore of the new Africa story. Africa is on the rise. This is not only because our continent has 80-90% of the world’s chromium and platinum group metals, 10% of its oil reserves and 40% of its gold, some of the earth’s largest deposits of iron ore, uranium and copper. These resources have always been in Africa, so the narrative of the rise of Africa in recent years goes beyond the mere presence of these resources. We are on the rise mainly because this generation of Africans has decided on commencing an African renaissance dedicated to democracy, good governance and greater economic opportunities.
Democracy, political and economic stability are taking roots in the continent. Our economies are becoming more open, our societies more tolerant, and our budgets more balanced. Our debt burdens have declined and we are reducing rates of inflation all over the continent. The results are greater growth rates than ever before. Six of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are in Africa, one of which is my country Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone’s GDP growth for 2013 was recorded at 13.3%; the growth rate is expected to continue to grow this year to about 14%. Our policies and actions are resulting in increases in our exports by 69.3 percent to US$ 1.80 billion in 2013 compared to US$ 1.10 billion in 2012.
Our reforms are ensuring a revamping of our financial system, making it capable of facilitating investments. We have acted to develop a more robust legal environment, which will give confidence to investors and businesses in general. Thus we have enacted The Companies Act 2009, The Bankruptcy Act 2009, The Payments System Act 2009, The Credit Reference Act 2011, The Bank of Sierra Leone Act 2011, The Banking Act 2011, The Anti-Money Laundering and Combating of Financing of Terrorism Act 2012. We have set up the Credit Reference Bureau, modernized the payments system, and we are building a state of the art Disaster Recovery Site to ensure business continuity for the central bank and all commercial banks in the event of a disaster. This year, we are introducing a number of legislation, including the Borrowers and Lenders Act to facilitate the use of moveable assets as collaterals/securities for loans; the Securities Act to establish the platform for more trading on the Stock Exchange and allow firms/businesses to raise additional long term capital for expansion and production; and the Collective Investment Scheme Act to facilitate joint investments with other parties in order to undertake large projects.
Sierra Leone’s doing business rankings, transparency indicators and the number of companies in the race to invest in the country are increasing. It is now easier than ever before to register businesses; tax systems are becoming clearer, investment protection laws stronger, and fiscal management more prudent. Sierra Leone has climbed up more than 30 places in the World Bank doing Business Index; we are a leader in protecting investors, in ease of starting businesses, in religious tolerance, and in security, peace and safety not only in Africa, but also globally.
Since our assumption of office in 2007, we have re-oriented government’s expenditures towards capital investments. Today the country is referred to as a Works yard with road construction activities going on all over the country. We are also building jetties, hydro-electric dams, new government buildings and other facilities. We will commence the construction of a new Airport on the mainland a Mamamah before the end of the year. We are also expanding our ports in order to take advantage of our strategic location for a major transshipment hub between the emerging markets of Latin America, and Europe. We seek partners with experience and capacity to carry out capital investment projects.
We are moved away from a country pilloried for blood diamonds to a country supplying the world with peace diamonds, about 45% of which find their way into the Antwerp World Diamond Office. But we want to move beyond peace diamonds into what we will call ‘Prosperity Diamonds,’ we seek investments in adding value to our diamonds through the establishment of diamond cutting and polishing ventures in the country as a way of enhancing returns for all persons along the diamond value chain –from miners to dealers and other persons.
We seek partners and investments not only in primary production activities, but also value addition operations in agriculture, mining, fisheries and other sectors. We are determined to provide added incentives to businesses investments that are involved in value addition and who also improve their local content. We believe that these types of operations are more sustainable and better able to ensure win-win situations for all parties involved. Let me in this regard make special mention of Heineken, a company that been in Sierra Leone since the 1960s. We applaud you for being with us through thick and thin, and for improving the local content of your production activities. We would like to encourage you to expand your production through establishment of a second plant. We are looking into modalities for lowering your excise duties in order to support your expansion. We also look forward to the active presence of the Holland Shipyard who has won the bid to develop Sierra Leones Port’s Slipway.
Whilst my government has done more than any other government in the nation’s history to improve the electricity sector, we are acting to facilitate private sector partnerships and investments in the sector to ensure it meets growing demands by the mining, industrial and other sectors. The unbundling of the Sector is at advanced stage. We have formed three entities in this regard, two of which will respectively deal with supply, transmission and distribution, and the third is a regulatory body, the Electricity and Water Commission. The unbundling would create efficiencies and greater opportunities for private sector participation and contracting, training, and job creation. We are also at an advanced stage in relation to power generation. A number of mini hydro projects stations are being built, and plans are at an advanced stage in relation to Bumbuna Two. We aim at an energy mix of solar, hydro and thermal generation. We look forward to companies from the Netherlands showing interests in these areas.
There are also immense opportunities for investments through our privatization programme coordinated by the National Commission for Privatization. Companies slated for privatization, management contracts, concessioning and public private partnerships include banks, insurance companies, transportation, Housing Corporation and airport and seaport activities.
Sierra Leone is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, with pristine beaches, wonderful mountain ranges, nature reserves, wonderful culture, history rich in humanity’s quest for freedom and a people famed for their hospitality and tolerance. That is why we seek to rebuild our tourism infrastructure and a tourism industry that was before the war in the 1990s a burgeoning sector in the country. We seek partners in reviving Sierra Leone’s tourism industry, especially in relation to eco, heritage and other tourism sub sectors.
We have also established the Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency and the Public Private Partnership Unit to strengthen facilitation and promotion of private sector investments and partnerships in the country.
We are revitalizing the agricultural sector through our smallholder commercialization programme aimed at transforming subsistence farms into businesses. There are opportunities for input and output marketing businesses in this sector as well as for marketers of farming equipment. Our policies are also attracting large-scale agricultural investments. Already hundreds of millions of dollars are being invested in the bio-fuels, rubber and other sub sectors. We welcome Dutch companies to explore the immerse possibilities that exist in our agricultural sector.
The Netherlands has been a valued partner in Sierra Leone’s search for peace and democracy. We aspire to strengthening these ties by emphasizing economic and investment ties. With the support of valued and reliable friends like the government and people of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, we will achieve these objectives.
There is no better time for seizing these opportunities than now. Sierra Leone is just six hours away, located in the same time zone as the Netherlands, and ready for private sector investments and partnerships with the Netherlands.
I thank you for your attention.