Rediscovering the strong collective advocacy that business membership organisations (BMOs) harnessed to help members weather the COVID-19 pandemic is critical to inclusive economic development in Sierra Leone, writes Invest Salone’s David Bathalomew in the Sierra Leone Telegraph this week.
In his piece – Building resilience: The role of business membership organisations in future-proofing Sierra Leone’s economy – Bathalomew says that strong business associations develop when the private sector’s collective needs outweigh individual competitiveness. In Sierra Leone, where many firms operate in sectors with limited competition, business owners tend to advocate for their needs and interests through their personal business networks. However, Bathalomew argues that this approach is unsustainable in Sierra Leone’s political economy and will not create the changes that are needed for businesses to thrive.”
“There are many operational and systemic constraints which all local firms and investors face when doing business. These include unreliable electricity supply, corruption, regulatory barriers to trade, skills shortages and access to finance. Change in these areas will only happen with a collective business voice,” he writes.
The individualist approach also disadvantages small firms who do not have the contacts or influence to advocate directly to government. “If a country is to enjoy inclusive growth – it is vital that all sections of the private sector have a voice in shaping the business environment,” he adds.
The piece gives examples of successful collective action by BMOs in Sierra Leone, including how a coalition of 10 BMOs played a role in shaping the 2021 Finance Act by submitting recommendations for income tax, duty, and goods and services tax – 13 of which were incorporated into the Act.
The Commercial Agricultural Producers and Processors Association’s (CAPPA) work on the Customary Land Rights Act 2022 and the National Land Commission Act 2022 is another example of successful BMO advocacy. On behalf of its members, CAPPA delivered a coordinated response, supported by other private sector representatives and Invest Salone, which showed how the acts could better support private sector investment while still recognising the rights and needs of local communities.
Bathalomew concludes his piece saying: “Business competitors in Sierra Leone who can work together to further their mutual interests will reap the rewards of strong, effective and sustainable BMOs that will contribute to the economic resilience of the country.”