Civil society organisations in Sierra Leone have been campaigning to their government for greater transparency and accountability and increased revenue from the extractives sector. Sierra Leone is rich in mineral resources and a number of foreign mining companies are reaping the benefits, yet the country captures woefully little revenue from the sector because of overly generous tax breaks and limited administrative capacity. Although Sierra Leone exported US$145 million worth of minerals in 2007, only US$10 million remained in the country – representing only 5 per cent of total government revenue.
In part because of its failure to tax the mining sector, the government has sought to raise revenue through other means. In 2009 the government introduced a new goods and services tax (GST) – similar to value added tax (VAT). Shortly after this new tax was introduced, campaigners in Sierra Leone identified the potentially regressive nature of the new tax as a serious problem and they linked the issue with their existing work on taxation in the mining sector.
So they commissioned research to deepen their analysis of the tax structure in Sierra Leone, including to see how the GST would be felt by different constituencies.The research comes at a time when those working on tax in Sierra Leone are seeking to broaden and strengthen their network and to address tax and development issues beyond the extractives sector. So as well as seeking to develop analysis and generate proposals for an equitable tax alternative that can be shared with policy-makers, the research report is also intended to ‘support more extensive and informed public debate and advocacy around tax issues’.This is an example of a well-timed proactive research-for-advocacy initiative.