By Melvin Tejan Mansaray
Honorable Clarence Massaquoi, a Member of the Liberia House of Representatives, representing Lofa #3, Unity Party, 54th Legislature, Member of Parliament since January 16, 2013, and a member of Liberia’s delegation to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Parliament has in an exclusive interview with this Writer said the three days seminar on the “Involvement of Members of the ECOWAS Parliament in Monitoring the Implementation of the Protocol relating to the Community Levy,” was a very great interaction.
The Seminar ran from 23rd to 25th March 2021 and was held at the Freetown International Conference Center, Bintumani Hotel, Aberdeen, Western Area Rural, Sierra Leone,
Hon. Massaquoi said the interaction of the Community Parliament Members was a great move with an ostentatious opening ceremony with great speeches and assurances from the regional leaders.
“The seminar was a very great opportunity but it comes with a challenge especially as we see the rate of implementation when it comes to the Community Levy. This Levy accounts for seventy to ninety percent of the revenue that actually takes care of the programs of the ECOWAS Parliament; to see the rate of implementation very low, is a challenge to us, as a way of improving on the collections and the application of the Protocol, that is why this session was called to invite members of the Commission, in this case, the Commissioner for Finance Alima Ahmed and others to see where we are with the implementation of this Community Levy,” Hon. Massaquoi said.
He explained that “overall, the performance has setbacks, there are some hurdles, that we must all collectively follow.”
Hon. Massaquoi explained that the role of parliamentarians is very important in the application of the Community Levy, underscoring that they oversee budget discussions in their individual countries, and the payment of the amount is the subject of some of the budget discussions in some countries, noting that, “ it will be very important to involve parliamentarians, it is a challenge to us, we are leaving from here collectively challenged to see that we have this level of implementation. When we go back to our countries, we need to emulate Niger, the only country that is up-to-date with the payment of the Community Levy.”
In his contribution following presentations by Facilitators, Hon. Massaquoi suggested that if the Community Levy is to be taken seriously by the Member States, then there should be sanctions for delinquent nations.
“I personally, and collectively we think so, you saw the discussions across the floor, it seemed to me as a consensus. Personally, I believe there should be some level of sanctions. The number one reason is that the collection of the Levy is not for the countries, it is being collected on behalf of the ECOWAS Commission and that is the reason why there is 0.4% of whatever that is collected stayed with the host country. Now, if a country collects on the ECOWAS’s behalf, and refuses to remit, in my mind it is against the budget law of the Commission itself. Now, in all of the countries that reported, you will hear that ECOWAS is implementing projects and activities, and the funding for these projects actually come from the Levy. Now, If a country collects the Levy and does not remit it or decide when to remit it, then it interferes with the timetable of the implementation, thus, I believe, that in those countries who are not in right standing, there should be no projects. There should be some level of sanctions. Of course, we have to do this in line with the Heads of State, which is a very tricky path. I believe that if we must succeed with all of these and programs, the Parliament must have full parliamentary powers, in that case, we can take action. I think there should be some level of sanction. If they are implementing in your country, take, for example, it was reported that Nigeria decided that they will remit monies collected once a year, it is wrong. You know the economy of Nigeria, if they decide to collect and remit on an annual basis, maybe they will be remitted in December, but the programs are ongoing and they are been affected. I think that is very wrong,” Hon. Massaquoi said.
On his second point on why should countries not withhold Community Levy collected, Hon. Massaquoi said the collected monies are saved in bank accounts that are interest-bearing, collecting, and delaying to pay these monies that are lodged in bank accounts accrue interests on deposit that does not come to ECOWAS. “This is at the detriment to the ECOWAS and to me, it is counterproductive to the aims and objectives of the ECOWAS Commission,” Hon. Massaquoi emphasized.
The Liberian MP, Hon. Massaquoi, also raised concern about the signing of international treaties which he suggested must first go to the Heads of State, the Ministers of Finance and Foreign Affairs, “ that when they sign an agreement that commits ECOWAS to any trade agreement, they should be mindful that those agreements should not interfere with the Community Levy Protocol.”
He said: “This is not just for the collection of money, it is meant to support the vision of ECOWAS which is a regional trade and people integration. If those collections are not done, then it affects the overall goal of ECOWAS which I think primarily is wrong not just to us, but to the people. Now, a few years ago, in Sierra Leone there was a war situation, it took ECOMOG, which is a regional peacekeeping force to restore peace here, assuming that all of the countries decided that they will not pay Community Levy, that means the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone would not be possible. In my own country, Liberia, we fought for fourteen years, it took other international organizations but primarily, it was ECOMOG that first stepped on the ground. Assuming that Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Ghana, and all of the other countries decided to have held on to the ECOWAS Levy, which means a peacekeeping mission in Liberia would not have been possible and that would have left lives being destroyed. Today, we have an ECOWAS Peacekeeping Standby Force.”
Hon. Massaquoi stressed that the benefits behind countries paying the Community Levy are enormous and far-reaching from security to the economy, tourism, peace, and general integration adding that a lot of people from the region have been traversing from country to country noting, “all of these are the proceeds that come from the formation of the regional bloc.”
“To attempt to withhold the support line to the region to me is stabbing the region in the back and I don’t think any country should be doing that,” Hon. Massaquoi said.
During the presentation, Ibrahima Gueye, one of the facilitators talked about exchange rate variations from country to country, underscoring the notion of the need for a Single Currency.
Hon. Massaquoi said: “ My opinion on the Single Currency and the Community Levy, think on the overall, I must admit to this but be very candid, on an overall, there has to be a political will for us to achieve the Single Currency. If we have a single currency and you are performing a task for ECOWAS in Ghana, you will be paid with this Single Currency. There is a downside of it because other countries have weaker economies, it means people who want to do money laundering could go into a country and rip the economy by getting more of that currency and fly into the country that has a stronger economy that they could not get that amount easily in those countries. I can understand the here and their challenges, but in its entirety, it talks about the political will of our political leaders to take this. If we don’t take the first step, then we cannot correct it unless we take a step, there is no need for correction. Let us take the step, and then we are left with correcting the pitfalls. There is no perfect decision, let us make the decision that in overall, helps our economies. It strengthens the more our regional integration. Imagine traders leaving from one country to another country, they have to get hurdle with the exchange rate which sometimes is favorable or not favorable based on the strength of the different economies. I think the Single Currency will strengthen us, we have a target to achieve it in 2020, of course you know 2020 is far gone this is March almost ending the first quarter of the year 2021, we have not achieved the single currency. I also see the issue of geopolitics, with a good number of ECOWAS countries being francophone. Of course, you know that the French CFA has a role to play here. The French have great vested interests in those countries. The English people are not colonized again but you know how much our former colonial masters still have an impact on us. All of these things are imposed. Africa/ECOWAS will have the resources, we need to take decisive steps and take the decision. It will hurt us for a moment but at the end of the day the effort that we made, in my mind, will yield fruitful results.”
Asked about his best wish and worst fear on the application of the Community Levy, Hon. Massaquoi said: “I have a fear that when the Heads of State are named and shamed for the delinquencies on the Community Levy, they will attempt to fight back and they can hold back. Don’t forget the collection is in their hands and the Head of the different ECOWAS Commissions does not have the full capacity yet to do their own collection. I will suggest that instead of the different countries in the collection, when somebody imports into an ECOWAS State, before they put the goods on the market, the importer pays in advance, by so doing all that we will be doing after is to monitor. In other words, there is a one-stop-shop, in our case, it makes it easier so that the Levy doesn’t spread in the market and then we go behind the importers.”
In his general appreciation of the host country, which shares neighborliness with Liberia, Hon. Massaquoi said, he agrees that, “Sierra Leone is the charming coast,” adding that he has his ancestry in Sierra Leone too.
“Massaquoi is not a typical Liberian name, it is shared in Sierra Leone. The organization of the event, our host has been doing very exceptionally well in my view so far and I am hopeful that it will continue in that way. It is a very great experience interacting with the locals, with our brothers and sisters so to speak, following the heated period of the COVID-19. COVID-19 is still around and we all must take the necessary steps, but at least now we have our first face-to-face meeting with colleagues from Ghana, following their general elections, we have seen some new faces. Our colleagues from Niger, it is a mixed feeling seeing some new faces that you are happy about but also taking away some of the old faces, that is the beauty of democracy, we welcome them. Overall, Sierra Leone is good. The honorable Speaker of the ECOWAS Parliament, Hon. Tunis is himself from Sierra Leone and I think the fact that this is his country probably added some more pressure to see the kind of splendid performance that they are making. It is a very great time, we look forward to Monday to start the first 2021 Extraordinary Session. It promises to be great, I will challenge my colleagues, the Leadership of ECOWAS, and the Parliament at large that decisions that are taken in those Sessions, should not be left on the shelves to gather dust. We should be able to be more proactive not reactive in the implementation, I think that is one of the faults that I see in general not just with this leadership but leadership’s past, but I am sure that with time we will improve it and let us make decisions. We are here to take decisions on behalf of the people, the almost three hundred million West Africans who cannot be in Sierra Leone today. We are privileged to be here on their behalf and whatever that we do here should be in their best interest.”