Patrice D. JuahPatrice Juah is a Mandela Washington Fellow of President Obama’s Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI), Writer, Poet, Entrepreneur, Broadcaster, Communications Strategist, Girls’ Education Advocate, Global Speaker and former Miss Liberia, dedicated to changing Liberia’s image within the international community. She’s the founder and executive director of the Martha Juah Educational Foundation, Founder/Creative Director of Moie, and the founder/editor of Sexy Like A Book. Miss Juah is a member of UN Women’s Civil Society Advisory Group on Liberia, and sits on the boards of the Liberia Literary Society and Smart Liberia. Ms. Juah can be reached via email : Patjuah2001@yahoo.com or via her website at : www.patricejuah.com Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window) Sierra Leone is known for its hilly terrainBy Patrice D. JuahSierra Leone, affectionately called Salone, has always felt somewhat like home to me. I’ve had a strong connection to the country, although I only visited it briefly as a child refugee, when my family and I transited there, while fleeing from the 1996 civil war in Liberia. Rebels stormed Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, and our only means of escape was Victory Reefer, a cargo ship. We were aboard the ship for three long days. We hadn’t planned for this journey and took along none of our belongings. We had no idea what to expect.Business executives, expatriates and ordinary Liberians were all on board. My family was en route to Abidjan, but all flights were canceled, so this was a big opportunity for us. As luxurious as being on a ship sounds, those 3 days, came straight out of a horror movie. We took no showers, had no real meals and sleep was a complete stranger. The rain left no room for comfort, as the storms shook us in different directions. Comments like “Liberians, where are you running to again” became all too familiar. The days went by, not as quickly as we’d expected, but finally, we arrived at a port in Freetown called Government Wharf. Citizens of Sierra Leone and other nationalities were allowed to disembark, except Liberians.A bird’s eye view of Freetown, capital city of Sierra Leone, at the central landmark of town, Cotton TreeWe were seeking refuge and they were unsure about taking us in, or sending us back to our country. We stayed on the ship for about 4 hours until a call came in from the UN, telling port authorities to allow us into the country. This was predicated upon the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention, which “defines the term refugee and outlines the rights of the displaced, as well as the legal obligations of states to them.” The principle further states that “a refugee should not be returned to a country where they face serious threats to their life or freedom.”We were given bread and sardines, and allowed to finally disembark. We weren’t in Freetown to stay; this was supposed to be a stop before the main journey. We were only there to catch a flight to our final destination, Abidjan. The port was crowded and everyone was heading somewhere. We told the authorities that we were in transit and had money to leave the country, but they insisted on taking us to Waterloo, in rural Freetown, where there was a refugee camp for Liberians. Our fate decided, we spent the night on the cold floors at the port, before boarding a big truck for the refugee camp the next day. The drive to Waterloo was a somber one; an uncertain future awaited us still. We arrived at the camp, got registered and were given spots on the floor to place our blankets. We again pleaded with the authorities there to let us go, but they told us that we’d have to stay until someone came to bail us out. So we stayed for about a week, uncertain and confused.One afternoon, a guy visited the camp to sign for his family. My older sister chatted with him and asked him to sign for us. He said that he’d return in a few days to help us out. He kept his promise and we happily left Waterloo for Freetown. Freetown was green and hilly; mountains overlooking the city and beautiful beaches everywhere. We weren’t on vacation, but it started to feel like a mini-vacation. We stayed at Cape Sierra Hotel, a beautiful hotel overlooking the beach, for a night, and moved to the National Stadium Hotel, where we stayed for about a week, before leaving for Abidjan.That’s the Sierra Leone I got to know. It’s always been that relative, a twin to Liberia that fascinates me. I may not know enough about it, but the culture, food, history, tribes, war and even Ebola, reflect the many similarities we share as countries. My Sierra Leonean friends and I talk about those similarities all the time. They too feel the same connection to Liberia. I’m particularly fascinated by their profound parables like “Get, get, no want, want, want, no get”, which means “Those who have, don’t want, and those who want, don’t have.” Only a Salone Titi or Freetown Borbor, can say that with matchless wit and distinction.I still have plans to visit the country again; to discover and explore it in depth.Salone, like Liberia, has known tremendous suffering and pain. But like Liberia, they have a fighting and resilient spirit. They bounce back after the hardest blows have hit them. The land of the Lion Mountain, the true meaning of Sierra Leone, perfectly describes the land and its people. A brave people; adorned with laughter, strength and a carefree spirit. Although we grieve and mourn, let us not doubt their ability to rise again.Salone, L.I.B feels your pain; our hearts bleed and reach out to you. Others may write you off, but we know your fortitude all too well. We won’t blink an eye, or sleep on you.Dear Salone, we see you!
US$150M bond…notes that GuySuCo still buried in over $70B of debtFinancial Analyst Dr Peter RamsaroopFinancial analysts are expressing concern over the announcement that the National Industrial and Commercial Investments Limited (NICIL) has secured a US$150 million (Gy$30 billion) bond to finance its administration of sugar estates.It is a syndicated loan that will have to be repaid within five years at a rate of 4.75 per cent interest. The consortium of investors behind the bond comprise the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Guyana Bank of Trade and Industry (GBTI).According to financial analyst Dr Peter Ramsaroop, the repayment of this loan will have ramifications for Guyana’s oil revenues. He noted that while there has been talk of selling lands to repay the loan, the Guyana Sugar Corporation (GuySuCo) is already buried in over $70 billion in debt. This, Ramsaroop noted, is almost three times the value of the bond.SPU head Colvin Heath-London“The US$150 million also has to be seen in the context of Guyana’s already increasing debt portfolio and diminishing revenue stream. Such a large loan is contingent on the successful turnaround of the now defunct estates,” Dr Ramsaroop has charged.“It is dependent on a reduced debt portfolio and increased revenue streams—a reduced debt portfolio and increased revenue stream based on oil revenues. This in itself poses even more pitfalls,?” he expanded.Dr Ramsaroop notes that the NIS will be expected to inject billions into the venture to recapitalize the remaining estates: Albion, Blairmont and Uitvlugt. According to Ramsaroop, the decision to arrange the loan should have never been taken in the first place.“There is also the fact that, to sweeten the pot for the consortium, a Government guarantee has been given. This (is) in addition to the increasing of the debt ceiling in the National Assembly for loans to be guaranteed by Government,” he said.“While the decisions have already exposed the treasury to billions in further liability, the move has now created a precedent,” Ramsaroop explained. “Precedents then set the stage for future similar transactions.”Syndicated loanThe Guyana Sugar Corporation is already inundated in billions of dollars of debtIt was announced a few days ago that NICIL had issued a US$150 million bond facility through Republic Bank’s investment banking division, in order to raise capital for GuySuCo’s operations. It was also stated that London House Chambers Attorney Devindra Kissoon had helped arrange the transaction.The statement had explained: “With the issue, NICIL becomes the first public issuer to raise debt in the local capital markets in over 10 years. The bond is the largest ever bond facility arranged in Guyana, and was oversubscribed by local investors on the first tranche.”NICIL had also explained that: “the bond will be issued in multiple tranches, with the first tranche of roughly Gy$17 billion, or US$85 million equivalent, being issued to local investors on Friday, May 25, 2018.”According to NICIL, the money from the bond will be used towards capital expenditure and general operations for GuySuCo. But even with this US$150 million, there are still plans to raise a whopping US$65 million more to finance the complete revitalisation and recapitalisation process.In its release, NICIL said it expects to raise the remaining sum, equivalent to Gy$13.6 billion, within the next few months through a combination of local and regional investors.“A targeted road show is expected to be launched within the coming weeks that will likely include investor briefings in Trinidad and Jamaica” in order to raise the much needed funds, the release noted.RepaymentQuestioned during an exclusive interview on the GuySuCo repayment of the bond, SPU head, Colvin Heath-London, insisted that the SPU and GuySuCo were committed to ensuring that all the necessary repayments were made.He had been adamant that strict adherence to financial best practices would be followed within GuySuCo, to ensure that there was no wastage of revenues secured by the sugar company from its ongoing operations.But a source close to the SPU revealed that GuySuCo, with financial advice of NICIL and the SPU, would embark on a process that could see the company selling some $3 billion worth of spare parts that were currently lying in its storage bond.Also, a proposal has been made to secure another $10 million by selling scrap metal sourced from around the company’s East Demerara Estates. This publication was told that over the next few months, GuySuCo would embark on the process of selling prime real estate not being utilised. Some 4600 acres would be up for grabs.From that alone, it is understood, the SPU and GuySuCo hope to garner a whopping $50 billion if sold at different intervals. Further, the Unit could seek to secure some $265 million by selling GuySuCo lands in and around the Wales Estate.
…as protestors picket AFC Headquarters…told VAT here to stayThe public education system is in a dire state and is being academically outperformed by private schools; hence, the need for those institutions.This is according to educator Swami Aksharananda. He made the comment while at a protest against Value Added Tax (VAT) on education on Monday in front of the Alliance For Change (AFC) headquarters.“There are many challenges in the public school system, everybody admits this. There is no one in this country who thinks that it is where it’s supposed to be…but as far as the public schools – if you have an objective analysis, we are in a dire state as far as public education is concerned and the ability to deliver education, it is very serious,” Swami Aksharananda told this publication. While addressing the media, he added that parents were choosing the private education system as opposed to the public education system mainly from a performance standpoint. He noted that private schools were most of the times outperforming the government schools in both the National Grade Six Assessment (NSGA) and the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations.“If you look at the results of education in this country, for example the NGSA, all the top results come from private schools, which is an indication of [their better performance]. People are smart. People know where they get their results and they go there, and it is not only because people can afford, but people will make the additional sacrifice for what they consider a better value for their money,” the educator opined.When asked about the suggestion of the institutions absorbing the VAT, Swami Aksharananda, who operates the Saraswati Vidya Niketan (SVN) – one of the country’s top performing secondary schools, explained that it was not legally possible for those institutions to do so. He added that by making that suggestion, there was now the idea of private schools making large profits and that was far from the truth.In March, Finance Minister Winston Jordan said that VAT on private education was not a move to target the institutions, rather it was a move for the Government to broaden the country’s tax base, and help fund the country’s expenditure shortfall in the 2017 $250 billion budget.A parent, Shamal Zalamuddin said he refused to pay VAT on education and noted that the tax imposition was not only on tuition fees, as it extended to all educational materials inclusive of pens, pencils and erasers. This, he notes, not only affects the private school students, but also those attending public schools as well.“There is hardly any country in the world that pays VAT on education or health services or social services. My son goes to a private school, yes; I paid his fees today without paying any VAT. I am not going to pay the VAT and if they (the school) rebel, then I am prepared to take him out and I am prepared to home-school him,” Zalamuddin told reporters.The protesters told the media that they chose to exercise their constitutional right in front of the AFC headquarters, since they were informed of an executive meeting at the office. They also noted that there were some members of the AFC who were sympathetic to their plight, so they were seeking an audience with them.During the protest, AFC representatives from the office went out and engaged the protesters, informing them that they would have to be protesting for the next three terms. One representative said that the protesters would have to remain there since the VAT on education was there to stay. He added that although he was an AFC Youth Executive, he had protested against the parking meter project, but supported the imposition of VAT on education.After failed attempts to contact AFC Leader and Natural Resources Minister Raphael Trotman, Guyana Times contacted the party’s former head, Public Security Minister Khemraj Ramjattan, for an update on the party’s position on the tax imposition only to be told: “I don’t speak to the Guyana Times, y’all are asses.”Parliamentary supportMeanwhile, the AFC will be put to the test when the parliamentary Opposition People’s Progressive Party (PPP) tables a motion to repeal the 14 per cent VAT on private education at the upcoming sitting of the National Assembly on May 8.Expectations are high that the junior partner in the coalition APNU/AFC Administration would now support the motion, given its solidarity with stakeholders who have for weeks been calling on Government to remove the education tax.Cabinet recently ruled that the VAT on private education would remain for the rest of the year, but it would be reviewed for the 2018 National Budget.The AFC has signalled its intention to challenge Government’s collective decision and push for an earlier review.