Accusing fingers continue to point at the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Leadway Trading Ltd, Babadi Kamara for involvement in a tax fraud that deprives the country of much needed revenue. The sum of money alleged to have been stashed away is meant for state coffers, and it runs into thousands of United States Dollars.
A credible source has informed this medium that the Leadway CEO has been collecting USD7, 000 from timber exporters per container, an amount far higher than the stipulated one.
“For every container, Babadi Kamara and his team pocket USD3, 000.This is corruption of the highest order,” the source alleged. Three years back, the source went on, timber companies had been paying USD1, 500 as tax for 20ft container.
Effort to reach the Leadway CEO to get his own side of the allegation was unsuccessful. Leadway Company, the source says, enjoys a monopoly in the timber trade as it is Sierra Leone’s sole exporter of timber.
Suffice it to say it is the only company in Sierra Leone permitted by government to take timber out of the country. Questions on how the company came to enjoy such a highly privileged status in the timber trade are now rife among the public especially companies which have been in the trade for years.
Other credible sources who spoke to this medium confirmed that Leadway Trading Ltd, in its struggle to gain the foothold in the timber industry gave an impression to the government that it would establish timber processing factories to ensure that the timber is not exported in its raw form to China and other European countries.
“With the timber processing facilities, 57 per cent of the timber benefit goes to the country,” the source says.
The advocacy revolved around the empowerment by government of indigenous timber companies wanting process timber so that 70-80 per cent of the finished product can be exported. Government, seemed hoodwinked into the impression created by Leadway Company, walked the path of empowering the company by establishing it as the only company to export timber.
The empowerment scheme puts Leadway at an advantage point making it to have an edge over timber companies in Sierra Leone.
Owing to such privilege bestowed on the company by government, it is alleged that the company cleared all timber that has been harvested by other companies. Investigation conducted by this medium shows that the Leadway CEO rose to such prominence in the timber industry when the New Direction Government came to power in 2018.
By virtue of the status Babadi Kamara occupies in the timber industry, he is now a dominant operator and same time a regulator of the industry. The source also informs this press that he has been in the timber trade since 2003, but has been shut down.
Some timber dealers, he says, are private individuals while others are companies. “Since I came to the timber trade, operations have been going on well and jobs created for the youths,” the source said.
Since monopoly power, he said, had been conferred by the state on Leadway company, several timber companies have been put out of business leaving the owners frustrated. The closure of timber companies have plunged once employed youths into a state of unemployment.
In the North-eastern headquarters of Makeni, five timber companies were operating there since they acquired valid trade certificates from the Ministry of trade. As the companies were in full swing, a good number of able-bodied youths work in those companies and life was better for them.
“Over 400 workers have been laid off when the companies closed down operations,” he says.
Apart from workers employed in communities where the companies operate, school and health facilities were also constructed as a form of corporate philanthropy. He therefore calls on the attention of government to reverse trends in the timber industry so that other companies would come in and participate.
As Leadway continues to dominate the timber industry, aggrieved members of the Union of Timber Factory Owners and Workers drew the attention of President Julius Maada Bio to current trends in the timber industry in a letter dated 27th June, 2016.
The affected companies, NAZADCO Trading Limited Company, BANICO HOLDINGS SL Ltd, BAHSCO HOLDINGS and Phoenix Investment Engineering Company which formed the consortium could not export timber to other countries since the ban in 2018.
The three companies, with the exception of Phoenix Investment Engineering Company, share the same pain of not being permitted to export any timber since 2018. Phoenix Investment Engineering Company located at Bai Bureh Road in Freetown was granted permission to export processed wood in November 2019.
The company met its financial obligations by paying all required fees to government’s Single Treasury Account before the Ministry of Trade gave clearance for shipment. Records show that the shipment was abruptly stopped by Government of Sierra Leone.
After thorough investigation, records indicate, the container was released and loaded on the vessel for shipment. The container later arrived at the port of destination accumulating demurrage allegedly owing to the absence of CITIES certificate from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry.
The persistent unfortunate situation has generated threats of a nation-wide industrial strike that could undermine the peace and security of the state.
The laid-off workers of the timber industry have previously threatened to embark on a strike action if problems of salary and wages are not addressed.
The threats to strike have been attributed to the seeming inability of the companies to pay the workers in the face of a ban on export of timber. “Due to this appalling situation, we are unable to regularly pay our workers. As a result, they have threatened on a nationwide industrial strike which we will not be able to control,” the letter of complaint reads in part.
Leadway Company has recently come under fire in respect of issues relating to tax. A government audit report into government’s financial activities for the fiscal year 2019, shows major discrepancies in the accounting of timber exports by Leadway Trading Ltd, the country’s sole exporter of timber.
An international media institution, Africanist Press has picked up the issue with strong allegations that government could account for revenue totalling Le2.1 Billion Leones collected from timber transactions for the fiscal year, 2019.
“A comparison between the timber cash book and bank statement shows that revenue for the export levy (receipt no.430917) totalling Le2, 101, 120, 000 (two billion, one hundred and one million, one hundred and twenty thousand Leones) was not paid into the relevant bank account at the Bank of Sierra Leone,” government auditors noted in the report.