Shops and businesses in Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, have been forced to close their doors due to the burden of heavy taxes imposed by the government. The situation remains in limbo as it’s unclear when these businesses will be able to resume operations.

As part of the government’s efforts to staunch revenue leakages, the installation of electronic machines is being implemented to ensure that not a single cent is lost. This initiative aligns with President Julius Maada Bio’s manifesto of blocking fiscal inefficiencies. Unfortunately, shop owners have placed blame on the National Revenue Authority (NRA) for exacerbating the harsh economic environment that they face daily.

Facing the brunt of this economic crunch, many traders have made the painful decision to leave Sierra Leone in search of more business-friendly climates in neighboring countries, with Liberia being the preferred destination to escape harassment and undue hindrances.

The situation has only worsened with a recent press release from the NRA, which imposes fines on taxpayers failing to integrate or complete the integration processes with the Electronic Cash Register (ECR) system. The press release warns that non-compliance will result in a penalty of 250,000,000 Leones and potential revenue loss assessments. The NRA, represented by Commissioner-General Ibrahim Brima Swarray, has given taxpayers a two-month grace period starting from October 20th of this year, during which the integration process can be facilitated for a minimal fee. Failure to meet this deadline will invoke penalties stipulated by law.

This shutdown marks the latest in a series of protests by businessmen in Freetown, with the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST) system in 2022 being a major point of contention. Under this system, electronic machines will record sales and collect taxes, primarily affecting various businesses such as supermarkets, hotels, restaurants, bars, and more. The business community has expressed deep discomfort with these changes, viewing them as a form of economic exploitation, particularly in these times of economic hardship.

In response, businesses have grumbled that the NRA’s insistence on using these machines is an unnecessary burden and a potential exploitation of their economic challenges. Failure to issue a GST receipt generated from ECR machines can result in severe penalties, including hefty fines or imprisonment. To keep business afloat, GST taxpayers are required to notify the NRA of any issues during the installation and operation of these machines within 24 hours. They must also regularize their registration information to obtain a new Taxpayer Identification Number and install the machines promptly.

The relationship between the government and traders has deteriorated significantly due to these measures, leading to a dire business environment, with businesses folding under the strain. Business owners are now calling on the government to protect their businesses rather than impose further hardships.