Adequately Fund Office of Administrator and Registrar-General for Effective Service Delivery
By John Baimba Sesay
Women make up at least 51 percent of Sierra Leone’s population. Successive governments have regularly stressed the importance of promoting gender equality and empowering women as key to development. Empowering women involves a crosscutting approach. Women should have the power to move from the margin of society especially in the political space to the center stage.
The 1995 Beijing Declaration of the Fourth World Conference on Women puts greater emphasis on women empowerment and their participation in all spheres of society. It states that “Women’s empowerment and their full participation on the basis of equality in all spheres of society, including participation in the decision-making process and access to power are fundamental for the achievement of equality, development and peace.”
Sierra Leone continues to make slow but steady progress in including women in strategic roles in decision-making in the governance processes.
In July 2018, President Julius Maada Bio appointed Ms. Saptieu Elizabeth Saccoh as Administrator and Registrar-General in the Office of Administrator and Registrar-General (OARG), an institution she had served for six years, as Assistant Registrar in the Legal department.
The OARG was created by a statutory instrument under the General Registry Act as amended. It works towards an “effective administration of and registration of entities like business registration, land transaction, industrial property, marriages and administration of the estates of deceased persons” and hosts the Trade Marks and Patent Office, dealing with registration of intellectual property with the exception of copyright, amongst others.
Many public institutions in Sierra Leone are faced with a myriad of problems. The OARG is no exception. The new Administrator and Registrar-General came to office with impressive zeal to perform and ensure result, but at the same time facing mammoth challenges. These include:
- Inadequate manpower to ensure effective service delivery. Where there is the manpower, they lack experienced.
- Lack of funding. Funds allocated to the office by government by way of budgetary allocation by the Ministry of Finance are paltry.
- Poor working environment.
- Lack of office equipment like photocopy machines, printers, computers, etc.
- Very centralized. Decentralization has not been done effectively as there are offices in the provinces but not enough funds to run them.
Budgetary allocation by the Ministry of Finance is crucial to the smooth operations of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. The OARG has engaged the Finance Ministry for an upward review of its budgetary allocation.
The success of the office hinges on the support and collaboration it gets from other offices, like National Revenue Authority (NRA) and the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Environment. Conveyance won’t be signed, for instance, if there are no returns from the Lands ministry. The National Revenue Authority, another revenue generating body like the OARG, has a close link with the OARG but there has been some mix-up between the two. OARG has no always been able to reconcile figures it generates yearly as revenue for government. In 2011, the office claimed to have generated over Le7 billion for NRA.
Revenues collected goes directly to the Non-Tax Revenue Department of the NRA. Reconciling figures is a cumbersome process as the institution she inherited, Ms. Saccoh said, “had no proper mechanism to track the revenue we collected.” Before now, there were queries from Audit asking for updates on the amount they generated. It was challenging to respond to this request without reconciling with the NRA. In a bid to address this challenge, the office has printed payment slips and distributed them to all the seven sections under its purview.
Despite the challenges, there are a number of encouraging developments. The country has largely reduced the steps for starting a business, with a business registration now being done within hours, thanks to the One Stop Shop provided by the OARG, NRA and the Freetown City Council. This is said to havehelped in improving the country’s ‘ease of doing business’ ranking. The Investment Climate Facility (ICF) and the United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID) have been supportive to the operations of the Office of Administrator and Registrar-General. There was a grant to OARG by ICF, under an OARG modernization project, one that was also partly funded by Government. A major component of the modernization project was the automation of all records. This is yet to happen.
An automated OARG will result in efficiency and improved service delivery. It will also help secure and preserve documents. “I am also working on reposition our staff. Some had retired and were still working; others had projects that had ended and were still working. Those who had retired were let go, same as those whose projects had ended. I have also been working on staff rotation. We cannot have people in the same office for years. Some people have monopolized everything and I have stopped that,” said Saccoh.
Adequate funds need to be provided to the OARG if they are to continue on the reform trajectory. They need qualified manpower. It must properly decentralize its office as Freetown is not Sierra Leone. Government, despite its commitment to other development projects should provide the office with the required platform to perform effectively. Development partners could be encouraged to assist with especially funding and trainings. Above all, the OARG should also step up its revenue generating drive, a commitment made by the new head at the helm of its affairs.