INVESTING IN SIERRA LEONE

 

In its Post-Ebola Recovery Strategy, launched in July 2015, the GoSL sets out its objectives for restoring and strengthening trade and private sector activities. These are to: (i) increase the capacity of the professional wing of the Ministry of Trade and Industry and its role in coordinating all trade and business matters across the economy; (ii) make SLIEPA more functional and proactive in the promotion of investment and export opportunities; (iii) reduce interest rates to promote agriculture and small-scale business operations and the general development of the private sector; and (iv) promote PPPs in the provision of public services.

See the CURRENT INVESTMENT CLIMATE section for more detail on Sierra Leone’s economic recovery following the crisis.

 

LIBERAL INVESTMENT REGIME


 

The country ranked 148 out of 190 countries in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 Report. The review places Sierra Leone above the ranking of neighbouring Guinea and Liberia.

Much higher than its overall ranking were Sierra Leone’s 2017 rankings in the categories of “starting a business” (87), where it ranked above Ghana (110), Nigeria (138) and Cameroon (149); and “protecting minority investors” (87), where it was ranked above many developing country markets in sub-Saharan Africa as well as other emerging investment markets outside of the region, such as China and the Philippines. Lower rankings included infrastructure-related criteria, such as “getting electricity” (176) and “registering property” (163).

At the domestic level, there are few specific restrictions, controls, fees or taxes on foreign ownership of companies in Sierra Leone. Foreign companies can own Sierra Leonean companies (including outright) subject to certain registration formalities being completed.

An exception to this general rule applies to investments in mining of less than US$500,000, which require a Sierra Leonean holding of 25%. Foreign and domestic investors are treated the same under the law regulating this area. Investors can also use foreign technical and unskilled workers in their businesses situated in Sierra Leone.

SLIEPA provides investors with information on how to register their businesses and assists with obtaining relevant licences and permits. To this end, the GoSL has established a “one stop shop” at the OARG.

Investors should note that some practical restrictions currently exist in relation to registering transfers of shares. Difficulties with this process have been expressed by foreign investors in the past however the changes brought in by the 2014 amendment to the Companies Act have now clarified the authority of the Corporate Affairs Commission to register share transfers.

 

INVESTMENT CONTEXT


Sectoral restrictions

As detailed in KEY SECTORS, there are no sectoral restrictions on foreign ownership of Sierra Leonean assets or businesses (save in relation to foreign ownership of land)

Taxation

2016 Tax rates are set out below (US$ figures calculated using an US$/SLL exchange rate of 7000)


 

Corporation tax for resident companies

  • Basic rate: 30%
  • Mining companies: 30%
  • Capital gains: 30%
    (Subject to a minimum chargeable threshold of Le3.6m (US$514) per annum or per transaction)
  • Goods and Services Tax: 15%
    (Subject to exemptions for exports of goods (excluding minerals) stores on vessels and aircraft leaving Sierra Leone and various exempt supplies; and for businesses with an annual turnover of less than Le350m (US$50,000))
    Exempt supplies include including fertilizers, water, books and newspapers, education, pharmaceuticals, some passenger transport, crude oil and hydrocarbon products, land, buildings, public works and machinery.
  • Rental income: 10%
    (Subject to an allowance of 20% for repairs and maintenance and a tax free threshold of Le3.6m (US$514)
  • Dividends: 0%
    (Dividends received by a resident company from another resident company are exempt from tax)
  • Interest: 15%
    (Interest on government development stocks is exempt from tax)
  • Royalties: 25%
  • Natural resource payments: 25%
  • Payments to contractors: 5%

 


 

Corporation tax for non-resident companies

  • Basic rate: 30%
  • Mining companies: 30%
  • Capital gains: 30%
    (Subject to a minimum chargeable threshold of Le3.6m (US$514) per annum or per transaction)
  • Goods and Services Tax: 15%
    (Subject to exemptions for exports of goods (excluding minerals) stores on vessels and aircraft leaving Sierra Leone and various exempt supplies2; and for businesses with an annual turnover of less than Le350m (US$50,000))  
  • Rental income: 25%
    (Final tax for non-resident companies)
  • Dividends: 10%
    (Final tax for non-resident companies)
  • Interest: 15%
    (Final tax for non-resident companies)
  • Royalties: 25%
    (Final tax for non-resident companies)
  • Natural resource payments: 25%
  • Payments to contractors: 10%

 


 

Insurance

Two World Bank affiliated risk insurance agencies operate in Sierra Leone: the African Trade Insurance Agency and the Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency. Both agencies provide various kinds of insurance (including against political risk) to investors, suppliers and lenders.

Land ownership

Foreign investors cannot own land outright in Sierra Leone but can take leases for terms of up to 99 years (see POLICY AND THE LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK for further details on the land regime)

Repatriation of profits

After the payment of taxes, profits earned by foreign investors may be freely transferred abroad. This includes dividends paid to a parent company incorporated outside Sierra Leone. Investors are also able freely to repatriate funds received from the liquidation of a business and awards from the settlement of disputes. Transfers of repayments of principal and interest on arm’s length third party loans contracted outside Sierra Leone and registered with the Bank of Sierra Leone are also allowed without restriction, subject to the payment of any withholding tax due. 

Expropriations

There is no history of expropriations of property belonging to foreign investors in Sierra Leone and the law provides protection against them taking place (see POLICY AND THE LEGISLATIVE FRAMEWORK for further details).

Technology transfer

There are no technology transfer requirements applicable to foreign investments in Sierra Leone. Investors are not required to invest in manufacturing, research and development, or service facilities in Sierra Leone in order to secure approval for major procurements.

Visas

Visa requirements applicable to foreign citizens vary depending on the purpose of their travel. A “Landing Visa” is required for entry into Sierra Leone unless the individual concerned is a citizen of a country which is a member of the ECOWAS. Members include Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Côte d’ Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo.

A work permit is required for foreign individuals who wish to work in Sierra Leone. Visas and work permits may be obtained from Sierra Leonean diplomatic missions abroad. Visas can also be purchased at Lungi International Airport on arrival however it is advisable to obtain the relevant visa before travelling.

GoSL approach

A standardised approach to FDI has not yet been developed throughout GoSL. Currently, foreign investors may find themselves dealing primarily or exclusively with a single ministry, which can present challenges for investors carrying out due diligence and cause delays where other ministries or stakeholders become involved at a later stage.

Dialogue between the GoSL and foreign investors is encouraged. SLIEPA provides “investor aftercare” to support established investments and build long-term relationships with foreign investors in Sierra Leone.

With the support of the EU, AfDB and the World Bank, SLIEPA held its second public-private investor development roundtable on the theme, ‘Post Ebola Economic Recovery’ in February 2015. In his keynote speech, President Koroma noted that the private sector should serve as the engine of recovery following the Ebola outbreak. It was announced that the AfDB is working closely with the GoSL to develop a ‘Doing Business Reform Action Plan’.

In addition to the annual Presidential roundtables, SLIEPA plans to continue to hold quarterly investor aftercare roundtables, targeting specific sectors in each quarter in order to discuss any barriers to investment that SLIEPA might be able to address. In October 2015, SLIEPA held a roundtable to follow up on the last Dutch Trade Mission in the country and to discuss opportunities for the two countries working together in the future.

Interaction with local communities

Investors in large-scale and potentially disruptive investment projects should be aware of the impact their investment may have on local communities in the areas affected. Foreign investors must be sensitive to the tension that can arise in cases where the effect of the investment on the local community involves, for example, relocation, forced evacuation, land degradation, and lack of community benefit and community participation. Consultation and engagement with local communities during the entire investment process (including before and after implementation) in cases of large-scale investment is therefore key to building a successful long term investment and avoiding tensions.

Workforce

Many of Sierra Leone’s professional classes left the country during or as a consequence of the civil war. However, a wide range of organisations are working on developing Sierra Leone’s human resources.

In 2008, President Koroma established the Office of Diaspora Affairs to respond to the need to build capacity within the GoSL MDAs. Although the Ebola crisis has affected the return of talented members of the diaspora to the country, such movement is likely to resume and gain pace in the medium term. There is an ongoing “Connecting Diaspora 4 Development Programme” for Sierra Leone which funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and is aimed at engaging Sierra Leone professionals who are in the diaspora and residing in the Netherlands and other EU countries about development and capacity building in the health, agriculture and educations sectors of the country.

Ebola-related restrictions

Sierra Leone was declared Ebola transmission free on 7 November 2015. Although two new cases of the virus were recorded in January 2016 and at the time of publication travellers are still being instructed to take precautions against Ebola infection, the travel restrictions that were formerly imposed by certain airlines have all been lifted.