November 27, 2015
The Bank of Sierra Leone is implementing a US$5 million project to build a National Switch that will ensure swift transfer of cash electronically within financial institutions and their customers.
“It is getting late for Sierra Leone” said Central Bank Governor Momodu Kargbo, adding that “Sierra Leone is among the last few countries in the ECOWAS region that is yet to have this piece of payment system in the country’s financial architecture in place,”
The project, funded by the Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL), the Sierra Leone Association of Commercial Banks (SLACB) and the World Bank, is expected to go live by December 2016.
Governor Momodu Kargbo who was speaking at a seminar on the National Switch at the Bank of Sierra Leone Recreation Complex in Kingtom, maintained that the ‘National Switch’ “has become a must and it will lead to real financial inclusion, herald the beginning of a cashless society and an arsenal in the fight against corruption.”
The seminar signalled the start of a concerted and sustained effort to build and operate the National Switching payment system.
A week ago, the Governor launched the Mobile money services and highlighted the need of having this system for the inclusion of the unbanked and rural communities.
The President of SLACB, Hasiatu Jalloh-Agbaje said that the project was a welcome development but long overdue as many West African countries were now online. “In line with the dictates of the economy, we as an association believe that such a venture is long overdue and a major milestone in taking Sierra Leone to a new era of technological innovation in financial service delivery,” she said.
She noted that there are 13 commercial banks with 91 branches, but only 6 banks have functional Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) and only 4 commercial banks have functional Point of Sale terminals (POS). There are only 2 mobile money operators with over 1,000 agents.
She cited the long queues and congestions in banking halls as customers conduct periodic cash-based transactions over the counters as a major reason for funding the project.
“A national switch will provide the financial sector a unique opportunity to link the country’s ATMs and POS to a single network,” Madam Jalloh-Agbaje said.
The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Kaifala Marah thanked Governor Kargbo and his predecessor, Sambadeen Sesay for developing the project. The National Switch will support the move to a single treasury account and make room for financial inclusion.
“No amount of foreign aid will bail us out, we have to helicopter up, the aeroplaning process won’t help us,” Dr. Marah stressed.
The President of the Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce Industry and Agriculture, Gladys Strasser King asked that the central bank organises a seminar for the private sector on the importance of the National Switch for small and medium enterprises.