Sierra Leone government austerity announcement does not tell the whole story

Dr Julius Spencer

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 October 2016

Dr Julius Spencer

Today, I was going to continue my discourse on changing our political system, but I have decided to suspend this and come back to it next week because of the austerity measures that the government announced recently. (Photo: Dr. Julius Spencer).

Yes indeed, austerity has arrived again in our land after having been banished some years ago. And we are indeed in for some tough times.

I notice that everyone is talking about the measures that were announced through a State House release a few days ago, but be assured that the release does not tell the whole story.

It focused on the cost saving measures that the government intends to take and does not say anything about the fact that the government subsidy on fuel is going to be removed, which will lead to an increase in fuel prices and consequently an increase in all prices.

We have already experienced an increase in electricity tariff and addition of GST onto electricity charges. But if we think times are hard now, I can assure you that the worst is yet to come and we all need to brace ourselves for a period of intense hardship.

And those of us who lived through the hardships of the 1980s and 1990s, with fuel queues, rice queues, etc., are dreading what is to come.

In the face of such gloomy prognosis, one is forced to ask the question, how did we get here? And the only answer one can arrive at is bad management.

cocky-governmentOur government officials and their apologists are fond of telling us that our economy suffered from the twin shocks of Ebola and a fall in iron ore prices. But that is simply an excuse.

I believe that if not for Ebola, our economy would have collapsed earlier.

In fact, if not for the people that died, one would even regard the Ebola outbreak as a blessing in disguise because this is why we are getting the kind of support from the international community that is going into the post Ebola recovery activities.

I believe our current situation is as a result of bad management because of a number of factors.

In the first place, even though the idea of introducing GST had been on the cards for a while, the previous government didn’t have the political will, in other words the courage, to implement it, but Ernest Koroma’s government demonstrated tremendous courage when soon after coming to power, it introduced GST.

This significantly boosted the government’s revenue, along with the revenue it also started receiving from iron ore. The iron ore sales and projections of sales over several years, caused Sierra Leone to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world and this lulled the government into a false sense of security.

Believing that the money will continue flowing indefinitely, the government embarked on a spending spree, on things which indeed are necessary for the country to develop, like roads, but at a pace that could not be sustained when the bubble burst. And indeed the bubble has burst.

If all the money had been genuinely spent on projects like roads, electricity, etc., perhaps one could have forgiven the government for its actions, but there are indications of corrupt activities coming into the mix.

Kandeh Yumkella speaking with telegraph editor Abdul Rashid Thomas in London in 2016.If what the opposition has been saying for a while, and which Kandeh Yumkella asserted in an article published recently in thesierraleonetelegraph.com titled “The State of Our Economy: Institutionalized Leakages and a Bankrupt Economy” is true, then indeed, our economy has been bankrupted by graft. (Photo: Presidential hopeful Dr. Kandeh Yumkella – left, talking to Sierra Leone Telegraph Editor – Abdul Rashid Thomas in London, 2015).

It is claimed that the roads financed with government funds cost 3 to 4 times more than those financed by the EU and other international funding agencies. But even if this is not true, it is clear that the government has admitted to having mismanaged the funds it had at its disposal. How and when did this admission take place?

Well, it’s embedded in the statement from State House informing the public of the austerity measures. And this, like the Whatsapp message the President sent out some time ago appealing to fellow Sierra Leoneans to help save the Leone, is a major public relations disaster.

There are many of the cuts that beg several questions, but I’ll simply highlight a few to show why this statement is a PR disaster: 50% cut in fuel allocations to all MDAs; 50% cut in monthly office imprests; 50% cut in DSA for local travels; Restrict all overseas travels and rationalize delegation sizes; 50% cut across the board in vehicle maintenance; Eliminate double payments of pensions and salaries across the board.

The cut expenditure on the items listed above, in my view, indicates that the government believes the tasks these funds are meant for can be achieved with 50% of what was being spent, which gives the distinct impression that the government was not being prudent in its spending.

In fact, in the case of imprests, one wonders whether they were being retired with receipts, because an imprest is not a budgeted amount. All the expenditure incurred should be retired under a budget line item.

An imprest is simply an administrative arrangement that makes cash available for financing activities of the institution. The fact that it is now being cut by 50%, makes one wonder whether imprest in government departments is being used as a slush fund. I hope not.

luxury-vip-planeThe two most telling items on the list, however, that to my mind amount to a clear admission of mismanagement are the one that signals a restriction on overseas travels and rationalization of delegation sizes and the one about eliminating double payments of pensions and salaries. (Photo: Luxurious executive class air travel).

Coming so soon after the hue and cry over the size of the government delegation to the recent UN General Assembly where some of the members of the delegation spent some time dancing “sen am go dong” on the streets of New York, that line in the government statement is a clear admission that government delegations in the past have not been properly rationalized.

To make matters worse, the Minister of Information was on radio recently saying that now any minister wanting to travel will have to justify to Cabinet the need for the trip and what the country stands to benefit.

I was surprised to hear that because I thought that this process was in place, since that was what was in operation when I was a minister. In fact, while I was a minister, you had to submit a Cabinet paper and defend it, and on your return, you had to submit a report to Cabinet on the trip, clearly outlining the benefits to the country.

It is clear that this procedure was abandoned at some point and is only now being reinstated. I hope it will become a permanent feature of government procedure now.

I notice also that the government statement only talks about per diem for local travels being cut by 50% which indicates that per diem for international travel will not be affected. I wonder whether the system of using the UN daily subsistence rate that was in place while I was a minister is still in operation or whether it had been changed too.

The UN daily subsistence rate stipulates the per diem rate for most cities in the world and if that is not currently in use by the government, I hope it will be added to the list of austerity measures.

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Now the big one: Double payments of pensions and salaries?

Wow! You mean this has been going on and it’s only now government has decided to eliminate this obviously corrupt activity. (Photo. The Sierra Leone Telegraph asks: Is the former ambassador to China – Victor Foh, who is now the country’s vice president receiving two salaries and two pensions, with respect to both jobs?) 

Is it in fact enough to just eliminate the practice? Should those involved not face the law?

You see now why I said earlier that the statement issued by government on the austerity measures is a PR disaster?

I hope the government will in future carefully examine the potential interpretation and reaction of members of the public before issuing any statement. It would have been better to simply say something like “government has instituted a number of cost saving measures that will result in reducing government expenditure by up to…” instead of listing all the details.

But let me end today by congratulating President Koroma because it seems he has heeded advice and reduced the length of his motorcade. I have encountered his convoy twice since I mentioned its length in one of my articles and I only counted about 12 cars each time.

Well done Mr. President, but see if you can reduce it further in order to further reduce the government’s fuel bill.

8 Comments

  1. Santhkie Sorie,

    J.S Momoh regularly visited St. Francis Secondary School in the 1980s. For your information, he had a job as the Late President of Sierra Leone and HOME built on a hilltop in Binkolo Town, which I used to see on my way to Kapeteh village. He died peacefully and was buried in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

    As a matter of fact, J.S Momoh was the ONLY President of Sierra Leone to admit failing the nation on the then SLBS (Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service) which the present Leader of APC, Ernest Koroma, will HARDLY do. What a shame! Amen.

  2. Well done Dr Spencer and thank you very much for your analytical and impressive article , which should send President Koroma and his gang to the nearest book shop to buy books on basic economics, They badly need them.

    It matters not from which angle one approaches the subject of economics the conclusion is always the same : that economics is premised on the fact that there not an unlimited availability of resources. Therefore, one must cleverly apply any available resource in such a way as to derive maximum benefit from it.

    If this is done society will enjoy the benefits long after the resource has vanished as a result of multiplier and accelerator effects .

    Surely an intelligent choice will have to be made between the numerous competing sectors of society in allocating resources. This is where the notion of opportunity cost comes in , which quite simply means that the real cost of anything is the the item forgone in order to divert resources to what is being implemented.

    But does President Koroma know all this , or is he well aware of it while the country suffers, but choose to ignore it ? He is surrounded by people with doctorate degrees , but where are they ?

    I plead with anybody that sees them to tell them to read Dr Spencer’s article and start applying the kind of basic economics which the market women at Krootown Road market apply everyday that makes them successful – even though some of them are uneducated.

    I would rather have them running the Finance Ministry than the functional illiterates that we have saddled ourselves with. We may well be dealing with a government whose knowledge of economics and finance can be written on the palm of the smallest man’s hand.

    I cannot end this without a word of praise for Abdul R. Kabia’s piece. It truly encompasses what has befallen the country in the decades since independence in all spheres – politically , economically , socially , etc. By the mid seventies , with Siaka Stevens at the controls , the country went into a nose dive , while he and his A.P.C. bled the nation white.

    Tom Nyuma [may Allah/God grant him eternal peace] and others finally caught up with them , got hold of them , spun them around , steadied them , and gave their huge backside a mighty kick which resonated around the world, while showing them the exit signs. Their invisibility was shattered by a young man [Tom Nyuma] who had not been born when they assumed power in 1968. Joseph Momoh suddenly found himself without a job and a home.

    Entered S.L.P. P. after the military boys’ stint. And what did they do? I don’t know. What I do know is that they had learned nothing after all those years in the political wilderness. Power intoxicated them so much that A.P.C. wrested power from them once more. But there is no difference between them. S.L.P.P. and A.P.C. have the same mother and father. We need a third force.

  3. Sierra Leone was a fine country to live in, of which Sierra Leoneans were so proud of. Foreigners loved the country. This can be attested by almost every foreigner you come across who had lived in the country in its glorious days.

    The country was making steady progress; the citizens were law abiding people and would frown on any attempt at social violence.

    The state institutions the British left behind in post independence days were strong, efficient and functional until the mid seventies. The economy was well managed; social services were available, up and running. The educational system was a model in the West African sub region and across the continent.

    Sierra Leoneans were proud of their land. Our neighbors held the country and its people in high esteem. The future was promising.

    But what went wrong with Sierra Leone? With the passing of time within a decade of independence, the country had lost all of its fine statesmen who stood for progress, good governance and sustainable development. We lost the most competent and able personalities of the time who would have led Sierra Leone down the path to progress and prosperity.

    Standing out among them were Dr Sorie Fornah, Mohamed Bash Taqi and Ibrahim Taqi. Sierra Leoneans will ever morn the demise of these fine gentlemen. And others were ruined for life by the Siaka Stevens APC regime.

    The APC government of Siaka Stevens with its ruthlessness, eliminated these strong men of high integrity and service devotion to the nation, whose aim was to fly the Sierra Leone flag high above the continent and the community of nations in the world. – only to pave his way to declare a one party dictatorial system. Sierra Leoneans will ever morn the demise of these fine citizens.

    Since then, a vacuum of good governance has been created in the country and no personalities of their caliber had ever emerged to date. The next set of governors that stepped in came in with greed, power drunkenness, dancing to the tune of their boss – Siaka Stevens.

    To them, the purpose of politics was about the personal enrichment of APC party elites and government officials. They took a direction unforeseen by the citizenry. And consequently, they failed to maintain a sustainable system.

    Unbridled corruption became a culture of management of state affairs. The political scenario became a jungle where only the APC elites can enforce command at their whim. Embezzlement was rife, and power abuse was the order of the day.

    In fact, most of the government authorities were seasoned politicians, highly educated persons, but their education was only meant to drain the wealth of the nation and tax payers for their personal gains. Their education did nothing to contribute to maintain and sustain the state institutions the British left behind. No meaningful progress was attained; they were simply parasites to the nation.

    All these factors underpin the failure of our politicians to drive the country to real progress. Since self-rule was attained, the lack of competent and effective leadership to take the right approach towards sustainable development was lacking. This is the colossal failure of our traditional APC and SLPP political parties.

    We have come a long way since then; successive governments had always failed to deliver what the people expected of them, in our fifty-five years of independence, they bear no sense of awareness and no remorse as to the damage being done to the society, by the recklessness and irresponsible attitude of government authorities.

    The people in general have been so impoverished, dipped in abject poverty and backwardness. We score the lowest Human Development Index in the region.

    These days we are seeing some economists and management gurus appearing on the scene. Some of whom had had the privilege to serve this country in powerful positions entrusted with the responsibility to direct the course of destiny of the nation, to lead it on to the path of progress and prosperity. All of whom had failed the Sierra Leone people.

    The people’s question is; why has Sierra Leone governments failed to put in place a solid and sustainable economic structure that could stand the test of times, like the ebola effect. With all the wealth of knowledgeable people of this country had produced, of which many had had the opportunity to serve the nation.

    They completely neglected the country and the masses. They had failed to help the country elevate to progress and development.

    Today, we are seeing the beginning of a crumbled and failed state. It is far from hope that this APC government could remedy the situation; neither the SLPP we had already known can be trusted.

    The Sierra Leone people have lost trust and confidence in both the APC and SLPP; these parties have outlived their usefulness in this country. Sierra Leone needs stronger political parties with new set of politicians, competent people with good track record that are willing to serve the nation earnestly with sincerity of purpose, to challenge the traditional parties in the forthcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. If the need arises form a coalition of parties.

    This is why every conscious Sierra Leonean should come together. When collective efforts are directed towards a common goal, we are able to achieve great feats and redirect our destiny towards a better future. As these efforts are intensified, our ability to salvage this country will increase remarkably.

    The source of this power is the cooperation of individuals in unity. When we unite in solidarity with strong resolve, a virtuous goal will be achieved.

  4. Dathan Jones,

    Since you have become the mouthpiece of the shameless Julius Bio, tell him to do his political research work very well and publish the results online for everyone to read. I can assure you that his chicken-legged feet will be held on fire till they are roasted beyond recognition. Amen.

  5. “I have read from Sierra Leonean people on the corrupt and irreparable practices of the current APC Government, including President Ernest Koroma, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, Messrs Jimmy Kandeh and Banja Tejan-Sie, American Alie Kabba, etc., but I want to hear what Mr. Julius Bio has to say about this reckless, bleeding and woeful standing state of the country, if he really cares and up to the job. Amen.”- Mustache Moustache

    Why do you want to hear from Maada Bio now that the Chicken has escaped from the loop? Maada Bio has never shied away from his sacred duty as a statesman and a politician to voice his fears about the way and manner the Koroma led government has been running the economy and the repercussions that the country will face. If you check the records for some of his write-ups and speeches you would see evidences of what I am talking about and what you are demanding now.

    The unfortunate part of it all is that many of you were so distracted by the APC propaganda that you did not pay heed to his clarion calls to the government over these years.

    Currently, anything said or written after the fact, save for the write up of Dr. Tengbeh who seems to proffer possible remedial measures to bring the economy back, is for political gains.

    Despite the fact that Maada Bio is busy putting his research thesis together, be rest assured that he will hammer home what he has been doing since President Koroma took the wrong turn in state governance.

  6. A young man went to see Papa Sheki, after he surreptitiously handed power to late President Momoh in 1985 and he said to him “Pa e hevi oh”. Pa Sheki looked at him and said ” Borbor, you just tote de KATA you say e hevi, the load get for kam.” History always repeats itself? Back to Dr Spencer!

    But what have we learnt from the true scenario above? As usual, we read, we laughed, we relaxed.

  7. Dr. Julius Spencer,

    By your own calligraphic style of writing above, you clearly and cleverly depicted the state of affairs in the country.

    One of the photos in the article shows the Government of Salone is perceived as a clean and tough chicken; and The People who voted the Government as being haggard and very weak minded. Indeed, what a pitiful and shameful description of our country with less than 40% literacy rate.

    I have read from Sierra Leonean people on the corrupt and irreparable practices of the current APC Government, including President Ernest Koroma, Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, Messrs Jimmy Kandeh and Banja Tejan-Sie, American Alie Kabba, etc., but I want to hear what Mr. Julius Bio has to say about this reckless, bleeding and woeful standing state of the country, if he really cares and up to the job. Amen.

  8. It is not only the length of the President’s motorcade that should be reduced, Dr Spencer but also the size of his bloated cabinet.

    Why have such an obscenely large cabinet? Some small Ministries have more than two political heads and those heads are not geriatrics, but energetic officials who should be prepared to put in quality time on their jobs. And then, of course, there is the ever-increasing Commissions. I have lost count of the number!

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