A low-key independence celebration for the people of Sierra Leone

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2013

Cotton Tree - FreetownThe people of Sierra Leone are today marking 52 years of independence from Britain. But with economic hardship and massive unemployment – estimated at over 70% of the economically active population, this year’s celebration is a quiet affair.

Despite deafening government propaganda that standards of living in the country have risen since 2007, not many people are out celebrating the country’s independence today.

There is serious fuel shortage in the country. Residents of the capital Freetown and other major cities – such as Bo, Kenema and Makeni are reported to be suffering from the lack of petrol, electricity blackouts and shortage of clean drinking water.

Reports from Freetown say that the capital is today eerily quiet, with few signs of independence celebration.

The main event planned by the government to mark today’s historical event is the annual presidential speech at the Brookfields Stadium in Freetown, where a procession of military, police, school children and other institutions will march to the stadium.

Sierra Leone Independence2At the conclusion of the president’s speech on the state of the nation, musicians will perform at the stadium.

But there are fears of violence breaking out, as is usual at such events, involving fans of the country’s top musicians. At the top of today’s list of entertainers at the stadium is the notorious LAJ.

“People are going about their usual business, struggling to find means to feed their families and cannot afford to celebrate” – says Osman Kamara in Freetown.

“I am staying at home today with my wife and children. We will not be going to the stadium as we are afraid of violence and hooliganism.”

But after wasting more than $400 million on a hydro-electricity project – Bumbuna, which at the best of times is only producing 15 megawatts of electricity – barely enough to power a village, the government says it has resolved the technical problems that have brought the Bumbuna turbines to a standstill for the past six months.

Sierra Leoneans are having to stretch their daily budgets in order to make ends meet. And despite government’s gloating about rising agricultural production, prices of basic foodstuff are very high and rising.

President koroma - Feb 2013Mr. Francis Bangura who lives in Freetown, is a graduate earning less than Le150, 000 (one hundred and fifty-thousand Leones) – less than £30 salary a month. (Photo: President Koroma).

He told the Sierra Leone Telegraph this morning that; “What a remarkable day, as Mama Salone shed tears of dirge and melancholy. She celebrates her 52nd birthday in peace, though with shattered dreams.”

After 52 years of independence from colonial rule, Sierra Leone is nowhere near considering herself truly independent.

The country may be out of life-support after peace returned in 2001 – following a bloody ten year war, but there is little doubt it is taking too long in intensive care.

The country is slowly being resuscitated through massive borrowing and donor aid, rather than the injection of private sector investments and indigenous wealth creation.

Sierra Leone Independence3The government is running an almost bankrupt economy of its own making.

Not only is the amount of money being raised through taxation less than anticipated, but government’s spending on non-essential expenditure items is also rising very fast.

The government’s taxation policy is now in tatters, as its highly vaunted Goods and Services Tax (GST) was this week brought into disrepute, when president Koroma surprisingly used presidential decree to prohibit several tax exemptions he had granted to foreign companies.

But analysts believe that those tax exemptions are central to the licence agreement approved by the country’s parliament and signed by the president in 2011 with several foreign companies operating in the country.

ADDAXThe generous tax incentives being enjoyed by foreign companies were granted in return for millions of dollars paid to the government in 2011, which boosted the country’s GDP figures for that year.

In 2012 the country enjoyed another surge in GDP of more than 15%, as international investment in the country’s iron ore mines started to filter into the economy.

A 15% rise in iron ore production by African Minerals Ltd in 2011 and the one-off payment of millions of dollars in royalties to the government, has skewed the country’s economic growth projections, which many believe will revert to its expected annual growth trajectory of 6% in 2013/2014.

iron ore production in sierra leonePrior to this one-off surge in iron ore mining in 2011/12, Sierra Leone’s annul economic growth had been steady at 4.5%.

It is now expected that annual GDP growth will continue at 6% for the next three years at least, while China – the country’s leading consumer of iron ore, recovers from its falling industrial production.

This predicted fall in GDP is not good news for a government that has, in the last five years, become accustomed to spending its way out of economic mess, through borrowing and international donor handouts.

But there are rumours that with recent allegations of rising corruption among senior government ministers and officials, significant sums of money pledged by donors have been frozen.

cholera in Sierra LeoneThe British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) is said to have suspended remittances to the government of Sierra Leone, while it conducts an investigation into allegations of £36 million of British aid to Sierra Leone having been misappropriated.

At the end of last year, a total of $13 million went missing from both the country’s mineral resources fund and the malaria fund.

Twenty-nine people have appeared in court, accused of embezzling $5 million from the malaria fund, including a government minister and other senior officials.

Roads in BoBut the government has gone quiet on a press statement it released last December, confirming the disappearance of $8 million from the mineral resources fund.

The mineral resources fund was set up to help rehabilitate and develop poor mining communities.

The malaria fund was set up and funded by Bill Gates and the British government who is committed to spending $1 billion towards fighting malaria.

There are reports of government ministers – including the president, living opulent lifestyles and building mansions in the capital Freetown and in their respective hometowns in the provinces, using embezzled government funds.

A new ministerial mansionSuch flagrant abuse of power and impunity is sure to continue to destroy any chance of Sierra Leone recovering from the ashes of war and destitution of poverty.

Sierra Leone is 52 years old today. But to repeat those pungent words of Mr. Francis Bangura who lives in Freetown:

“What a remarkable day, as Mama Salone shed tears of dirge and melancholy. She celebrates her 52nd birthday in peace, though with shattered dreams.”

 

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