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President Koroma Signs new Contracts with Ministers, as Tony Blair Warns of Tougher Times ahead

The Sierra Leone Telegraph Editorial Team
15 May 2009

As Tony Blair basked in the hot sunny beaches of Freetown amidst cheering fishermen and hawkers, reporters were keen to clarify his role in developing the country’s economy, in particular his intentions for Sierra Leone’s ailing tourism industry. The former Prime Minister of Great Britain is heading a team of British public sector reform and inward investment experts, to assist in building the capacity of the government of Sierra Leone in delivery of its 2007 ‘Agenda for Change’ manifesto.

Tony Blair warned his friend – President Koroma, to expect very difficult times ahead, as nervous investors and cash strap donors now expect a lot more for their money, as the Global economic downturn worsens. Recent events in Sierra Leone, such as the cocaine saga and the violent attack on the opposition makes Tony Blair’s job of assisting President Koroma all the more difficult, in comparison with similar efforts in Rwanda.

Rwanda is regarded by Tony Blair as his model of ‘good governance’ in the African continent, and would no doubt wish that Sierra Leone could emulate this example, with the assistance of his team of experts that are working alongside President Koroma’s ministers.     

Tony Blair’s Africa Governance Initiative which champions the cause of uplifting Africa from poverty also warns that “foreign investment is drying up, donor remittances are declining, and NGOs are struggling to raise funds.”   This warning comes as the Anti – Corruption Commissioner, Abdul Tejan Cole reports of a 300% increase in notified cases of corruption in the period 2007 – 2008, in Sierra Leone.             

Although Tony Blair’s optimism about Sierra Leone’s future is shared amongst most Sierra Leoneans, concerns are being raised as to the transparency of his team working alongside ministers in this poverty stricken country. The lack of transparency and probity is becoming even more worrying for elected parliamentarians, whose job of holding the government to account is frequently hampered by the intransigence and secrecy of ministers and heads of government departments.

Has progress on the achievements of the ‘Blairite Quango’ been reported to parliament? Given the importance of the work of Blair’s team of experts to the development of Sierra Leone, would it not be appropriate for lessons learnt and experiences gained by the ministers, to be catalogued and produced in the form of Operating Manuals or Best Practice Guides?

The legacy and ownership of learning by ministers and heads of departments are paramount in ensuring sustainability and continuity. Far too often we see the benefits of such Public Sector Development Programmes dissipate, once the foreign experts have boarded their flights out of the country.

There is no doubt that significant corrective actions and measures are being taken by government ministers and heads of departments, under the advice of Tony Blair and his team. Unfortunately the lack of transparency and openness makes it difficult for citizens to see the changes that are taking place across government departments.

According to recent press statement by State House, President Koroma has signed new performance contracts with his ministers. But the question surely that needs asking is: if only a handful of ministers are benefitting from the expertise of Tony Blair’s team, how is the President going to objectively measure and compare their performance against those that are not receiving this critical learning support? Is the President going to publish the terms of those new contracts as he promised the people in his April 2009 televised broadcast?

The people of Sierra Leone are confident that Tony Blair’s reputation as a committed ‘public sector reformer’ will ensure that the disciplines of good governance, transparency and probity are driven deep into the heart of President Koroma’s government.   

Tony Blair has identified the potential that Sierra Leone has, and the huge investments required for developing and harnessing that potential. The people of Sierra Leone are equally cognisant of the former British Prime Minister’s role as adviser to some of the World’s most powerful financial institutions. They, like President Koroma are highly optimistic that, Cousin Blair will succeed in using his global banking connections to leverage the much needed investment that will kick-start the country’s economy. All hopes are pinned on Tony Blair.   

Equally, Sierra Leone’s private sector are right to be concerned about the prospect of the huge foreign direct investments – approximately one Billion British Pounds, that may end up on the government’s ‘gravy train’. It is well documented that over 70% of foreign investments in Sierra Leone disappear as ‘capital flight’.

It is incumbent upon Tony Blair to encourage transparency, due diligence and probity, as and when he succeeds in helping to raise this much needed capital investment. It is important to stress that this investment capital be made directly accessible to private businesses in Sierra Leone, and managed by a new private sector led partnership, comprising of The Bank of Sierra Leone, The Chamber of Commerce and Industry, The Ministry of Trade and Industry and two of the main Commercial Banks.

This partnership body must receive and make decisions on all applications for Investment Loans. It should also be responsible for monitoring and evaluating the success and impact of every business initiative financed under this new scheme.        

No doubt, the ‘Blairite Team’ will also be instructing the Koroma government to conduct national Labour Market Skills Audit; formulate and establish Job Skills Training Programmes, which will be delivered by private sector training providers, to meet the needs of industry as the economy grows.

One would estimate that initially, Sierra Leone would need at least 10,000 skilled building construction workers to meet the immediate demand for new hotels, new roads, new sewage and waste disposal systems, new shopping retail outlets and new industrial premises.

The government should therefore urgently establish a ‘National Centre of Excellence for Building Construction’, through a new public-private sector partnership involving; the University of Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Lands and Planning, the Chamber of Trade and Commerce, the Ministry of Education, the large building construction and engineering companies, to pioneer this renaissance in national building construction.

The proposed ‘Building Construction Skills Centre of Excellence’ should be private sector driven, with responsibility for brokering skills training contracts with local training providers across the country.

Sierra Leone is not short of potential manpower to meet the demands of a growing economy, with over 60% of the country’s population aged 16 – 45 years, who are highly intelligent, highly enthusiastic, hard working, determined to succeed and resilient.

If the attitude towards work by some of the young people in Sierra Leone is perceived as poor, then surely it is a testament of the failure of government to develop the productive capacities of people and industry. No one is born with work ethics or positive attitude towards work. These are learnt behaviours. Even some of our government ministers are just as poor in work ethics. No one had trained or prepared them for the world of work, not to mention ministerial job skills training, which is why the nation is grateful for the effort of Tony Blair’s team in providing them with on-the-job training.

Tony Blair remarked also that “the developing countries that weather the economic storm most successfully will be those that have a positive, coherent, and ambitious vision for the future, and can show they are serious about implementing it.”  

President Koroma should urgently solicit the help of the UNDP and World Bank to assist in formulating a ten year Economic Development Strategy, which has cross- party political consensus and mandated by parliament. Such cross-party consensus will ensure that a change of government will always leave the national economic development agenda pure and unsullied. No change of government in Sierra Leone should render the National Economic Development Agenda obsolete.

In the twenty months that the President has been in power, he will be the first to agree that the World has changed, and consequently the rules of donors and foreign investors are changing very rapidly. There is no sign of the President revisiting his ‘Agenda for Change’ to ensure that it is consistent with the new world order, which has been precipitated by the current global financial crisis.    

Agreeing new contracts with government ministers is fine, provided that the terms of those contracts are consistent with the need to drive-up the economic growth needed to tackle poverty in Sierra Leone; otherwise ministerial performance targets become meaningless.

Sierra Leone needs to generate an annual income of SIX TRILLION LEONES in order to begin to address economic decline. The country has huge untapped potential to make poverty history, and to start rebuilding a nation fit for the 21st Century. But the government needs to show the world its vision for developing that potential. The Agenda for Change falls well short of that requirement. 

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Editor - Abdul R Thomas