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Two Years and Counting: What Does the Future Hold for President Koroma's Government?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph Editorial Team
18 September 2009

Much has been written and said about President Koroma’s first two years in office, but very little as to what is in store for his government and the people of Sierra Leone, as he starts counting down to the end of his first term in power. 

Although reports of his progress review have been largely mixed, what is clear is that the intensity of the analyses has focused largely on the performance of the government in achieving the goals and targets they set for themselves, and the lofty promises they made to the people in 2007 - ˜The Agenda for Change”. 

Some critics have been quick to conclude that the government’s Agenda for Change is now in tatters, as the savage pounding of the global economic downturn takes its toll on the country’s fragile economy. The expected exodus of foreign direct investments into the country has not materialised, as potential investors latched on to their depleting purse strings. Plans for public sector reforms aimed at rooting out corruption and maladministration are still at the drawing board, with very little signs of implementation. 

The inability of government to generate much needed revenue from declining export trade, in an economy where only three out of every ten of its citizens have the propensity to pay taxes, has been excruciating. For a country that is yet to wean itself from high international aid dependency, 2007/2009 may well be a period that the President would wish to forget. But can he? 

Bedeviled by allegations of impropriety and corruption - the notorious “Wanzagate” gun boat scandal, the Income Electrix double accounting fiasco, the purchase of two clapped out unseaworthy ferries using tax payers hard earned social security funds, have left many questions unanswered. The seriousness and commitment of the government in applying strict standards of financial probity and due diligence are also being called into question. 

Success in providing intermittent supply of electricity in the capital city Freetown, has been marred by charges of inefficient use of limited funds which otherwise could have been spent on the completion of the Bumbuna project. As the President completes his two years in office, the long awaited electricity supply from Bumbuna seems like many light years away from President Koroma’s reach. The celebrations will have to wait for now. 

Bumbuna promises to generate over 50MW of precious electricity, but with current cost overruns, no one really knows how economically viable this high risk state enterprise is likely to be. Government economists are yet to produce a business model that demonstrates its cost-effectiveness and economic sustainability. 

Recent water shortage in a country endowed with plenty of rainfall (too much some would say), caused by burst water pipes, must have seen the President’s blood pressure hitting the roof, as cries of maladministration and incompetence grew louder. The pipe has been mended and water is now flowing. But citizens of Freetown are once again left wondering how long before the next shortage comes?

The government will no doubt be looking back at its first two years with some satisfaction, given their recent signing of funding agreements for and commissioning of major road infrastructure projects, targeting especially the political heartlands of the opposition. The opposition SLPP has of course been quick in blowing the whistle at what they regard as their success whilst in power just two years ago. But, it is unlikely that the cry of “pull na doe government” will stop the celebrations, as real government success stories are pretty much hard to come by.  

The government continues to face widespread condemnation for its alleged acquiescence in what was regarded as a politically motivated attack by its supporters on the Offices of the opposition SLPP and allegations of rape. This episode has cast a dark shadow on the rather lukewarm rapprochement that was developing between the leader of the SLPP opposition and President Koroma, as the later failed to out rightly and unconditionally condemn the attack. 

As State House released the Executive Summary of the Report of the Commission of Enquiry into the violence and rape allegations, the full Report is yet to be made public, despite calls by the opposition and civil society groups for transparency. Commentators across the political divide agree that, the longer the President procrastinates, the closer it gets to 2011 and the likelihood for fallout from this violent episode to polarise the 2012 elections. Will the President now publish the Full Report? 

On the question of civil liberty, especially with regards press freedom, the proverbial jury is still out, as fall out from the banning of the opposition radio station continues in the court room. The use of the Public Order Act by the government to curtail free speech has strained an already fragile relationship between the government and the media, with the latter seeking a ruling from the Supreme Court of the land, for the Act to be repealed as promised by the President himself at the 2007 elections campaign rallies. 

But a new twist in the tail has emerged, with the President now being accused of usurping the power and authority of the Supreme Court, by stating in a letter to journalists - the timeline within which the Supreme Court will deliver a verdict on the abrogation of the Public Order Act. This move by the President is seen as gross interference by the executive into the work of the judiciary, and there are calls for him to withdraw the statement. 

The Anti Corruption Commission continues to hack at the heels of the “small fish”, while the citizens wait impatiently for the big catch. The President is yet to make good on his promise to separate the functions of the Attorney General from those of the Minister of Justice, in order to avoid conflict of interests and the usurping of the powers and authority of the ACC Commissioner.  Will the President now after two years honour his pledge?  

If the government is hurriedly hoping to see the back of 2009, what hope then for a better and brighter 2010? While no one can answer this question with certainty, what can be said though is that if recent forecast by the O.E.C.D. of an imminent global economic upturn, especially in the western industrialised nations is anything to go by, then President koroma ought to begin to sow the seeds of economic recovery through sound monetary and fiscal policies that could inspire business and investor confidence. 

If the global recession lingers till 2011, and the government continues to put the cart before the horse, with misplaced priorities exacerbated by profligacy and poor governance, then the outcome of the 2012 elections will be a foregone conclusion, with the opposition SLPP back in power. 

With the declining trends in export earnings, worsening inflation and the lack of foreign direct investments, government’s spending on infrastructure development and indeed public services would be at risk of grinding to a halt by 2011.  

Bumbuna may well yield immense political capital for the government if by 2010 it starts to bring uninterrupted electricity into the homes and businesses of the people; but at what cost? Who pays to keep Bumbuna running? And how long before the government runs out of cash to sustain this high risk state-owned enterprise? If by 2011 electricity from Bumbuna has to be rationed due to high running costs and poor revenue generation, this will most certainly spell doom for the government at the 2012 polls. 

Britain is Sierra Leone’s largest single donor of international aid. Over 40% of the country’s public expenditure is accounted for by donor funds. Both the British Labour government and the main opposition Conservative Party have recently announced plans to introduce tighter controls on international aid, including a new system of payment by results. 

The implication of this change in British Foreign Aid policy is that Sierra Leone stands to lose millions of pounds because of poor governance, corruption and maladministration. If the President continues to ignore the leakages and under-capacity, he may well be staring at his exit from State House. 

No doubt, as it was in 2006/2007, so will it be in 2011, when we expect to see international donors suspending funding well before the 2012 elections to avoid risking their tax payers’ money being used for election campaigns. 

President Koroma’s government may reluctantly be faced with the decision to impose a tight squeeze on public spending by the second half of 2011. There are difficult times ahead. 

As the President, his government and the entire nation look towards another three years of APC party rule, there are vital questions to be asked, answers to which may well determine the outcome of the 2012 elections:

  • Will the President adopt a more inclusive form and style of government, with qualified and experienced “non-northerners” in key roles?

  • Will the President dispense with under performing ministers and departmental heads before the end of 2009?

  • Will the President devolve power down to local people through their local authorities, to take responsibility for key decisions and actions that would impact upon their communities in terms of jobs, education, local planning, health, and social services?

  • Will the President open up cross-party dialogue with the opposition and stakeholders on the formulation of a National Development Plan that will have broad appeal and sustained cross-party consensus?

The President may not forget 2009 in a hurry, but time is fast running out for the big break in combating economic decline, the fight against poverty, social injustice and lawlessness, ahead of 2012. 

But, after two years at the helm of state governance and with mixed reviews of his progress, will the President now act wisely and decisively to turn his fortunes around? Only time will tell.  

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