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President Koroma Donates $100,000 to Haiti as Poverty Rises in Sierra Leone

Abdul R Thomas
Editor - The Sierra Leone Telegraph

21 January 2010

Sierra Leone is ranked as one of the three poorest nations in the world. But in the wake of a catastrophic earthquake, of epic proportion in Haiti and Sierra Leone’s massive budget deficit, President Koroma of Sierra Leone has somehow managed to find $100,000, which he has donated to the people of Haiti through the UN Office in Freetown.

This act of benevolence by the President has sparked controversy. Some Sierra Leoneans are asking whether this is misplaced philanthropy, or an enlightened self-interest. Either way, there are many Sierra Leoneans who feel let down and angered by the President’s decision, as increased taxation (the new Goods and Services Tax) and growing poverty, threatens the country’s economic stability.

But supporters of the government are asserting that “for Sierra Leone to be taken seriously by the international community, it has to transform itself from a beggar nation, to a donor nation ready to help the less unfortunate countries around the globe. In sending the money to help Haiti, President Koroma is leading our country to a leadership path, and that is something we need to pursue.” (Cocorioko News – 21 January 2010).

Since news of the earthquake broke on January 12, 2010, every citizen of the world - with a tinge of moral fibre and humanity - has been emotionally touched, as death toll exceeds 200,000, with two million people now left homeless.

With a magnitude of 7.0 and its epicentre spanning a distance of 16 miles west of the capital - Port-au-Prince - much of the city’s infrastructure has been destroyed, including the Presidential palace, Parliament and many other important economic and social structures - businesses, hospitals and schools.

Haiti is regarded as the poorest nation in the Western hemisphere, with a GDP per capita of US 790 Dollar - about $2 per person per day, compared to the average Sierra Leonean earning less than US 50 Cents a day.

Out of 182 countries in the United Nations Human Development Index, Haiti ranked 149th, whilst Sierra Leone languished at the bottom. Haiti has a 50% literacy rate compared to Sierra Leone’s 30%.

Like Sierra Leone, Haiti has consistently ranked among the most corrupt countries in the world, on the Corruption Perceptions Index, with international aid donors contributing about 40% of both nations’ government income.

The response of the world to the cry for help from the people of Haiti has been more than encouraging. It is estimated that a total of US $800 Million has been pledged by Europe, China and the USA, for immediate emergency support and reconstruction work.

There are 9,000 UN troops in Haiti helping with the relief efforts. The USA is committing thousands of marines and logistical support. The world’s humanitarian organisations have all arrived in Haiti to help with saving the lives of those affected.

The Democratic Republic of Congo has announced it is sending $2.5m (£1.5m) in emergency aid, to assist the people of Haiti. But this gesture has come with much criticism from inside the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Citizens of Congo are arguing that after years of brutal civil war, which is still raging in the east of the country, millions of their people live in poverty. The country depends on foreign aid and civil servants frequently go unpaid.

Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade has offered free land to Haitians who want to "return" to Africa, following the devastation caused by the earthquake.

With massive humanitarian support and help, now pouring in from every corner of the world, you may be forgiven, if you are a resident of one of Sierra Leone’s poverty stricken communities in the capital Freetown, to suggest that Haiti does not need $100,000 from another poverty stricken nation that is full of man-made emergency disaster zones.

  Take a look at these pictures (left and below) of the Kroo Bay community in Freetown, and you will see why some Sierra Leoneans feel incensed and outrage at the decision of President Koroma to donate US $100,000 to Haiti. Charity begins at home, they say.

Kroo Bay is a man-made disaster zone; a sprawling slum filled with rubbish and filth. It is home to more than 10,000 people living in appalling rickety shanty structures, made from discarded metal, sticks, rubbish and mud. The people of Kroo Bay are amongst the poorest in Sierra Leone, living side by side with pigs - competing for survival, with the water used as open sewer.

Interviewed by the BBC recently, some of the people of Kroo Bay had this to say: “We have so many problems – shanty houses and the flooding are the most pressing. When we have rains and high tide at the same time, the flooding goes up to waist-height.” says Mohamed Kargbo, 54, secretary of the Kroo Bay Development Committee.

  Abdul Sankoh, 38, lives in Kroo Bay with his wife and eight children. In order to scrape a living, he sells bags of coal when he can and makes 80 US cents per bag. He might sell 100 bags in three weeks.

Sankoh says: “I live here because I have no money,” referring to his ‘pan body’ house, made from metal wrapped around sticks dug into the ground. “I’m penniless. I’m not happy about living here because the situation is so very bad.

Safiata Jalloh, 24, lives in the slum with her husband and two children. She is collecting buckets of dirt from the seabed to make the floor of her shanty house, for which she has to pay rent of 20,000 Leones ($8) a month. During the heavy rains, her family fills 10 bags with sand and dirt to try to protect themselves against the floods.

A Save the Children survey found all the children had respiratory problems such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, as well as a high incidence of malaria, leprosy, chicken pox and grave diarrhoeal illness.

The decision of President Koroma to donate US $100,000 to Haiti has raised many questions with respect to governance, probity, accountability and transparency. Speaking to a senior member of the opposition (under anonymity), ‘this act by the President is impeachable’ he says.

  The President is hoping to raise Le1.4 Trillion though taxation, exports revenue and the international Donors have promised to contribute US $300 Million. But with the 2010 Government Budget running at Le1.5 Trillion, there is a huge shortfall in revenue that the President has to find.

$100,000 may be a drop in the ocean in the context of the mammoth task facing the Haitians, but for the people of Kroo Bay – it could save lives. Did this money come from a Government’s Contingency Fund?

Was there a Contingency Fund provided for in the Government’s 2010 Budget, which was presented to the Parliament of Sierra Leone in December 2009 - if so, what was that contingency to be spent on?

If the US $100,000 did not come from a Contingency Fund, which budget heading did it come from?

How would this US $100,000 gift aid to Haiti, now affect government’s effort in tackling abject poverty, combat disease, lower the obscene rate of child and maternal mortality in Sierra Leone?

  While supporters of the President’s decision argue that the US $100,000 donor aid to Haiti was a humanitarian gesture, offered to a brother in need, the rest of the world watches as the people of Kroo Bay die a slow death.

Is President Koroma’s decision a misplaced act of philanthropy, or an enlightened self-interest?.


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