Sierra Leone Telegraph: 22 July 2017
Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Momodu Kargbo said Tuesday that the government of Sierra Leone considers extreme poverty as a prevalence of injustice and a serious threat to national security.
He made the comment at a three day ministerial meeting of the UN high-level political forum on sustainable development, “Eradicating poverty and promoting prosperity in a changing world”, which concluded at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The three-day forum panel carried out an in-depth review of the following goals: ‘Ending poverty in all its forms everywhere; end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture; ensure healthy lives and promote well being for all at all ages; achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls; build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation; conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and strengthen the means of implementation and revitalize the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development that will be considered each year.’
Minister Kargbo told the panel which was convened under the auspices of the UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), that Sierra Leone had reduced extreme poverty by about 31 percent in 2004 and about 14 percent in 2015.
He stressed that while the government’s efforts are laudable, there are approximately 900,000 Sierra Leoneans – about 14 percent of the country’s 7 million people, who are living in extreme poverty.
He assured the panel that in the past year, the government of Sierra Leone has prioritized extreme poverty intervention in key result areas.
“In the short to medium term, among others, our government through its national commission for social action provided employment and conditional cash transfer to more than 10,000 youths; we provide unconditional cash transfer to more than 21,004 vulnerable households in nine of the fourteen districts of Sierra Leone,” he said.
“We remain committed to supporting our post war affected persons with special focus on war widows, war wounded and amputees, child orphans and victims of sexual violence in our registry. About 9,600 women have been provided with basic social protection packages in the past year.
“We have also continued to provide massive assistance to thousands of survivors of the Ebola disease outbreak. Indeed we find it exceedingly unacceptable that we currently having to incur an annual food import bill of 350 million when domestic potential are enormous towards minimizing this expenditure and household poverty.
“Within our economic diversification agenda therefore, we are also strategically pursuing a made in Sierra Leone agenda to maximize use of local potential towards meeting our consumption needs, while expanding export opportunities.
“Furthermore, as minister of finance and economic development of Sierra Leone, I have in the past 11 months seen through the enactment of a comprehensive Public Finance Management Bill, aimed at boosting our domestic revenue position. We have scaled up service delivery capacity of the state.
“Also as part of our efforts to advance domestic financing of our development, our first toll road will come into operation in a few weeks. Ladies and gentlemen, the critical area where the role of our partners remain more crucial to our work is curbing illicit financial flows, that we the LDCs cannot do alone. It is heart rendering that our continent Africa loses $350 -$360 billion to illicit financial flow”.
On May 29, 2017, the World Bank and Minister Kargbo jointly organized a Sierra Leone Development Finance Forum chaired by President Ernest Koroma. The aim of the event was to “unlock private investment in Sierra Leone so as to end extreme poverty and promote shared prosperity and development”, according to a World Bank press statement.
Paraminder Barr, the World Bank Country Manager to Sierra Leone said $2.5 billion would be available to support the private sector in fragile countries like Sierra Leone.
But critics of the government have denounced the administration for relying on donor partners to maintain its economy as unsustainable; and that the World Bank’s new approach of financing development puts poverty reduction at risk.
Critics have also highlighted food insecurity, lack of education, inadequate health infrastructures, poor transportation, and corruption within the government, as major contributors to extreme poverty in Sierra Leone.
When asked what the government is doing about curbing corruption – during a one on one interview at the Lexington Hotel in New York Wednesday, Minister Kargbo said: “I am not going to turn my back on corruption and say it’s not a problem; I won’t be doing justice to my society to say there is no corruption, so it is there. I think the issue is what you have asked – what is the government doing about it?
“Right from the word go the Anti-corruption Commission was set up to oversee, prosecute, investigate all issues of corruption. And it is not only the corruption itself. It’s about educating people about why corruption is bad, why corruption is not good, why we should try to do things as set out in the rules and regulations.
“Again not wanting to defend, but some of these things when you sit down and examine them critically, some of them are procedural – not respecting the rules, not respecting regulations, not going by the system as set – that should be followed. But we are continually taking measures to address this matter.
“The most recent one is the Pay no Bribe Project, this is an arrangement initially jointly funded by DFID – United Kingdom Department for International Development in which a corruption hotline is set up to report corruption, so the issue of corruption remains challenging, you understand?”
“If you recall also the president when he came, he said there will be no sacred cows in the whole system. But the biggest development that has happened is the recently enacted Public Financial Management Act, and that is going to replace the Government Budget and Accountability Act. It is a whole new way of doing things in Sierra Leone. It came into law last year, and this year we are just now concluding the rules and regulations. So one of the main things in the budget this year is to make Public Financial Management rigid. It is a new way of doing things.
“So the issue of corruption is being tackled in various ways through various projects. More importantly for me, through education right at the secondary school level there are what you now call Integrity Clubs. These are trying to catch the young people who are the leaders of tomorrow.
“We are already trying to drill into them about all of these issues. But I want to conclude by saying that it is a challenge and nobody should turn his back on the issue of corruption; and we are doing our best to resolve matters as they come.”
Stay tuned for the complete interview with Mr. Kargbo.