Government of Sierra Leone did not spend $24 per litre on fuel subsidy  

Dr Jonathan Bonopha Tengbe 

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 November 2016

This is not the first time Sierra Leone is experiencing austerity measures. But what is certain is that each time the APC is in power, the country will be plunged into economic chaos.

But the difference this time is that the authorities are seemingly in denial of its real root cause.

The statements made on the BBC on 15 November 2016, by the minister of finance – Mr. Momodu Kargbo, clearly indicate government’s refusal to accept full responsibility for the financial difficulties it now faces, with dire consequences for the people of Sierra Leone.

And whatever your opinion of his handling of the economy, minister Kargbo owes it to the country to ensure that as a public servant, he approaches his duties with diligence and honesty.

Like many Sierra Leoneans who listened to the minister speaking on the BBC Focus on Africa programme, I am of the view that, the ‘government whitewashing’ role he was playing on the airwaves, should have been assigned to the information minister who has little credibility left to lose.

For the minister to tell the world that the Koroma government has been subsidizing the pump price of petrol to the tune of $24 per litre (equivalent to $108 per gallon), is at best an arithmetical error – and worse – inconceivably unscrupulous.

children-in-sierra-leone1If minister Kargbo’s assertion was true, then the removal of the subsidy, would have taken the pump price to at least, an unaffordable Le180,000 per litre.

There is little doubt that this incorrect statement – whether deliberate or not, has severely eroded the credibility of the finance minister. Such elementary error does not befit a man on whose shoulders the nation’s budget rests.

By removing the subsidy on fuel despite massive political ramifications, may suggest that the ruling APC is yielding under the exogenous pressure of the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Poverty in saloneBut for the minister to attempt to justify the lifting of the subsidy, by describing the action as a ‘timely opportunity’ for the APC government to overturn the gains its citizens have enjoyed when the going was good, is disingenuous.

What minister Kargbo did not also say is that, the current economic collapse has been caused by the government’s uncontrolled spending, despite numerous calls by the international community and concerned Sierra Leoneans to curb their reckless spending habits.

Now the ‘chicken has come to roost’ in Sierra Leone, at a time when many countries in the world are containing inflationary pressures, by taking full advantage of the drop in global oil prices.

The finance minister was rather complacent during the BBC interview, stating that Sierra Leone has a revenue problem. I do not subscribe to the argument that our revenues have significantly fallen, despite the NRA registering huge increase in domestic revenue collection since 2011.

The slower GDP growth started during the Ebola years of 2014/15, which also saw the closure of the two largest iron ore mines – African Minerals and London Mining. But the NRA’s annual tax collection forecast clearly indicates positive trend for government revenues; assuming we can believe the NRA figures.

Therefore, the APC government’s financial management strategy of finding new ways of raising revenue from its tax–fatigued citizens, in order to finance its frivolous spending spree, is ridiculous.

By its own austerity measures – targeting a series of selective expenditures, the government has clearly indicated the cause of the economic problem facing the country: the lack of disciplined expenditure control.

The ineffectiveness of the austerity measures, in part due to government’s reluctance to eliminate whole expenditure line items (even for calling cards), is the reason it has removed the fuel subsidy – ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’.

This decision to milk its citizens was sugar coated by the finance minister as a necessary ‘sacrifice’ after the government’s recent payment of salary increases to public sector workers.

Why should the government stoop so low, by referring to the slight welfare improvement experienced by the people as a ‘gesture’?

But the most baffling aspect of this fuel subsidy saga is the phony arithmetic that the minister and his government have been using to explain their actions.

petrol queuing in saloneThe figures quoted by the government in their initial subsidy withdrawal press release just could not add up, until a subsequent press release – in response to pressures from the public, made clear the distinction between direct and indirect subsidies.

But the indirect subsidy, defined as ‘forgone taxes’ is less clear. One would have thought that withdrawal of this category of subsidy simply implies that the government will henceforth be collecting taxes from the petroleum companies, to further boost its revenue base.

The expectation therefore is for those companies to bear the tax burden. However, the nature of the pump price increases, suggest that the entire incidence of the tax or indirect portion of subsidy, will be borne by the poor ordinary citizens.

It is grossly unfair that government would protect the profitability of the petroleum companies at the expense of the welfare of its citizens; or does this lend credence to the accusation that the very politicians behind the subsidy policy own some of these companies?

It was also not helpful that the Minister would go on to vehemently deny any show of force by the police to intimidate would be demonstrators, notwithstanding the picture and video evidence on social media.

My advice to the finance minister is to avoid using his ‘credibility’ to defend dubious APC positions, since there are many out there who look up to him as a role model.

Tejan kabbah - former president 1Thanks to the effort of the late President Kabba, the police force was restructured after the war, and Keith Biddle was brought in as Inspector General. Many officers received state-of-the-art police training from British trainers and institutions.

All those efforts now seem to be slipping down the drain, as the police force continuously find itself in compromising situations whenever public interests are in conflict with the interests of the APC Party.

Thus, the police, who should lead by the powers of their example, are unfortunately leading by the examples of their power.

Few days ago, they were parading their mighty muscles on the streets of Freetown to prevent anyone who wished to exercise his/her right to demonstrate against the fuel price increases from doing so.

The press statement issued by the Assistant Inspector General of police was a veiled threat to the public. It demanded that leaders of demonstrations must “identify themselves”, even though many of the civil society movements are registered and well known to the police.

It was probably hoped that by this intimidating requirement, would-be protesters and their leaders would feel threatened and therefore desist from their planned protest.

In fact, it is now apparent that citizens are required to first ‘obtain permission from’ the police, rather than simply ‘notify’ them in advance of any demonstration.

Rioting in kabala2Recent mismanagement of public engagement by the police, such as the Kabala youth protest which ended in tragedy, have eroded the image of the police, who were once regarded as a force for good.

Needless to say, that no APC government has spared the press. I am referring here to well-orchestrated strategy aimed at weakening free press, and not just summary arrests, such as the Tam Bayoh incident.

I believe that the biggest dent the APC has made on the fourth estate was the abduction of one of the most active fighters for the public and voice of the people – Dr Sylvia Blyden.

It was a big loss to the nation, on the day the President appointed such a public advocate into his government as his executive assistant, and now minister of social welfare.

Since her latest appointment in March this year, Dr Blyden has been struggling between patriotism and loyalty, as she struggles to find money to manage the affairs of the Ministry of Social welfare as well as tackle corruption in the ministry. State House has persistently refused to provide funding for her ministry.

But how do you fight a system of which you are a part?

Constructive criticism demands that we give Dr Blyden credit for daring to raise her head within the APC party. But would she take off the ‘red’ lenses for a moment to criticize the government for the vulnerable state of the country, so as to protect her credibility and prove that citizenship subsumes partisan interests?

Until his promotion to Attorney General with a grandiose plan of leading the APC party, the appointment of Joseph F. Kamara as Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission, was thought to be a good move.

But in hindsight, we now understand why no meaningful prosecution resulted from his long lasting tenure, despite a myriad of corruption cases that were investigated.

His inaction at the ACC caused many to believe that the commission is a toothless bulldog, an undoing by the APC, of one of the most important post-war institutions established by the SLPP government under the late President Tejan Kabba.

Thriving on the credibility of eminent personalities in the country is an aged-old tactic of the APC, ever since the late Siaka Stevens made the concept popular with the saying ”when the fox hasn’t got the grape, it is sour”.

Stevens was successful in attracting Dr Abdulai Conteh, Dr A.F Joe-Jackson, Dr Bu-Buakei Jabbie, lawyer Thaimu Bangura (RIP) and many other educated role models into his kind of politics, in a bid to prove that anyone is corruptible.

Once contaminated, it took some of them many years to regain their image and credibility in society. And this APC culture has persisted till this day, with the simple mantra: BUY, USE, and THROW AWAY.

We saw in the aftermath of the AFRC that some of those who suffered most, were mainly people of goodwill, associated with a bad cause. Thus, to all those whose credibility is at risk under the APC, beware.

And in the words of the apostle Peter: “ Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).

Dr Jonathan Bonopha Tengbe is a flagbearer aspirant of the SLPP for the presidential candidacy in 2018.

 

3 Comments

  1. The Minister Mr. Momodu Kargbo was bold enough to even lie to the whole world that people were sensitized about the removal of fuel subsidy. For the fact that the fuel price rose from an agreed Le5,500 by parliament to Le6,000 shows how this Government manipulate things to suit their interest.

    What then is the role of parliament? Why should the parliament discuss and agree on a price and only for ministers to decide to change it?

    Parliament should take the Government to court for going against their resolution on the recent price of fuel.
    On the planned demonstration and deploying of riot police and water cannon on the streets of Freetown, the Minister went further to expose the government to public ridicule, because he denied that riot police were on the street and that journalist were relying on photos – not on reality on the ground.

    The true picture is that riot police and Hot Water Cannon were on the streets of Freetown that day, and ready to do away with any soul that attempted to demonstrate. People cannot be ruled by fear. The government wants to rule by fear. People have right to express their views and the only way this can be done is through demonstration and protest.

    The fact of the matter is that this nation is in economic collapse and financial bankruptcy. Our economy is depreciating day in and day out. Our people are dying and rate of beggars have increased drastically. The Government is running the economy through a remote control system.

    Regional divide is on the increase with many ministers and top ranking official all coming from the north. Road maintenance is highly financed in the north – more than any other region, with the southeast receiving the least support.

    The long awaited Kenema city street (Hangha and Blama roads) rehabilitation contract was awarded to a local contractor, even though many people protested that it be given to ISU with its excellent road construction record. While over 10 streets have been tarred in Makeni, none has been even paved, let alone tarred in Kenema since 2014 to date.

    All these roads were tarred in Makeni by reputable international construction companies (Salcost and Salini) while the two targeted streets in Kenema have been awarded to the worst construction company in Sierra Leone whose ownership and management is left with all to investigate.

    The 2 roads approved in Kenema have just commenced at a very slow pace and badly handled even at the initial start up phase. Poor work is going to be done by this company. This same company has spent nine years to tar 7 miles road linking Taiama and Njala University.

    In Makeni, when the people protested against the transfer of Bishop Henry Aruna to Makeni because of his ethnic background, the government heeded to their cry and he was never allowed to reside in Makeni.

    Why then did the government refuse to listen to outcry of the people of Kenema about awarding the contract to this construction company? The Government still went ahead to award the contract to this same company. Something fishy can be deduced from this.

  2. Out of my continuous extensive research on the All Peoples Congress (APC) in Sierra Leone, I have been able to discover that one of the worst mistakes of the state in their appointment of cabinet members under president Ernest Bai Koroma’s government, was the appointment of Mr. Momodu Kargbo to the position of Finance Minister, who seems to have no knowledge about finance, except wasting state money on projects that are of no special benefits. Is he corrupt too?

    This is not the first time Momodu Kargbo is putting responsibility for state financial wastage on the general public. In the recent past, he has been pressing for spending the completion of the Mamamah airport, when people are dying of hunger on a daily basis with no care and provision for state assistant.

    No wonder, this only happens under the APC regime. But the SLPP is coming and Sierra Leone will become “ONE COUNTRY-ONE PEOPLE” again.

  3. In my opinion, the only APC leader that spoke the truth to the nation was the late president J.S Momoh, when he equivocally stated that he had failed the people of Sierra Leone. But probably that happened because his intention was to become a pastor ( be truthful) before his predecessor late Siaka Stevens selected him for his own protection against any arrests when he retired.

    Some people also believe that late president Momoh who was commonly known as “DANDOGO”( chief of the fools) was supposed to be the final chief till President Koroma showed up as ” MUNKU “which is now a different story, because he has a serious problem with the truth and is very dishonest with the people, which can be proven with the new austerity program, because they keep justifying it with series of lies.

    To tell people the truth requires less mental energy and will be shorter to explain and you will earn respect from the people.

    My main concern for the country is that history is repeating itself because late president Momoh gave late Bombay Kamara (head of police) the power to silence his political opponents. And I am afraid President Koroma is repeating the same mistake by giving extra powers to the current interior minister (Polo Conteh) who happens to be the nephew of late president Momoh and Bambay Kamara to intimidate the people and furthermore display the death rope in front of the media.

    My advice to Palo Conteh is don’t repeat the mistakes of your past relatives, because “what goes around comes around “and don’t forget that ” who ever digs a pit shall fall in it.”

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