Sierra Leone government’s obsession with road construction amid growing poverty and rising debt

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 June 2016

ebola-sierra-leone

When a democratically elected government of one of the poorest countries in the world spends over $500 million on infrastructure projects in eight years, leaving millions of people without adequate supply of clean drinking water, electricity and healthcare, one has to wonder what and whose agenda they are pursuing.

Since the end of the brutal civil war in 2001, successive governments of Sierra Leone have adopted a pro-poor development strategy known as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) formulated by the World Bank, the United Nations Development Programme, and the IMF, along with their bilateral partners, through which donor funds are channeled to the country.

But after fifteen years of delivering the PRSP in various permutations – Agenda for Change, Agenda for Prosperity – and spending over $10 billion dollars in post-war reconstruction, Sierra Leone continues to rank as one of the five poorest nations in the world.

Not even the most basic of the UN Sustainable Development Goals have been met, as Sierra Leone teeters on the edge of economic collapse once again. The Koroma government has run out of money. Paying the salaries of public sector workers is becoming a national crisis.

President koroma and victor foh at APC conference 30 april 2015The nation’s foreign debt has risen from almost zero under the previous SLPP government to over $1 billion today, and the government has lost financial credibility. International lenders and investors are holding back.

Access to clean drinking water, electricity, sanitation, education, maternal and child healthcare, all remain massively underfunded and woefully inadequate, after more than two decades of PRSP – until recently dubbed the Agenda for Change, and now the Agenda for Prosperity.

salone poverty1That Sierra Leone should be ranked at the bottom of the Global Human Development Index is no accident. After eight years in power the ruling APC have done very little to address the widespread poverty that exists in the country. They have failed the people of Sierra Leone.

With the exception of a limited and unsustainable World Bank cash distribution scheme, targeting a few communities, which has been described as ‘putting sticky plasters on old sores, rather than addressing the cause of the sores’, 80% of the adult population are unemployed and losing hope of a brighter future.

Trying to create a World Bank funded welfare state in Sierra Leone is unsustainable. It is a waste of resources, and not the answer to addressing the obscene levels of poverty in the country.

Sierra Leoneans are today afflicted by rising inflation and soaring exchange rates, as the value of the national currency – the Leone, continues to slide.

Prices of basic food items in the shops have more than doubled in the last twelve months.

wilkinson road freetown - may 2015The ruling APC party’s obsession with spending hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly designed road construction projects, is not the solution to tackling widespread poverty.

While this obsession can be understood as a necessary evil for those in the government, whose livelihood heavily depend on the kick-backs they get from construction contracts, and the rampant embezzlement of project funds, it cannot be right for the thousands of people that are dying every year of poverty related illness in Sierra Leone.

The Bumbuna hydroelectricity project alone has so far cost over $250 million, providing a miserly 30 Megawatts of electricity at the best of times, instead of its planned 80 Megawatts capacity.

Ministers and state officials have become filthy rich, while 90% of people in the country are without electricity.

The government has recently brought in two gas guzzling generators at a cost of $5 million a month from Ghana, to power the Blackhall Road and Kingtom power stations in the capital.

But these generators can only provide 15 Megawatts of the more than 200 Megawatts of electricity needed in Freetown.

And the latest ruling party propaganda spin and pre-election bribery is: ‘Solar for every home by 2020’.

Five years ago, the ruling APC came up with a five year plan to ensure that every home in the country has access to affordable electricity by 2017. It is now 2016 and still more than 90% of homes are without electricity.

The 2017 electricity plan has been replaced with a new plan for 2020 – ‘Solar for every home’.

water crisis in Freetown3Access to water supply in Sierra Leone, especially in Freetown is very poor.

The capital’s main source of water supply – the Guma valley in the far western district, has almost dried up after decades of under-investment and neglect. It now looks like a pond.

But what is the government’s excuse for failing to provide drinking water in the capital?

It says that the population of Freetown has grown from 250,000 to 2 million people. It says that because of deforestation and climate change, the water that runs along the valley to the Guma dam is drying up.

But critics say that this is reckless management of the country’s affairs. The increase in population of Freetown did not happen overnight; the encroachment and deforestation of land adjacent to the Guma valley and across the Peninsula started decades ago.

The Koroma government turned a blind eye to eight years of massive deforestation and grabbing of state owned land by ruling APC party apparatchiks and their cronies, despite warnings by civil society groups and environmental activists.

freetown peninsular1The once lushly green hills and valleys of Freetown, can no longer cope with the massive deforestation that has been permitted to take place in the capital, without due regard to the simple and basic laws of the eco-system.

Now the poor people of Freetown – over 2 million, are paying a very high price for the stupidity, recklessness and depravity of a few politicians.  Freetown has run out of water.

This does not say much for a ruling party that said it will run the country like a business.

Had Sierra Leone been a business concern, it would long ago been declared bankrupt and thrown unto the scrap heap at Bommeh, with its precious natural assets stripped off and carted away by foreign investors.

kroo bay1But what do you do with six million poor and helpless people, whose only sin is to elect corrupt and inept politicians to serve as custodians of the country’s natural resources and to govern them.

The much needed industrial growth, led by local small and medium-sized businesses, promised by the ruling APC in 2007 has deliberately been confused and conflated with GDP growth.

The ruling APC has become the victim of its own propaganda. Unable to take practical action to stimulate non-extractive industrial growth that could create hundreds of thousands of jobs across the country, the government is instead borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to spend on road construction projects, whose cost effectiveness and value for money raise serious questions.

youths in sierra leoneWhat the people of Sierra Leone need is the opportunity to create wealth. This can only happen when the government begins to spend more on education, workforce skills development, and support the creation of innovative businesses that can produce high valued added goods for exporting to richer nations.

Sierra Leone’s so called GDP growth success has been nothing but a mirage. It has not benefitted the people of Sierra Leone.

Most of the profits from the exporting of the country’s mineral resources are being looted away into offshore personal bank accounts. Foreign companies are enjoying tax and royalty free operations in Sierra Leone.

Ruling APC party chiefs are less bothered about the miserable existence the people of Sierra Leone are living, because their bread is well buttered through massive corruption and the abuse of power.

President-Koroma-and-African Minerals Frank-TimisThe so called GDP growth success, which was largely driven by a one-off 30% surge in iron ore production in 2011/2012, was unsustainable.

The company responsible for this surge in export revenue – African Minerals Ltd., was a business built on phony investment. It had borrowed massive sums of money on the back of a ‘cooked up’ company accounts, which it could not afford to pay back.

The Koroma government was not smart enough to see through the scam, before the company was declared bankrupt at the London Stock Exchange, unable to pay its creditors.

Today, the Koroma led APC government is itself unable to pay the salaries of public sector workers and its creditors. The ruling APC is accused of stashing millions of dollars away to pay for electioneering in 2018.

The Finance minister last week ordered all heads of ministries and departments to produce a full list of all employees contracted and working in their ministries and departments. He has threatened to continue to withhold salaries until they provide the list.

This is clear evidence of the fact that the government is not in control of running the country, and does not know how many people it legitimately employs.

PRESIDENT ERNEST KOROMAIn 2009 the government embarked on a national campaign to weed out ghost public sector workers, but then used this as a pretext for sacking members and supporters of the opposition SLPP.

Is this yet another round of political witch-hunt in the public sector?

With last year’s announcement by president Koroma in parliament to double the salary of public sector workers and parliamentarians, even though their productivity and contribution to GDP is questionable, the government is now realising that it cannot afford to meet its budget commitment.

The government is broke. Donor funds are beginning to dry up as the country edges closer to presidential and general elections, which could easily be used as a cover for massive embezzlement of public funds.

President Koroma arriving in Senegal - 3 June 2016As president Koroma arrives in Senegal for the 49th Ordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of ECOWAS, he should reflect on the obscene levels of poverty to which he and his ruling APC cabals are subjecting the people of Sierra Leone.

He should observe and be ashamed of the fact that the plane that went to Freetown to collect and flew him to Senegal is a well managed Senegalese national airline, not some fly-by-night airline – here today, burst tomorrow enterprise.

He should observe and be ashamed of the much higher standard of education and literacy enjoyed by the majority of Senegalese.

He should take note and be ashamed of the much lower adult mortality, maternal mortality, child mortality, and better general healthcare that is keeping Senegalese alive, in comparison with their Sierra Leonean counterparts. (Watch video below: Koroma’s legacy in the capital Freetown).

President Koroma must walk around Dakar and see how generally happier the people of Senegal are, because of their much higher standard of living and better quality of life, compared to their Sierra Leonean counterparts.

He should observe that throughout Dakar – the capital of Senegal, there is an abundance of safe, clean drinking water, which he as president is denying the poor people of Freetown.

He should open his eyes to the reliable supply of electricity in Dakar, not to talk of the generally good standard of sanitation in the country.

One must hope that upon his arrival at the Leopold Sedar Senghor International Airport, president Koroma took the opportunity to ask president Macky Sall of Senegal, how he manages the country’s airport, which is contributing immensely to attracting hundreds of thousands of tourists every year.

And not to forget Mr. President to ask Macky Sall how to manage the economy, tackle poverty, lawlessness and provide basic services for the people.

Good luck Mr. President, and hope you return from your conference with much clearer understanding of where you have gone wrong, and the need to ensure a fair and peaceful elections in 2018.

9 Comments

  1. Sierra Leone is a failed country. Corruption is endemic in all segments of our society. There is a breakdown in every institution, and Sierra Leone may be ripe for another war, if things do not get back on track.

    I have been out there and have seen it all – the people, the hospitals, the schools, power shortages, drinking water. There is nothing to celebrate after our independence from Great Britain. Just my thoughts.

  2. One upon a time, a Sierra Leonean president promised the nation that no one will go to bed hungry by the year 2007, and that there will be a bridge linking mainland Freetown to lungi. Did I hear you mention that here?

  3. Jeneba,

    Why should parliamentarians serve for only “two” terms? Any justification for this? And where in the world has this ever been done or practiced? Please, let me know. Thank you.

  4. I would like to advice the committee that is responsible for reviewing the 1991 Constitution, that parliamentarians should only serve two terms.

  5. Mr. Abdul Rashid Thomas:

    I concur with you on everything stated in your brilliant eye opening article above. Yes, “SHAME ON PRESIDENT ERNEST KOROMA” for ALL of these messes inhibiting the developmental growth and welfare of Sierra Leone.

    Two Quick Questions:

    1. If our neighboring countries, including Guinea and Liberia have ‘Presidential Jets’ with their maps
    conspicuously emblazoned on them why not Sierra Leone too?

    2. If Mr. Donald J. Trump of the United States has his own Private Jet, with his name on it, why not the
    country of Sierra Leone?

    I have no doubt that Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Yumkella will not capitulate to this gut-wrenching international
    disgrace and mockery when he becomes President of Sierra Leone in due time. For he has the wherewithal and means to provide succor in the country from this very low point of our life.

    Please, come on board with me and let us all give him the mandate to lead the country forward. Of course, we will not be disappointed of his presidential performance by the grace of God. Amen.

    • This is not about Ernest Bai Koroma and his APC let us don’t single out those in power when we are divided against our mother land. To every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

      The government of EBK has acted by subjecting us to abject poverty; and what is our reaction as a nation?

  6. This president does not believe that “learning is better than silver and gold”, and that “cleanliness is next to Godliness”; Otherwise he would have done something.

  7. The capital Freetown is now swamped with rubbish, especially lots of plastics and recyclable items. Why is it so difficult for the government to clean up the city?

    The way waste material is floating through the city is alarming, and I just hope that some disease – worse than Ebola does not emerge.

    I think people have to take control of their own areas, come together and clean/burn/clear the waste in their areas. Waiting for the city council or government to do this for them is a total waste of time.

    • Yes! Clean the city please. I’m all for the road construction as well though, Salone needs to figure out how to attract more tourists and create a meaningful tourism economy. Decent roads and cleanliness is in the name of tourism and I’m all for it…this could help stimulate the economy and attract more investors/entrepreneurs to set up businesses to solve the rest of the country’s problems like weak internet and no solar.

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