Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 November 2015
Since the declaration of Sierra Leone as Ebola free two weeks ago, there has been a flurry of activity from the Koroma government – egged on by the IMF and the World Bank, to kick-start an ailing economy.
Sierra Leone’s economy is seriously ill and in desperate need of resuscitation.
The economy is as much a victim of the Ebola virus, as it is the product of eight years of poor governance, poor leadership, misplaced priorities, corruption, and the lack of strategic direction.
Foreign companies that were once thought of as the backbone and lifeblood of the government, have now turned out to be nothing but pawns in a corrupt game of monopoly.
Take African Minerals Ltd, Sierra Leone’s jewel in the crown – the largest iron ore mining company in the country. Since going into liquidation before the start of Ebola, and then rescued by the parent company of the Chinese investment company that provided most of its investment capital in the first place, is still struggling to find its feet.
The company was bled dry of cash by its previous owner Frank Timis, before being rescued by the Chinese.
Addax Ltd., another of the government’s foreign investment flagship, has been run to the ground by its owners, under the watchful eye of the president and minsters.
It is believed that the president and key ministers are shareholders of the company, and yet failed in their fiduciary duty to ensure due diligence. Addax is in serious financial trouble, with hundreds of millions of dollars of investment capital at stake, and is looking for a buyer.
Last week it was announced that Koidu Holdings – another government flagship, the country’s largest diamond mining company, could close as it struggles to meet its financial obligations with the government and creditors.
Other foreign companies are facing similar uncertainty, as government ministers turned a blind eye to years of lack of transparency, falsification of accounts, poor governance and financial impropriety.
Ebola may have significantly eroded the government’s ability to generate revenue from taxes and duty, but its failure to manage the economy properly and provide good stewardship over the country’s natural resources, have had the greatest impact on the public purse.
As a consequence, government borrowing in the last three years have risen by over 25% – to the dissatisfaction of the IMF and World Bank.
In 2013 president Koroma visited China along with ministers, and came back to Sierra Leone with a briefcase full of signed Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) for large-scale Chinese investments in fisheries, agriculture, tourism, and electricity, worth over $10 billion.
Two years on, those MOUs are still gathering dust on ministerial bookshelves.
Despite this grim reality, president Koroma continues to present his so called Agenda for Prosperity as the blueprint for economic success.
There is little substance behind the rhetoric, and certainly no coherent plan as to how he is going to kick-start the economy and end poverty in Sierra Leone, as promised eight years ago.
Critics say that by relaunching his pie in the sky Agenda for Prosperity last week, the president was merely pouring old wine into a new bottle – nothing has changed, and nothing will change, until the government is replaced in 2018.
This is what president Koroma said:
Following the tremendous progress in implementing the Agenda for Change (2007 –2012), we embarked on the preparation of the Agenda for Prosperity (2013 – 2018).
Prior to this exercise, when Sierra Leone turned 50 in 2011, I constituted a Committee on Development and Transformation, charged with the responsibility to take stock of the progress we have made as an independent nation over the last 50 years and to chart the way forward for the next 50 years.
The Committee organised the Sierra Leone Conference on Development and Transformation, which came up with a number of outcomes; key among them is the aspiration of Sierra Leone to become a middle income country by 2035. In keeping with the aspiration of our people, we commenced work on the Agenda for Prosperity as the first five-year road map towards this forward march.
The Agenda for Prosperity builds on the successes of the Agenda for Change and lays the foundation for our journey to achieving sustainable future for all Sierra Leoneans beginning with our goal of middle income country.
We are mindful, however, that achieving this goal requires tackling several challenges: for example, whilst we have reduced poverty from 66.4 percent in 2003 to 52.9 percent in 2011, we need to do more, such as to address unemployment, particularly among the youth.
We need to better manage our natural resources for the good of all Sierra Leoneans, we need to add value to our primary products, we need to extend, expand and sustain the Free Health Care and Scaling-Up Nutrition initiatives, reform the education system to meet the emerging needs in the job market, we need to finish on-going projects in roads, energy and water supply.
We need to build the much needed infrastructure, including the new mainland airport, railway, roads and ICT capabilities; provide a social safety net for the vulnerable population; promote good governance; ensure that the public sector is capacitated to deliver; empower our women and ensure equal opportunities for both men and women; and above all, we need to maintain our zero tolerance to corruption, and provide the enabling environment for the private sector to thrive.
My Government is committed to accelerating the eradication of hunger and malnutrition, with a strengthened focus on women and children from conception to two years of age, to prevent the irreversible effects of stunting. We will establish a multi-sectorial nutrition coordination secretariat to address these issues.
It is against this backdrop that the Agenda for Prosperity has been prepared to complete residual projects in the Agenda for Change and to address these challenges.
We hope to draw on lessons learnt and to merge innovations with the strong economic growth we have recorded in the last five years, but we must ensure that we are globally competitive and our economy is diversified to promote inclusive green growth that is beneficial to all Sierra Leoneans and to keep the growth spirit sustained.
No doubt implementing the Agenda for Prosperity will require concerted efforts,collaboration and coordination among Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), especially implementing MDAs.
Emphasis will be placed on monitoring of projects to ensure that results are achieved on timely manner. We will continue to attract foreign direct investment by forging strong partnerships with the private sector both local and international especially on large scale projects.
Consistent with the principles of the New Deal for engagement in Fragile States, the Agenda for Prosperity is the country’s one vision and one plan. Its implementation will be guided by strong commitments by Development Partners as well as the Government.
In this regard, Government is developing a mutual accountability framework that will be jointly monitored and reported on.
Our goal is to strengthen the partnership between Government and Development Partners as well as ensuring that the voice and opinion of each and every Sierra Leonean is heard in the implementation as was done through wider consultation in developing this national plan.
As we embark on this epic journey to become a middle income country, let me remind fellow Sierra Leoneans that we have together – Government and every stakeholder – committed ourselves to change, because prosperity does not pour like rain, and will not come to us, but we must go in search of it with determination.
We must sweat it out with our hands, with our brains and with our minds. Our Agenda for Prosperity marks an end of the chapter of business as usual, and the dawn for a new Sierra Leone that have set out to embrace the values of innovation, of cultural renewal in the workplace and respect for public goods; and the realisation that the end results of this new beginning is the extent to which we double our efforts, and commit ourselves to the values of self-reliance and discipline.
I am very optimistic that with the support and collaboration of every Sierra Leonean and our partners, the implementation of the Agenda for Prosperity will be a huge success.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph asks: Where is the detailed Plan for the implementation of this Agenda, if it is not mere wishful thinking?