Abdul R Thomas – editor
12 April 2012
Yesterday, the International Monetary Fund issued a worrying statement on the state of the Sierra Leone economy, after meeting with president Koroma, the finance minister and the governor of the Central Bank. It could not have been a happy meeting of friends.
The government of Sierra Leone has not only been living beyond its means, it has been using monies meant for payment of public sector workers’ salaries and contractors, to pay for its extravagant spending.
After languishing in the political wilderness for over two decades – rejected by the people of Sierra Leone at the end of the 1980s, APC came back in 2007 – promising to be different from the APC of old.
But it seems bad habits do not go away so easily. APC of old are back with the very same economic ideology of: ‘borrow and spend today like there is no tomorrow’.
Sierra Leone’s revenue from mining, agriculture, fishing, tourism, and income from domestic taxation, is just not enough to pay for education, health, road construction, electricity, water and sanitation, housing and social amenities, when for every $1 revenue raised, 70 cents is either wasted or stolen by corrupt government officials.
That is why the country is receiving over $300 Million in donor funds to help pay for the basics – such as health, education, water and sanitation; and in some communities – to help feed those poorest and vulnerable in society. Sierra Leone has no business being poor.
This is not sustainable and cannot continue. After peace was declared in 2001, following the ten year war, Sierra Leone was truly on life support machine – fighting for its survival. It was a failed state.
After spending over $1 Billion in aid to help rebuild the country, the international community are slowly withdrawing their support, so that Sierra Leone can now, and should stand on its own feet.
But it seems the politicians – those in power, are stubbornly reluctant for this to happen. They are quite comfortable for Sierra Leone to continue to depend on foreign aid.
Foreign aid is regarded as ‘rich pickings’ by state officials – who want to see the return of colonial rule, while the rest of society – 70% of whom are languishing in abject poverty, make do – at best, with less than $1 a day.
Five years ago, president Koroma said that, if elected he will run the country like a business. But after five years in power, Sierra Leone is almost bankrupt.
No business can survive by using unpaid bills and salaries to stay afloat. It will be declared bankrupt.
No household can manage to keep the family together and roof above their heads, by using unpaid bills to pay for luxurious lifestyle, without receiving a visit from the bailiffs.
President Koroma is not running the country like a business as he promised in 2007. Last week, he was visited by the bailiffs – the International Monetary Fund, only to be told to stop the extravagant spending and put his house in order.
In 2007, president Koroma presented the APC as a party to be trusted. He said that his APC is a New APC. But how true is this?
Dr. Sama Banya is the former minister of development and economic planning in the Siaka Stevens’ APC government. He knows too well, perhaps much more than most people in Sierra Leone today, of how the previous APC government took the country from ‘grace to grass’, as Siaka Stevens embarked on a foolish and short-sighted programme of extravagant spending.
This is what he said yesterday about president Koroma’s attempt at pouring old wine into new cask:
“Folks the APC government of President Ernest Bai Koroma is broke. It now lives on day to day earnings. The reason for this is not difficult to fathom. The government is living above its earning capacity.
“When a government cannot pay its employees, and government is the largest employer, so that they and their families have a dull and miserable Easter, then that government does not deserve the political support of the population, let alone speak about re-electing it next November.
“I took over the portfolio of Development and Economic Planning under President Siaka Stevens in August 1978. By that time a large number of projects were under way to enable the country to host the OAU conference in August 1980.
“Most of the projects were ‘Turn-key’, meaning that they were pre-financed by the various contractors and service providers. At most international conferences especially on the African continent, the heads of state and government or of delegations, receive free hospitality.
“When our turn came to host the OAU, hospitality was an open event. It was not limited to heads of delegation, etc, but to every member of the delegation of the participating countries. They included press men and state security officials.
“The lavish manner in which we hosted the OAU marked the beginning of our downward economic spiral.
“I combined the portfolios of Finance and Economic Development in early 1981. I had been witness to all the major contracts and so I could not believe my eyes as the bills began to roll in for payment. From where did they come and for what?
“This country never fully recovered up to the end of the Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh Presidencies.
“Once more I can see the pattern emerging under the slogan of the so called Agenda for Change. Mining and other agreements are made in a hurry, sometimes certificate of urgency without allowing for extensive debates. In the end the mining companies get away with whatever it takes.
“The ministry of ‘African minerals’ will never reveal that most of the companies are now required to pay their taxes well in advance. It said that there are no free dinners.
“Naturally if the companies are made to pay in advance to enable our agenda for rapid infrastructural development to continue, then they would expect some discount.
“That is part of the reason why we are short-changed. The symptoms and signs of a government that is broke are there, but what does it matter to this administration as long as construction proceeds ahead and people can say “di pa dey woke.”
“The very charming daughter of my former form one monitor when I started to teach at the Bo School in 1952 currently heads the National Revenue Authority. To all intents and purposes the young lady works hard but as the saying goes, “one cannot squeeze blood out of a stone.”
“The NRA chief executive can only impose duty on what arrives at the ports. One hasn’t got to be the controller to realize that she cannot impose more than a certain levy on most of those 80 feet containers one sees plying our roads. It amounts to nothing.
“The minister of mines – Minkailu Mansaray should have made sure of that – with his hurried mining agreements.
“It would appear that the government’s only source of revenue these days is that derived from the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT). But even this is made practicable only because the money is deducted at base.
“This is no reflection on my young friend Sambadeen Sesay – the Central Bank Governor – but how many regular and trusted commercial bank customers can boast of having new and crisp bank notes when they withdraw from their accounts today?
“Even they must put up with what my late nephew George Gobio-Lamin used to call: “Maggie and palm oil stained ogiri smelling bank notes.”
“So what has happened to the money – even as government media continues to reassure us of how his Excellency has transformed the lives of our people since 2007?
“At the same time, government’s spokesman – Jara Kawusu-Konteh, constantly reminds us of the president’s unpublicized successes – but is then quick to mention the roads, Bumbuna, free healthcare and free distribution of new crisp notes at various street corners and other locations around the city.
“This is the illusion under which our praise singing friends and other sycophants would have us live. There is only one alternative and that is TO VOTE THE APC OUT OF OFFICE ON NOVEMBER 17.”