Why President Koroma came back home from the US empty handed

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 April 2013

president koroma arrives in washington - 2013Since his return from the US, president Koroma is said to be unhappy about the outcome of the visit, especially his meeting with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), where he was expecting to be handed a cheque for millions of dollars.

The lack of preparation and planning on the part of the president and his team, is said to be responsible for what is described as a poor and unprofessional performance by the team.

When the US government announced in November last year that Sierra Leone has qualified for the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) fund, it was clear that the decision was qualified and dependent upon the achievement of certain terms and conditions.

To the disappointment of the president and his team that went to the US, no firm decision has been made as to the amount of MCC award, or the timing of the release of the grant-in-aid.

To match feature WATER-LEONEInstead president Koroma was told: “Funding is dependent on the program that makes the greatest impact on poverty reduction to the people of Sierra Leone.”

The Sierra Leone Telegraph has learnt from a reliable source that the MCC are concerned that the funding may be misappropriated, given the poor track record of some of the ministers who travelled to the US along with the president.

Hopes were high when president Koroma left the shores of Sierra Leone to visit the White House and the MCC. The president and his team were expecting to return home with millions of dollars in the bag.

But their hopes were dashed when they were told by the MCC at a meeting in Washington on 27 March, 2013, that the MCC is yet to be satisfied that when released, the money will be used as agreed and will improve the lives of the people of Sierra Leone.

This clearly shows that the MCC does not have the fullest confidence in the fiduciary capacity of the government and its ability to effectively plan and manage development programmes.

They are also worried that the money may be misappropriated, as corruption in high places continues to derail the country’s development.

It is understood that the MCC are concerned about the poor levels of accountability, transparency, probity and openness in the management of public funds.

This is borne out by the recent Index of Economic Freedom (IEF) Report, which states that:

“Mismanagement of public spending remains a serious problem and ultimately hurts implementation of necessary reforms. The protection of property rights is weak, and the judicial system lacks both independence and transparency.

“Legal proceedings are vulnerable to political interference and commonly subject to pervasive corruption.”

The 2011 Audit Report published by the country’s National Audit Office, uncovered massive corruption at all levels of state governance, including State House, where spending budgets cannot be properly accounted for.

Millions of dollars are missing from the government’s accounts, especially the ministry of finance and economic development, and the National Revenue Authority (NRA).

The Chief Executive Officer of the MCC – Mr. Daniel Yohannes is said to have told the president and his team that in order for the funding to be approved, the government must put together a national programme for development that will benefit the whole country.

The proposed programme must be inclusive and cohesive – irrespective of region, tribe, gender, religion, and age. The involvement of civil society groups must be paramount in the governance of the programme.

president koroma in washington - 2013Critics are accusing the president and his team of going cap in hand to Washington, without a clearly worked out and credible Business Plan, which could have been professionally and competently presented to the MCC.

Instead, they were told by Mr. Yohannes that “money is tight” and that the government has to go away and produce a viable national programme for development, which could be funded.

It seems the president and his team are unclear about their new, much talked about ‘Agenda for Prosperity’, and what they are planning to achieve.

The problem is that if the president and his cabinet ministers do not understand their own ‘Agenda’ and cannot convince themselves of its credibility, it is inevitable they will struggle to sell it to potential investors and funders.

President Koroma cannot continue to depend on Tony Blair to act as his global image and PR Czar.

Cholera Outbreak Guinea 2012He needs to cut the umbilical cord and demonstrate that he and his cabinet ministers can deliver real value for money and manage public funds effectively – devoid of impropriety and corruption.

But with the US government struggling to balance its books and meet its public spending needs, money is tight and there are calls in Washington for bigger cuts in government spending.

The key question is: What does president Koroma intends spending the MCC Compact money on? What will he achieve, when and how?

Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

Sadly, rather than answering these questions in Washington and present a clearly thought out Business Plan, the president and his team veered off in their usual aimless rant about how well they have performed, contrary to independent reports.

According to government media (Cocorioko News):

president koroma - sumana - police chief 2012“President Koroma informed him (Mr. Yohannes) that since he came to office, his mantra has been an inclusive approach to governance in improving the economy and the quality of life of all Sierra Leoneans.

“President Koroma informed Mr. Yohannes that the spirit of inclusiveness is also captured in his agenda for change program during his first term in office. He informed Mr. Yohannes and the group that in establishing a road map to poverty reduction and good governance he used the expectations of the MDGs as his guide.

“President Koroma admitted that we are not where we want to be at once, but because of the tremendous progress we have made, Sierra Leone is recognized as the 10th fastest growing economy according to a World Bank Report.”

But Mr. President, the MCC already knew all of that and need to be convinced as to why therefore, Sierra Leone ought to be considered for the Compact funding, despite such lofty economic performance reports. And what they wanted to hear was:

What does president Koroma intends spending the MCC Compact money on?

What will he achieve, when and how? Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

Not a single word was mentioned by the president in addressing these vital and obvious questions.

Kaifala Marah1What is all the more shocking is that those ministers who accompanied the president to the meeting – ought to have known better, most especially – his finance minister – Dr. Kaifala Marah, who previously worked for the Commonwealth, advising member countries on public sector finance management systems.

Dr. Marah is also said to have worked as ‘Budget Analyst at the State Senate of New York and is a Graduate Fellow at the Centre of International Development, State University of New York, in Albany.’

The unpreparedness and lack of planning by the president and his team was also clearly evident, when the president told the MCC that:

“I realized that we have qualified for compact and we must stay qualified. This time we bagged 12 of 20 points established by the MCC. But as we transition into the Agenda for Prosperity we will soon achieve all the points “.

“He assured Mr. Yohannes that work from our side will be professional, transparent and expeditious and we will engage other partners to ensure inclusiveness. “

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) is a bilateral United States foreign aid agency, established by Congress in 2004. It applies a new philosophy toward foreign aid. It is an independent agency, separate from the State Department or USAID.

According to the MCC, a country is considered eligible for a Compact (grant-in-aid) if its score on 17 indicators exceeds the median score of its peer group.

The Bush administration, which established the fund, stated in 2004 that development aid works better in countries with good economic policies, such as free markets and low corruption.

On both of those indicators, president Koroma has failed the people of Sierra Leone, with  worsening poverty, lawlessness and impunity impacting negatively on civil liberty and the operation of a free market economy.

Corruption in high places continues to stifle economic development, despite hundreds of millions of dollars being poured into the country to restructure the economy and reform the public sector.

Yet another missed opportunity to showcase what can be achieved by the government, if the MCC funding is made available, was clearly evident:

According to government media, Mr. Yohannes asked the president what were the chances of Sierra Leone and Liberia engaging in bilateral programs. And instead of bursting forth with innovative ideas or examples of successful economic and social collaboration with neighbouring Liberia, the president was again off his trolley:

“President Koroma alluded to the concerted efforts employed for the revival of the Mano River Union. He said he also has personally challenged the Secretary General of the MRU to jointly develop programs in energy, mining sector, fisheries and marine resources.

“Those programs are ongoing and will be rolled out in the near future. President Koroma also stated that he had a mandate from the MRU to develop shared programs “because we share a common history and our problems are the same – drug trafficking, ex-combatants moving from country to country, illegal fishing, etc.”

“He however emphasized that there must be political will by all parties.”

Well Mr. President, what are you going to spend the MCC Compact money on? What will you achieve, when and how?

Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

“With regards to the involvement of the Private Sector, President Koroma further informed Mr. Yohannes that the U.S and the MCC could provide an advisory role from best practices and allow Sierra Leone to borrow a leaf from those who have been successful.

“He said because of the natural resources, it is timely that we take the right steps to create a win-win situation for both Sierra Leone and the would-be investors. “We need the right structures, the right partners, advisory support, connections with multilateral, foreign investors.”

Mr. President, what are you going to spend the MCC Compact money on?

What will you achieve, when and how? Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

According to government media:

“Mr. Yohannes again thanked President Koroma and informed the group that when he met President Koroma in 2003, he asked him what legacies he would like to leave behind.”

Was that not an opportunity for the president to clearly spell out to the MCC how he will  use the funding to tackle poverty in Sierra Leone? This is what the president said:

“President Koroma told him that he wanted to leave the basics for a sustainable development; that is why he wants to attract direct investment in mining, agriculture and to great extent tourism and improving the lives of all Sierra Leoneans.

Once again Mr. President, what exactly are you going to spend the MCC Compact money on?

What will you achieve, when and how? Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

What is all too apparent from the series of gaffs, and what can only be described as comedy of errors by the president and his team, is the clear lack of sense of purpose at such an important meeting for the people of Sierra Leone.

Churning out academically prepared philosophical speeches and buzz words, does not cut ice with the likes of the MCC, when it comes with parting with the hard earned cash of  American taxpayers.

Richard Conteh2And was the president’s chief of staff – Dr. Richard Konteh any wiser? No.

The same slothfulness and lack of focus, was evident in his contribution at the meeting in Washington.

Again according to government media (Cocorioko News):

“The Chief of Staff informed the MCC’s CEO that with regards to a viable proposal, Sierra Leone has just completed the Sierra Leone National Conference, which has presented an array of ideas about how poverty can be reduced. We only need to add depth and flesh.

“The Chief of Staff maintained that one of our challenges is allowing others to tell our story rather than allowing we Sierra Leoneans to tell our story.”

And what about the minister for government propaganda – how well did he do?

Alpha“Alhaji Alpha Kanu – the Minister of Information, in his contribution reminded the CEO that the President, since assuming office, has aligned all his programs in a manner to achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

“He also admitted that meeting the MCC criteria will allow Sierra Leone to meet its MDG goals. Therefore if we are here today, it is because we have followed the roadmap of the MCC – a road map President Koroma has established for all his ministers as a performance-tracking system.”

A road map President Koroma has established for all his ministers as a performance-tracking system? Really – where is the road map? What performance tracking system for ministers?

The purpose of the president’s meeting with the MCC in Washington last month was simple: to tell the MCC about the credible programme that the government will put in place to tackle poverty. And it has to be said that no justice to the cause was served by wishy-washy propaganda and muddled policy statements.

What the president and his team should have said – clearly and simply was:

What does president Koroma intends spending the MCC Compact money on?

What will he achieve, when and how? Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

Sadly, not a single word was mentioned by the president and his team in addressing these vital and obvious questions. And it got worse.

According to government media (Cocorioko News):

“The Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Kaifala Marah, requested periodic video conferences, which would serve as key for information transfer between Sierra Leone and the MCC.

“He further asked the proverbial question as to what the funding level will be.”

And to what must have been a rude awakening to the president and his team, having flown thousands of miles across the Atlantic – fully paid for by the poor tax payers of Sierra Leone, expecting the president to return home with a MCC cheque for millions of dollars, the CEO of the MCC responded:

“Funding is dependent on the program that makes the greatest impact on poverty reduction to the people of Sierra Leone.”

What the MCC is saying Mr. President is; show us your Business Plan and we will tell you how much funding you will get and when.

That is not rocket science – Mr. President. And the Minister of Finance and Economic Development – Dr. Kaifala Marah ought to have known better asking such question.

Are there lessons to be learnt by the government from this poor performance?

Yes. Ministers ought to have ensured that they had with them a well thought out Business Plan, before embarking on such a costly and wasted journey to the US: Preparation, preparation, preparation.

So, we ask again: What does president Koroma intends spending the MCC Compact money on?

What will he achieve, when and how? Who will be responsible for managing the programme and how will it be monitored?

The MCC and the people of Sierra Leone are waiting for answers Mr. President.

 

2 Comments

  1. This is a common deficiency of most African countries led by our country. The fallacy of the acclaimed “Agenda for Prosperity” is the very fact that the people continue to be in abject poverty.

    Even when the world has now and continue to be a global village, these people can not benchmark against what others in the east and south of Africa – if not the civilised world, are doing.

    Can’t our leadership now emerge for Christ sake?

  2. What a big shame for our nation. The APC government is only good at rigging elections; enriching themselves and cheap propaganda.

    They cannot raise their heads high outside Sierra Leone. What a shame . I suggest this entire government should resign for failing to represent our nation internationally.

    Let them go back to school. But maybe if they were asked how they were going to share the money, they would have answered well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*