The Sierra Leone Telegraph
17 February 2013
Sierra Leone is one of the few countries in Sub-sahara Africa that are significantly lagging behind in achieving key targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), despite millions of dollars being spent by the international community to curb childhood mortality, poverty and illiteracy.
And it is now becoming clearly obvious that with poor access to clean drinking water and the deadly impact of poor sanitation, coupled with rampant corruption, huge investments in the provision of drugs will continue to be ineffective in addressing the problem of early deaths.
The European Union (EU) should be calling for better planning and strong commitment from the government of Sierra Leone, in order to win the war on childhood and maternal mortality.
Speaking at the signing of an EU agreement with UNICEF last Tuesday in Freetown, providing 24 Million Euro – just over $30 Million in new funding, to improve health care in Sierra Leone, the Head of the EU Mission in the country – Reymondet-Commoy, said that the grant will support the government in accelerating progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals 4 and 5, as well as reduce maternal and child mortality by 2015.
But this funding by the EU is not new. It was first agreed on the 28 November last year, when the EU gave a similar press statement in Freetown; that they had “signed a financing agreement worth 24.2 million EUR, approximately 140 Billion Leones, in support of the country’s efforts to reduce child mortality and improve maternal health.”
During the signing of that agreement last year, Jean-Pierre Reymondet-Commoy, said that; “The European Union is committed to improving the health status of children, pregnant and lactating women, and to increasing the capacity of the government and community institutions to deliver quality and sustainable health services in the whole of Sierra Leone”.
“The project aims to bridge gaps in drug and medical supplies, provide medical equipment and basic rehabilitation of health facilities and train medical staff.”
And also, on the 10 December 2012, the EU Mission in Sierra Leone announced that; “The European Investment Bank has signed a very concessional loan agreement of 75 million Euros (about 412 billion Leones) in Freetown, with the Minister of Finance, to contribute to the financing of a backbone electrical transmission and interconnection line linking Ivory Coast-Liberia- Sierra Leone-Guinea, with high-voltage substations as connections points for renewable generation and local electrification.”
Ironically, the country’s capital – Freetown is currently suffering one of the worst experiences of electricity outage in the last ten years. Most residents have returned to using domestic generators, despite the high costs of fuel at the pumps.
Similarly, on the 8th December 2012, the European Union announced that it has “donated €3 million as support to Smallholder Production and youth employment related to Ministry of Agriculture priorities and projects in Sierra Leone.
The overall objective of the intervention “is to reduce the effects of the protracted crisis on the poorest and most vulnerable part of the population of Sierra Leone,” said Jean-Pierre Reymondet-Commoy.
He said that; “this food facility will support and consolidate earlier food facility programmes that are a critical part of the Government of Sierra Leone’s Smallholder Commercialization Programme: social protection, food security and productive safety nets, which cover cash for work, food for work, food for training, school lunch and infant nutrition.”
“This generous donation from the European Union will assist farmers in all districts of Sierra Leone to rehabilitate their swamps for intensive rice cultivation, and coffee and cocoa plantations for cash crop cultivation,” said WFP Representative, William Hart.
“The European Union donation will be used to provide food assistance to approximately 600,000 people belonging to smallholder farm families, in return for their work to rehabilitate and construct inland valley swamps, smallholder plantations, post-harvest drying and storage and feeder roads that will help them take their produce to markets.”
In 2007, president Koroma announced that “food security for all” will be his number one priority. But despite millions of dollars allocated for boosting the country’s food production, most families cannot afford the rising cost of local produce.
And also on the 8th December 2012, the European Union “released a new payment of 10.8 million Euros (Le 64 billion) in general budget support for the government of Sierra Leone – representing the third and final fixed tranche (9 million Euros) and variable (1.8 million Euros) tranches of the EU’s ongoing 46.6 million Euros three-year programme.
“The main objective of the general budget support programme is to assist the Government of Sierra Leone in consolidating a stable macro-economic framework whilst supporting the implementation of the Agenda for Change”, said Jean-Pierre Reymondet-Commoy, Head of the European Union Delegation to Sierra Leone.
But by the end of 2012, after pursuing a very expensive election campaign, which saw the government winning a second term in office in November, many public sector workers and contractors were left unpaid as the finance ministry ran out of cash.
And signing this latest EU agreement last week, to provide 24 Million Euro – just over $30 Million in funding to improve health care in Sierra Leone, Reymondet-Commoy said that in particular, the money will be used to make improvements in four key areas of the country’s health sector; access to medical supplies; quality of medical care; rehabilitation of the Peripheral Health Units (PHUs) and general administration of the sector.
In another high profile ceremony last week, another UN agency operating in the country – the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), donated 42 solar panels to the Ministry of Health to help meet its electricity supply needs.
While such overwhelming financial and material support are to be welcomed, there are far too many unanswered questions as to why so little progress is being achieved in reducing poverty, and the obscenely high incidence of infant and maternal mortality in the country.
There is little doubt Sierra Leone is at risk of not meeting its Millennium Development Goals. This is not because of the lack of financial support, but of misplaced priorities and poor governance.
And, until there is a complete overhaul in the way projects are being funded and managed, the people of Sierra Leone will continue to suffer the indignation of lack of access to clean drinking water, poor sanitation and rising poverty.
The recently published Report by the country’s Audit Office is a serious indictment of the poor leadership and state of public sector governance in the country.