2019 was a bad year for Sierra Leone – annus horribilis

Dr. Kandeh Yumkella: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 February 2020:

During my countrywide trip at the beginning of the year, I used the quiet walk through the woods to reflect on 2019. In an effort to understand ordinary people’s perspectives about their welfare and aspirations, I spoke with students, young professionals and NGOs in Bo, Kambia and Makeni. I also met and had a chat with market women and youth groups in some parts of Freetown.

From those discussions, I came to the conclusion that 2019 in Sierra Leone, can be described as one of our Country’s ‘Annus Horribilis’ – bad years.

But why Annus Horribilis?

It is in 2019 that life became extremely difficult for the already suffering masses of our country, such that popular culture coined the phrase “De Gron Dry” (the ground is dry) and, by mid-year, the phrase was upgraded to “De Game Don Babala” (Things have gone worse) to reflect the level of threat to their welfare. By the end of the year, the threat level was revised to “De Game Don Potor-Potor.” (Everything has collapsed). It sounds as if the people, especially the youth, feel we are heading for dystopia.

The vast majority of the population saw their real income (adjusted for inflation) decline precipitously as the prices of basic food items doubled or tripled (at the lowest unit of retail by the pint, dozen, packet, or cube). For example, from March 2018 to October 2019 prices for a cup of rice rose from Le 1,200 to Le 2,500; Gari from Le 500 to Le 1,500; a pint of Palm Oil from Le2,500 to Le 3,500, a dozen of Herring from Le 1,500 to Le 8,000.

The prices increased further because of the increase in fuel and transportation costs in January 2019, due to a combination of factors, including currency devaluation (11%); general inflation (16-18%); and retroactive enforcement of fees, excise and other taxes on business. Added to the list of causal factors, the hidden high transaction cost – (unnecessary bureaucratic hassles and inefficiencies) of getting things done in our country; e.g. clearing goods at the port, moving commodities and goods to markets, filing a case with the police, filing a case at the courts, accessing medical services, etc.

These increases added to the high cost of doing business, erosion of the discretionary income of households and dramatic drop in our people’s welfare. No wonder recent social protection assessments and household survey suggest that over 60% of our people are in multidimensional poverty, and 12% live in abject poverty.

As I have stated before in my numerous articles and radio interviews, economic indicators are stubborn, and propaganda cannot change them.

Our country is also suffering from state capture. For example, in 2018, MDAs and agencies submitted claims of total arrears owed to local suppliers and contractors, valued at Le 11.59 trillion ($1.37 billion).

But, When a deep verification exercise was carried out, only Le4.5 trillion ($531 million, 40%) was genuine outstanding claims. In other words, the kleptocrats and their partners had planned to dupe the people of this country of Le7 trillion ($839 million) which is almost double the total revenue collected in 2018 (Le4.35 trillion) and 2019 (Le4.1 trillion, Jan-Sept), an amount that can finance free education and free health care for 2-3 years.

Second, on the political front, there was also heightened governance distress in 2019. All but two bye-elections were violent and resulted in the unnecessary loss of life in Tonko Limba, following blatant attack on polling stations, political leaders and political party offices. (see video below of attack on polling station at Hamilton).

A vicious cycle of “Do-me-ah-Do-you” (Tit-for-Tat) politics, became the new normal, which continued into 2020.

The recent decline by 16 points in the 2019 World Economic Freedom Index suggests that basic freedoms in Sierra Leone are being eroded. The judicial system has compounded the cleavages in the political landscape, with glaring selective justice, refusal by the Supreme Court to seat on cases, or proffer simple legal opinions; yet others in the judiciary out rightly take politically biased positions.

Many citizens or business men and women I have had the privilege of talking to, have little or no faith in the much-touted judicial reforms that remain to be implemented, if ever.

Parliament – the People’s House, has not given succour to citizens, due to missteps, rancour and accusations of corruption as well as lack of a more robust check on the Executive Branch.

All of these issues, cast a cloud of uncertainty and insecurity about where the nation is heading. The Auditor General’s Report of December 2019, eroded confidence that real change was on the way.

The report exposed the existence of systemic rot, unbridled corruption that have contributed to wrecking the economy over several years. In other words, corruption and patronage have been entrenched – leading for example, to the disappearance of Le 141 billion – representing funds allocated to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and Local Councils.

It would appear that the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry and the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) are not serving as a deterrent for the thieving culture of the middle and lower cadres of public officials.

Third, there seems to be a moral decline in society. Despite all the prayers for the nation, crusades, and “Sarah”, our young children continue to be exposed to even more-heinous behaviors daily. For example, though the Government and Parliament have taken a tough stand on sexual violence, rapes that are more egregious have occurred, as was the recent case of the gang rape of the sister of one of the paramount chiefs in Bonthe.

We also experienced the real manifestation of a dysfunctional and low-quality educational system, when 90% of the students who took the WASCE exams failed, amid revelations of endemic organized-cheating and spying. There seems to be a growing drug problem that has now metamorphosed into a “pampas-tea” binge drinking.

All these governance and social problems are signs of moral decay. They may suggest that as a society, we are in a race to the bottom. My fear is that things could get out of hand, as we approach the midpoint of the electoral cycle by the second half of 2020.

Hope, Change and Transparency?

However, not all was doom and gloom. We should acknowledge our government’s efforts in launching several initiatives in a bid to address the economic, governance and social problems highlighted above. The many components of the fiscal consolidation and human capital development, the rise in revenue collection, the launch of the national development plan, the revival of the Premier League, ‘Hands of our Girls’ Campaign, Bintumani-III Conference, presidential dinner with the Fourth Estate, and the aggressive drive of the Free Quality Education Initiative.

However, the opening statement of the President at the Ministerial Retreat a few weeks ago, suggests that these efforts are not having the desired results so far. He has emphasized that he expects more delivery this year.

The president is credited for being tough on non-performance by replacing several ministers. However, will he also sack some of the almost 300 executives in parastatals and boards, who are underperforming and wasting billions of Leones of subsidies from the treasury ever year?

In Parliament, we also accomplished a lot. We approved 381 presidential appointees, passed 16 Bills and Acts, and we approved 30 international treaties and protocols. In spite of much heated debates, we have strengthened the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), amended a number of existing laws related to economic and financial management – such as the Single Treasury Account, the Extractive Industries Revenue Act, the Bank of Sierra Leone Act, and the NACSA Act. We also passed the amendment of the Sexual Offenses Act. But as suggested below, we could do even better.

The indefatigable ACC has made major strides resulting in national accolades from AWOL and the 10 points rise in the Transparency International Global Corruption Ranking. The judges at the Commission of Inquiry (COI) have patiently and diligently steered the proceedings to allow both prosecutors and the defense to present their cases. The revelations of billions of expenditures without recourse to Parliamentary approval or appropriation, violations of procurement rules and over-invoicing, and allegations of unexplained wealth have been mind-boggling.

However, the public’s sentiment is that no action will be taken on the Judges report. Thus, the COI might fizzle away into nothingness, or simply become a tale full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

The Way Forward – What do we expect in 2020?

This year, we should come together as one people to move our country forward. The problems are so serious that we should put partisan politics aside and ‘Put Salone Fos’. One man, or one party, alone cannot fix decades of a kleptocratic patronage system. There are no quick fixes. The focus should be on Delivery, Compliance and Enforcement. I agree with Mr. President that there is need to ensure effective delivery on the government’s programs, which includes the work plans and various performance compacts signed by MDAs with State House.

I suggest to Mr. President that the top priority should also be compliance with recommendations of the Auditor General Report (some spanning over the last 15 years), as the key to achieving his deliverables. He should understand that the kleptocratic machinery and patronage system that manages state affairs, prefer business as usual. The system that stole Ebola funds when thousands of their compatriots were dying is the same machinery that caused Le 141 billion to disappear in 9 months of a new regime.

The year 2020 must be a year of enforcement of the key targets, especially macroeconomic targets, set by Mr. President. The president must push back on the insatiable appetite and Keynesian mind set of some in his team to tax and spend. Greater fiscal discipline should be a priority in 2020 to keep public spending below 24% of GDP, the deficit below 3% of GDP, and the wage bill below 6% of GDP.

Talk-and-do means that these targets, which are gleaned from the President’s address to Parliament in May 2019, must be enforced.

If the above is achieved, then Mr. President can lower the GST to 12% to spur consumer spending, sell 30% of the shares in Rokel Commercial Bank and privatize SIERRATEL to raise capital to support small and medium sized enterprises, agribusiness and export growth.

An independent Economic Advisory Team could help guide further investments in private sector-led growth. A well-planned integrated school feeding program could help revitalize the agriculture sector, thus promoting rural development and achieve the key nutritional targets set out in the scale-up-nutrition program.

Parliament could also make the political space more inclusive and transparent by passing deep electoral reform laws consistent with the over 100 recommendations of the international observers in the 2018 general and presidential elections.

We should be progressive by passing the Two-Sim Bill in 2020, including removing the requirement that people should resign one year from their jobs before they can contest elections; and making it law that women should occupy at least 30% of parliamentary/elective positions. We should allow a debate on the report of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC).

We should also revamp the Public Order Act/Criminal Libel Laws; enact a Competition and Investment Promotion Law, a Government Transition Act – including a provision that no tribe should hold more than 30% of positions in public institutions.

These legislative actions do not require a minister presenting a Bill to parliament; they simply require a core group of progressive legislators exercising their power under Section 105 of the 1991 Constitution. If this is done, it will enshrine Parliament’s place in history as the “emancipation parliament” – similar to those MPs who heralded independence in the 1960s.

I remain hopeful that the allegations of corruption in the House will be dealt with by the Auditor-General, so that the sanctity of the House is protected. Above all, an inclusive and peaceful political space will go a long way to assuage the fears of citizens and foreign investors.

We must tap into the pool of professionals in our country, irrespective of tribe or political persuasions in order to tackle the myriad of challenges we face as a nation. Let us put Salone Fos!

10 Comments

  1. Bilal Coleman says — “Young4na, With all due respect, you have a penchant for rambling on this forum with little or no respect for the truth. Where did I even remotely insinuate that “Dr. KKY was at the verge of losing his international job prior to returning back home in 2016 to run for president.”

    Hmmm let’s see, who posted the comments below? “Dr. Yumkella did not abandon his United Nations job to return and contribute to Sierra Leone’s development. He left the United Nations because his tenure as Director-General of UNIDO had expired”. Forumites, believe or not, the preceding comments came from a notorious PAOPA delusional supporter who is infatuated with fake news.

    Let’s take a look at another: Bilal coleman says — “Bra, I am of the opinion that you do not have a problem with comprehending what you read. You had stated that KKY abandoned his UN job for Salone, which is a blatant lie”

    Mr. Coleman, as you rightly stated “I do not have a problem with comprehending what i read”, On the contrary, it’s abundantly clear that you have limitations on reading and comprehension. To buttress this argument, in my initial statement, this is what you quote me—“He abandoned his highly lucrative international job to come home and contribute to national development.” Young4na. So tell me Mr. Coleman, what were you reading when you suddenly fabricated — Bilal Coleman says “You had stated that KKY abandoned his UN job for Salone, which is a blatant lie”? Can you please specifically point me in my comments where i mentioned the keywords “UN job” that you fabricated? Oh I get it. So does the adjective ‘lucrative’ automatically translates as ‘UN job’ to you, Mr. Coleman?

    Now, it’s emphatically clear that Dr. KKY was employed with a highly lucrative job prior to his decision to return back home. In my follow up comment, I posted several links attesting to the fact that “he resigned or stepped-down” from that lucrative job. So what exactly is amiss by me stating this factual historical event? I really don’t understand why you couldn’t comprehend a simple statement that I made Mr. Coleman. Again, KKY left/resign/step-down from a lucrative international job prior to heading to Salone to participate in national politics, is that simple enough for you to comprehend?

    KKY was never unemployed or nearing a point of being unemployed. So the notion that he return home simply because he had exhausted all his opportunities to gain employment at the international job market can only be associated with a delusional PAOPA supporter.

  2. Young4na, I have read your take and response to Dr. Yumkella’s work at UNIDO. While Dr. Yumkella would never be in the unemployment club it is a fact that his second and final term as Director of UNIDO ended in 2013. The then secretary general appointed him as chair to the sustainable energy drive which is an ad hoc body. By 2016, Yumkella was 57 years. The retirement age was 60 in the UN. The early retirement age was 55 years. At 57 you could retire with all your benefit. Which is what Dr. Yumkella did.

    While both of you are playing with semantics. The fact of the matter is that at the time that he left to participate in the politics of Sierra Leoen Dr. Yumkella did not have a secretariat contract with the UN. So, Coleman might be right to say that he did not leave his lucrative job to come help a country that was and is still in need of a patriotic (this can be define from ones point of view) leader.

    Mrs Zainab Bangura is 58. She just got a secretariat job as UN resident representative in Kenya. The retirement age in the UN has since 2018 been moved to 62. So she still has 4 years to serve. That was not the case for Yumkella who in 2016 was 57+. However, had Ban ki Moon stayed, Yumkella could have bag another appointment as the Korean was a big admirer of the Susu Boy

    • Hahaha; I just don’t get it, Mr. Bah. Your entire post went in an entire 360 degrees trying to refute my factual assertions, only to end agreeing with me. Again, Dr. KKY did not leave his international job to return home because he was going to be out of a job. By all indications, a major factor why he returned home was to make a difference in our nation. Unlike most of our current politicians who were unemployed for many years and will be unemployed if the current regime is to lose power, Dr. KKY was and remains a well accomplished individual who will be financially fine in the remaining life of his.

      As we speak, the man is a member of board of directors of several international organizations across the globe. Every few months or so, he receives invitations to give lectures in various institutions all around the world. Like I have mentioned earlier, there is no need for me to belabor on this subject matter. Dr. KKY is just one of the biggest patriots in our life time.

  3. Bilal Coleman say — “At the end of his tenure, the then UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban-Ki-Moon, appointed him to chair a new advisory group on energy and climate. But that was a temporary position. So the notion that Dr. Yumkella loved Sierra Leone so much that he had to abandon his UN job for Sierra Leone is nothing but a cock and bull story”

    Fellow forumites, Mr. Coleman is now telling the whole world that Dr. KKY was at the verge of losing his international job prior to returning back home in 2016 to run for president. This guy seems to have no limit in fabricating things that could only exist in his alternate universe.

    Here are links pertaining to KKY resignation from his lucrative job:

    https://www.seforall.org/news/yumkella-to-step-down-as-head-of-sustainable-energy-for-all

    https://www.critiqueecho.com/dr-kandeh-yumkela-resigns-from-un/

    http://www.thisissierraleone.com/tag/dr-kandeh-yumkella-resigns/

    It’s needless for me to belabor regarding Dr. KKY international standing then and now. A quick google search with the name Dr. Kendah Yumkellah will prove to any reasonable individual that this unique gentleman will never be in the category of unemployment so long as he desires to work. It appears Mr. Coleman is suffering with a severe case of amnesia coupled with a dose of PAOPA dogmatic propaganda.

    Here is a link to KKY wikipedia page.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kandeh_Yumkella

    • Young4na,

      With all due respect, you have a penchant for rambling on this forum with little or no respect for the truth. Where did I even remotely insinuate that “Dr. KKY was at the verge of losing his international job prior to returning back home in 2016 to run for president.”

      Bra, I am of the opinion that you do not have a problem with comprehending what you read. You had stated that KKY abandoned his UN job for Salone, which is a blatant lie. The man served two terms as Director-General of UNIDO after which he was appointed to a temporary position as chair of an advisory group on energy and climate.

      So, KKY’s tenure as Director-General was over. He did not resign for the love of his country. His term at the UN was finito. Is this very difficult to comprehend? How would such a simple narrative be interpreted to mean that the man was on the verge of losing his job? Interestingly, the links that you have posted really underscore my arguments.

  4. Dr. KKY remains one of the most patriotic public figures we have had as a nation in a very long time. Time and again, this patriot has proven that he is a true son of the soil. He abandoned his highly lucrative international job to come home and contribute to national development. Despite the constant attacks directed at his personality by members of both the APC and SLPP, he remain focus on prioritizing the welfare of our citizens.

    As an opposition figure in the current political dispensation, his style of politics represents the true form of how a multi-party democracy should operate. Time and again, not only has his party and leadership call out the ill-advised actions being taken and implemented by the current regime, they have also on numerous occasions formulated solution approaches pertaining to the host of issues affecting our citizens. May God bless Dr. KKY as he continues to personify what it truly means to be a citizen of our beloved nation.

    • “He abandoned his highly lucrative international job to come home and contribute to national development.” Young4na

      There is no doubt in my mind that Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is patriotic. But on the same token, the above quoted statement from Young4na relative to Yumkella’s loyalty to Sierra Leone should not go unchallenged.

      Dr. Yumkella did not abandon his United Nations job to return and contribute to Sierra Leone’s development. He left the United Nations because his tenure as Director-General of UNIDO had expired. He served two terms in that position, with the first term starting in 2005. At the end of his tenure, the then UN Secretary-General, Mr. Ban-Ki-Moon, appointed him to chair a new advisory group on energy and climate. But that was a temporary position. So the notion that Dr. Yumkella loved Sierra Leone so much that he had to abandon his UN job for Sierra Leone is nothing but a cock and bull story.

      It was only after returning to Sierra Leone that Yumkella joined the SLPP in 2015. He was never a member of the SLPP prior to that time. Yet he believed that he was the anointed one to lead the party and that those that had struggled to keep the party alive and viable should be relegated into oblivion. Such anointed big ego fellas usually end up making a fool of themselves when they attempt to test the electorate under different political banners.

  5. While the article has a lot of positives to learn from, some suggestions are either contradictory to some paragraphs or they are not feasible. For example, Dr Yumkella is suggesting for the Government to utilise qualified Sierra Leoneans irrespective of tribe, region or party affiliation.

    At the same time he is saying that no one tribe should occupy more than 30% of public positions in the country. I will take the Fullah and Krio ethnic groups as my example. While the Fullahs are said to be the third largest tribe, 90 or more percent of their tribes men and women control the commerce of our country. The Krios might be less than 2% of the country’s population but 95 or more percent of their members are highly educated and trained technocrats.

    So if public sector jobs are advertised, Krios would be disadvantaged under the quota system that Dr Yumkella is advocating to be implemented. Trained and qualified Krios would be left out because 30% quota of Krios who numbered below 200,000 is a very small number.

    What about Themnes the largest ethnic group in Sierra Leone. They are also more into commerce than thier counterparts – the Mendes and Limbas. Do you have to disadvantaged them even when they have the academic or technical training.

    President Kabba after the war attempted this system in the army and police. It did not work and was quickly reversed by President Koroma. We all know that the Kurankos, Limbas and Mendes traditionally like to be in the army and police. So what the quota system did when it was introduced by President Kabba was that it bred corruption because a lot of Lokos and Limbas identified themselves as Themne just to utilise the Themne quota.

  6. This article reads like a campaign speech for 2023. But Dr. Yumkella should be commended for not only pointing out the existential problems facing the nation but for also proffering tangible solutions to those problems. One may however argue that the president and his men have been working with similar solutions for quite sometime and that the country will soon start seeing the benefits of their hard work. Tourism, for example, is now on a rise, while the Turkish rice project in Torma Bom, Bonthe district, is currently in full swing.

    Additionally, the president’s impressive speech at the recent Mining conference in South Africa is expected to yield fruits as 30 different mining investors have promised to visit Sierra Leone to conduct feasibility studies. If some of them decide to sign contracts, then they would represent a viable replacement to the shady characters that operated the mines in a conspiracy with the crooked Ernest Koroma and his cohorts to rip off Sierra Leone. All said and done, the future of Sierra Leone is bright.

  7. One thing that the learned Dr. Kandeh Yumkella failed to mention in his very brilliant article is, the “three footing” of the blank cheque Bill in favour of the President and some corrupt ungentlemen cohorts of President Bio. Thank you Dr. Kandeh Yumkella and our noble members of parliament to stop that illegal, fraudulent and unlawful white paper cheque for a very tiny unscrupulous politicians. To be continued

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