Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 February 2020:
A statement published yesterday by Sierra Leone’s ministry of finance, speaks volumes about the government’s ability and claims that it is successfully balancing its finances, through what it calls ‘cash budgeting’ – meaning that it is paying its bills including staff costs with the cash it collects from taxes.
This clearly is not true. The government is still borrowing and receiving donor aid to help meet the costs of running the affairs of State and delivery of public services, and yet struggling to pay the salaries of public sector workers.
Equally true, is the fact that the cost of servicing of pubic debt left behind by the former government and now also being incurred by the present government, amounts to about 30% of government’s expenditure each month, with 60% of what remains being spent on paying the wages and salaries of ministers and all public sector employees.
In the last few days, there have been uneasiness among public sector workers, complaining about the government’s failure to pay their January salary. Since receiving their last pay-cheque, just before Christmas in December, most public sector workers are yet to receive their January salary.
Yesterday, finance minister JJ Saffa published a statement saying that salaries for the month of January have as of yesterday, been paid. He also confirmed that because of the government’s huge monthly public debt commitment, the government is having difficulty paying salaries and meet its financial obligations to contractors..
But if salaries have been paid on time in previous months, then what has changed in government’s prioritisation of its finances?
Most people would say that in the last three months the government’s foreign travel costs have skyrocketed because of the increasing number of foreign visits made by the president, his wife and their very large entourage.
The question that must be asked therefore, is whether the government has prioritised foreign travel over the payment of public sector workers salaries as well as public contractors – an all too familiar failing of the previous government, for which they paid a heavy price at the polls in 2018.
The cost of the government’s foreign travel last year ran into Billions of Leones, which could have been set aside to pay public sector workers salaries and other essential budgetary requirements.
When this government came into office in 2018, it immediately announced a series of stringent financial austerity measures, aimed at curbing excessive and unnecessary government spending which president Bio referred to as ‘leakages’.
But now it seems that the president has lapsed into business as usual, with those leakages originating from State House itself.
Millions of Sierra Leoneans, up and down the country, are tightening their belts and making sacrifices in response to the very tough economic challenges facing the country. Inflation is rising, the value of the Leone continues to fall as export revenue from mining declines. Businesses are struggling to survive because of very high interest rates and poor sales.
It must therefore be seen as a travesty, for the government to compound the economic malaise crippling poor households, with the non-payment of public sector workers’ salaries.
The government must itself abide by the fiduciary management standards of good governance that it preaches, if it is to win the confidence of investors, and continue to enjoy the goodwill of the people.
This is the statement issued by the minister of information: