Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 August 2018:
Just over a year ago, 18th July 2017, parliament of Sierra Leone, unanimously approved the appointment of Dr. Patrick Saidu Conteh by president Koroma, as the new Bank Governor of Sierra Leone, following the resignation of his predecessor, Dr. Kaifala Marah.
Today, Dr. Patrick Saidu Conteh has been sacked. President Julius Maada Bio has not said why he has sacked the Bank Governor.
But it is clear from his recent sacking of senior public officials appointed by the former president – Ernest Bai Koroma, that president Bio is trying to ensure that senior public policy makers in the country are fully and loyally committed to delivering his manifesto pledges.
News of Dr Patrick Conteh’s sacking came after the release of a public statement by State House, informing that Dr. Kelfala Kallon – an economics professor living in the US has been appointed as the new Central Bank Governor.
When Dr Conteh was approved by parliament over a year ago, expectations were high as the economy was heading for bankruptcy.
The former Speaker of Parliament – SBB Dumbuya, called on “Dr. Conteh to do his best in stabilizing the monetary aspect of the economy, as he has been extolled in superlative terms by Members of Parliament”.
Members of Parliament on both sides of the political spectrum, praised President Koroma for appointing Dr. Conteh to the office of Bank Governor. But critics said that his appointment was tribalistic nepotism.
Conteh was described by parliamentarians as more than qualified for the job, and they called on him to tighten the screws on financial leakages, and stabilise the Leone in line with the US Dollar.
Other members of parliament referred to Conteh “as a man of integrity and sobriety”, calling on him to be innovative in executing his duties, and to revamp the economy by providing access to loans for Sierra Leoneans.
Both the Acting Minority and Majority Leaders of parliament – Jusufu B. Mansaray and Hassan Sheriff, respectively called on Conteh whom they referred to as an “home-grown” Bank Governor (a euphemism for Sierra Leonean appointees that were not trained overseas), to work closely with the Deputy Bank Governor to improve the management of money supply in the economy.
They also spoke about the need for improved access to loans to farmers, the effective management of the fisheries sector, and the stabilization of currency exchange rates.
It seems Dr Conteh has failed to deliver. But should he be blamed for the economic mess Sierra Leone is in today?
What went wrong in just over twelve months?
Sierra Leone’s economy was badly managed by the former government led by president Ernest Bai Koroma.
Public spending especially on non-essentials, was running ahead of revenue.
Sierra Leone’s single-track economy, its reliance on mining exports – especially iron ore, had started to falter long before Dr Conteh was appointed Bank Governor by a president who seemed totally incapable of diversifying the economy and broadening the country’s taxation base.
As exports fell, so too did the value of the Leone. As government borrowing rose, so too did interest rates, thus making it harder for businesses to grow, expand and create jobs for the millions unemployed in the country.
Many would say that the job of Central Bank Governor is a poisoned chalice irrespective of the occupant. But when the Bank Governor is not in control of the government’s monetary policy, public spending and government borrowing, questions must be asked about the role of the Central Bank in managing the economy.
So who is Dr Kelfala Kallon?
Dr Kelfala Kallon is an Associate Professor at the University of Northern Colorado, where he has lectured since 1993. He was Assistant Professor at Gettysburg College, USA in 1987 – 1993; and Assistant Professor, University of West Florida in 1983 – 1987.
He obtained his PhD in Economics at the University of Virginia in 1983, a BA degree in Economics at the Methodist College in 1976.
Kelfala is a prolific writer on issues affecting the development of Sierra Leone, especially governance and the economy.
Will Kelfala Kallon make a difference to the running of Sierra Leone’s economy, where others before him have failed?
Inflation is now running at over 30% as prices of basic goods continue to rise. The value of the Leone against the Dollar and Sterling has fallen by an average of 20% in the last six months, a decline that started well before the March 2018 general and presidential elections.
Sierra Leone’s export revenue has fallen by more than 25% in the last nine months, especially with the closure of the Tonkolili iron ore mines by the Chinese. Iron ore was a major contributor to the country’s export revenue.
The International Monetary Fund is yet to resume its $284 million funding agreement with the Bio government, after it had suspended its relationship with the Koroma led government last year, because of economic mismanagement.
President Bio is now running his government on cash budget, as revenue sources – especially international funding support, dwindle.
Dr Kelfala must hit the ground running and be given a free hand by president Bio to manage the government’s monetary policy, if he is to make a difference. Will he succeed? Only time will tell.