The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 August 2014
Few people would dispute what has been regarded as the inevitability of Ebola crossing the borders of neighbouring Guinea into Sierra Leone.
But what cannot be denied is the rapidity and pace with which the virus has spread across Sierra Leone, because of poor decision making and the lack of government leadership, prior to and during this crisis.
With more than 260 people unofficially confirmed dead, and several hundred more on death beds – not sure of their fate, there is little doubt Sierra Leone could have responded much more effectively, had the culture of public investments not been defeated by rampant government corruption.
The co-founder of London Mining Plc, one of the largest investors in Sierra Leone – Chris Brown, told the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “I hope that Sierra Leone will be well on the path to prosperity in the next ten years. But I am not certain, largely because of the elephant in the room that was not adequately addressed by President Koroma’s document (Agenda for Change), nor his current government during the President’s second term – and that – is the issue of corruption within the Government.“
For several decades there has been, and still is the case today, the lack of genuine prioritisation of government and donor spending on building new hospitals; equipping and modernising existing health centres; training and increasing the numbers of doctors, specialists, and nurses; development of clean and safe water systems at district level; provision of good standard of waste management and sanitation systems.
With a population of 6 million and a GDP of $3 billion, Sierra Leone receives about Le300 billion (approximately $67 million) in foreign donor grant-in-aid, every year.
Yet, over 70% of people in Sierra Leone live in poverty; less than 15% have access to proper toilet facility; and more than 65% do not have access to constant supply of safe, clean drinking water.
Ebola did not arrive in Sierra Leone by bus. It was carried across the borders by people – very poor people, who for far too long, have been marginalised and deprived of access to all of those public services, that most people in civilised nations take for granted.
And the sooner the United Nations declares ‘corruption in high places’ a crime against humanity – as in war crimes, the better for people throughout Africa.
The Ebola crisis has opened up, and renewed the debate for genuine and rapid devolution of power and decentralisation of public services, including the allocation of resources and budgets for effective implementation at provincial level in Sierra Leone.
We cannot continue business as usual that has woefully failed our people.
And this is a post-ebola debate that the Sierra Leone Telegraph will be pushing, once this menace has been brought under control.
But in the meantime, there is genuine scepticism and apprehension over the government’s so called Agenda for Prosperity, which the Ebola crisis is now exposing as nothing but a ‘bag of wind’.
In our interview with Mr. Chris Brown, one of the few foreign investors in Sierra Leone president Koroma ought to be consulting, with respect to harnessing the country’s economic development potential, it is clear the president has a lot of work to do.
He needs to instil confidence in those that are responsible for creating the sustainable jobs that could transform the country into a prosperous nation by 2025.
This is what Mr. Chris Brown told the Sierra Leone Telegraph:
Mr. Brown, president Koroma has presented his $6 billion Agenda for Prosperity as his strategy for taking the country into the middle-income group of countries by 2025. What is your assessment of the country’s economy now; and where do you see Sierra Leone in the next 10 years?
I have heard much about President Koroma’s Agenda for Prosperity, but never taken the time to read it until now. It is an intelligent, well-thought out document that takes a top down view of the country.
He has split the agenda into eight main pillars: 1. Diversified Economic Growth. 2. Managing Natural Resources. 3. Accelerating Human Development. 4. International Competitiveness. 5. Labour and Employment. 6. Social Protection. 7. Governance and Public Reform. 8. Gender and Women’s Empowerment.
This is a massive problem to solve, to drag Sierra Leone up to middle income status. But I have always believed the best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time. And there is no such thing as a free lunch.
Entrepreneurial companies should focus on making profitable businesses ethically, that employ people; and the government should focus on providing the infrastructure, and improving the bureaucracy and good governance to support these businesses; as well as broadening its tax bases to provide hospitals, education and welfare.
Additionally, it would be foolhardy to rely on NGOs or China to rescue Sierra Leone, without thinking there are no strings attached.
It is really important to have a vision of where a country wants to go to, and this document sets out that vision.
In setting out that vision, it will not be possible to predict exactly how a government will achieve that vision, as there will always be unexpected surprises, such as Ebola on one hand, and the discovery of economic quantities of oil on the other.
But where there is a will, there is a way.
I hope that Sierra Leone will be well on the path to prosperity in the next ten years.
But I am not certain, largely because of the elephant in the room that was not adequately addressed by President Koroma’s document ( the Agenda for Change), nor his current government during the President’s second term – that is – the issue of corruption within the Government. (Photo: Anti- Corruption Commissioner – Kamara).
Sierra Leone needs foreign capital to grow. Well run businesses will always be reluctant to invest their capital in a corrupt playing field.
I am one of the few major investors in tourism, largely because I have a social agenda to try and make a difference in Sierra Leone. It is a lonely battle and not one I am convinced I am winning.
What do you think the government must do to develop the tourism sector, so that it can compete with other tourist destinations, such as the Gambia?
Once the Ebola virus crisis has abated, the Government should focus on promoting Sierra Leone as a winter sun destination.
In my humble opinion, very few people are going to come to Sierra Leone just to visit Bunce Island, Banana Island, Tacaguma Chimpanzee Sanctuary, Tiwai Island or do a historical tour of Freetown.
Instead of selling a bunch of products, the Tourism Board needs to focus on finding a solution to tourists’ needs.
What I believe is that a lot of tourists want a holiday in the sun, on a nice sandy beach, to feel safe, and to get away from it all.
For instance, is it really sensible marketing what are essentially business hotels in Freetown, as a tourist destination? I don’t think so.
I also think that successfully marketing to Europe is going to be very difficult for a long time to come, because of the war legacy fears and now because of the Ebola virus.
I believe the future in the shorter term is in attracting tourists from the oil-rich nations of Nigeria and Ghana, to one of the best beaches in the world, and avoid traffic-clogged Freetown altogether.
The Place at Tokeh has already started marketing to both these countries, and it is warming to hear the platitudes that are expressed towards Sierra Leone, in what they see as part of their West African family.
Once the Government focuses on this, then they need to put policies in place to stop the rampant uncontrolled development around these beaches, as well as individuals that are buying valuable beach-front land cheaply, yet are unable or refuse to develop it.
I certainly do not want to take up the current Lands, Country Planning & the Environment Minister – Mr Musa Tarawally’s suggestion to the Italian Ambassador – Alessandro Rossi (and in front of our management team), to turn The Place at Tokeh into a sex tourism destination!
I also do not believe that is sensible for the Lands Minister to sell off land, or to allow the slash and burn farming practices on the Western Area Peninsula Forest Reserve side of the Peninsula Highway.
But it is not for me to tell you, how your ministers ought to govern your country.
In our next edition, we ask Mr. Chris Brown, whether he – as a foreign investor in Sierra Leone, believes the government has created the right conditions and environment that are conducive to business investments.
We also ask, if he can foresee Sierra Leone in the near future having the wherewithal to process and add value to its natural resources – minerals and agricultural produce, that are currently being exported at very low price.
I really think the government’s agenda for prosperity is like shaking off the dust that will only end up dirtying oneself. I was in Sierra Leone a few weeks ago and nothing absolutely seems to be working in promoting the country’s economic growth.
Corruption is at it’s highest peak in all government sectors, starting from births and deaths office – The SLRA – Police – Sierra Leone National ID-Card office – all in Freetown.
Nothing is in order in these offices, from the people who work in them to the office systems.
I am afraid of what could be the destiny of my ambitious daughter who has just sat to her high school certificate examination.
I took her around most of the government departments to see how reckless those running the nation are. Most people in higher positions are incompetent.
My daughter was very much discouraged by the mess she saw.
Before Ebola reached Sierra Leone I tweeted on the president’s page and advised him to take measures that could have either prevented the virus entering the country or minimised its impact if it enters the country.
This was when the incompetent minister of health was boasting about how well prepared they were for Ebola, and telling people they should not close the border with Guinea.
The government deliberately neglected what needed to be done and instead sacrificed the poor Sierra Leoneans for UN-WHO fund. It is rather sad to see a government that is only looking after its own interests rather than the nation and the people.
I took my daughter to Goderich to see the president’s newly constructed house. It was another sham and a clear signal to the nation that this government is not serious and is negligent.
How can a president build a mansion and yet the road leading to his residence is full of potholes? I kept asking myself about this man’s agenda for prosperity.
Everyday I walked the streets of Freetown, my heart bled with sorrow and tears for the way our people are suffering – most especially the many youths that are roaming Freetown without hope and knowledge of their destiny.
There is no town planning in the country. People build houses as they like, without roads, no water supply, no electricity, no drainage.
I see Sierra Leone for now as a lost nation, and it saddens my heart.