Is Sierra Leone back to the IMF with a begging bowl?

Yankuba G Kai-Samba: Siera Leone Telegraph: 30 September 2021:

Since I do not know and I believe my fellow citizens in Sierra Leone don’t know the reason for which president Bio held a meeting with world Bank and IMF officials this week, it’s reasonable to suggest that his visit to the IMF is to seek more financial assistance by way of more loans.

IMF and World Bank are international financial lending institutions which usually support countries that are in severe economic turmoil.

There is no question that Sierra Leone is facing dire economic crisis. The country’s currency has depreciated to double where it was four years ago. Technically, the Leone has become non-transactional anywhere outside of Sierra Leone.

Prices of essential commodities that provide lifeline to majority of the people who have no regular income or job is traumatic, which is impacting on diasporas who have to send remittances for their people.

We are now told by supporters of the government that these are the consequences of the global pandemic, but have we not seen these before the COVID19 pandemic? The damage to the country’s economy started with the failure of the president to deliver on his key manifesto promises earlier on.

Public sector wages bill went up contrary to his promise to cut spending. Corruption increased contrary to his promise of zero tolerance. We saw the largest cabinet appointments in the country’s history.

We saw the largest ever appointments to the diplomatic mission including establishment of new missions, the latest being Morocco and possible an embassy in Vietnam. The country’s foreign missions consume significant part of the country’s revenue.

I have a direct experience of this. I was on secondment from the UK Home Office to Foreign office in Paris and Brussels. The British taxpayer paid €6000 a month for my house. €33,000 a year for each of my three sons to attend international schools. There was special allowance for my wife, who left her job to follow me. All bills were paid by the UK government, they included gas, electricity.  I only paid for telephone bills I used but the landline charges were paid for by the UK government.

My family was entitled to holidays ones a year back home in UK, all paid for by the government.

But even for a wealthy country like the UK, the government has recognised the need to cut down on its foreign mission and has trimmed them down.

Sierra Leone is now indebted with more external loans than under any previous administration, which requires significant adjustment in how the Bio administration allocate and disburse public funds.

I would propose a major review and changes in the rising wage bills, which are consumed by party supporters and affiliates to be  trim down in cognisance with the suffering and hardship the people are going through.

Second, to run a smaller and leaner government, which means lower spending of public funds on  bloated ministers. It’s plain economic madness to spend more than you earn. It’s a waste to have large cabinet ministries, and I see no operational and logistical rationale for having them.

The biggest economy in the world, the USA, with a population of 333,405, 450 million people has 24 cabinet ministers.  Sierra Leone, a country that relies on 80 percent of its revenues derived from external budgetary support has a population of 8,176,452 million, but 30 cabinet ministers. These do not include deputies, which in some ministries, there are two deputies. Britain with a population of 67 million people have 29 cabinet ministers.

One major problem facing president Bio is that he came to power on the shoulders of others, who invested their personal funds on his campaign.  He finds himself obligatory to reward them with highly paid jobs to compensate for their support.

The predominance of the diasporas in his administration is not a coincidence, as this group made significant financial contribution towards his election campaign. He should now review this to reflect the appalling economic reality in the country. To trim down foreign mission staff by the process of amalgamation is an appropriate area to save money.

IMF loans, which are reportedly used to pay for these high salaries cannot be sustained, as the country’s ability to repay these loans is frankly negligible because Sierra Leone doesn’t have the structural foundation, industrial and export base to increase its GDP growth.

Consequently, Sierra Leone is faced with a cyclical dig hole to cover another hole economic policies in the management of the country’s finances, which has landed us in perpetual stagnation and worse now than four years ago when I wrote that the Ernest Koroma government “was the most corrupt and incompetent in the country’s history”.

Assuming that president Bio’s meeting with these external financial institutions is to secure loans or release of promised loans, can the president now admit that the Sierra Leone economy is in complete turmoil and that he has failed to deliver on his election manifesto to reduce the wage bills, cut waste, close loopholes, fight corruption and resolve the bread-and-butter issues.

Attached to IMF conditionalities is their prescription for fiscal discipline. This requires slim government, reduced public spending, and reduction or removal of subsidies on commodities such as fuel.

Often these measures affect the less fortunate and poor in society very hard, with empirical evidence suggesting that the macroeconomics policy dictates from the IMF, undermine rather than promote independent internal  policy initiatives of a sovereign nation, leading  to riots and social disorder.

Will the president now undertake to cut down on the blotted public sector giveaway wages to his appointees (as this is a betrayal of his election manifesto promises) and spread the savings across to the lowest paid workers in order to bridge the gross disparities in public sector salaries.

Can he also accept that his over three years stewardship of the economy is now harsher on the ordinary people than when he came to power?

Can I also draw his attention to what is an emerging multiple documentary evidence, both from the government’s own auditor general and the USA based  investigative Africanist press media, that pointed at missing and unaccounted for funds and the skilfully crafted innovative ways of embezzlement of state funds are indicative  of  his glaring failure in leadership and the fight against corruption and waste.

Can he now also recognise, given the worsening economic situation in the country, in over three years of his government, that the 2023 general and presidential elections will be decided on two important issues: the state of the economy and the fight against corruption.

On both critically vital election calculus, I am sorry to say that president Bio has failed to deliver. This is my honest submission; it is now left with the voters to decide in 2023. I will now rest my pen on this subject to see how things play out in 2023.

3 Comments

  1. Even some of you over there have a lot to play, for the development of mama salone, president Bio himself cannot solved the problem of this country. We are really suffering home. Come home and educate the people of mama salone, too much illitracy in the country, it is a collective effort to we all to eradicate this problem. I am here at home lecturing electrical engineering principles at Sierra Leone Opportunities Industrialization center SLOIC Makeni campus with no salary only a little stipend but I am still rendering my efforts just for the country to gain it glory, the anthem of West Africa.

    Let us come together and build the nation and trying to forget about this thing called politics. Like for some of us we have a little experience in the eleven years civil war, what benefits does it crate for the country? We the youths didn’t want to see such repeat again, we are thinking of development now. We move forward ever backward never. Mohamed Fatu kargbo.

  2. Compared to other countries like Afghanistan, Lebanon and Zambia ,that are not in the good books of this international financial institutions, the IMF, World Bank, and the African Development Bank, as a nation, we have thus so far escape the restriction placed on this countries on some of the hoops they have to jump, for them to have any access to the credit facilities offered by this international financial institutions. So far Bio and his government have enjoyed an easy ride. we will say this three institutions have been providing financial support as a lender of last resort to a government that have been accused by the Africanist Press, as one of the most corrupt government in our country’s recent history. We know transparency and accountability, buttress by sound economic policies is what is lacking. Hence Bio, and his Finance Minister kept going back to the IMF and other financial institutions, with cap in hand asking for help . And this loans are not free.

    Both the present generation and the next generation of Sierra Leoneans have to shoulder this debt burden, that Bio is busy accumulating for us. This short – term financial assistant as our country experience economic hiccups, or temporary cyclical balance of payments deficit, can only be redress if Bio and is government are ready to come up with sound economic policies, that will have massive impact on growth and stability.

    With the impact of COVID19, there is no time to waste. Now is the time to bite the bullet and come up with sound economic policies, like education and training, energy availability, rebuilding of our road networks, and providing credit facilities for small and medium size businesses. In any country, they are the main drivers of economic growth, which in turn provides employment for the Youths. So in the short term it can help provide some relief and breathing space for the government, whilst at the same time extend the funding facility for any future economic developments, and create a buffer against any unseen economic shocks in to the horizon.

  3. A forensic take on the failings of the Bio administration. I really enjoyed reading this piece. It demonstrates clearly why Bio governs the way he does. He is beholden to those who bankrolled him into power. It is now pay back time. Hence a bloated, expensive and unproductive administration. The President’s interests and those of his party and their backers take centre stage, resulting in a particularly egregious form of state capture. Hence a lack of any serious attempt to deal with the perennial problems of underdevelopment: huge external debt burden, non-delivery of basic public services and widespread poverty.

    It is up to Sierra Leonean voters to give the incompetent, uncaring and self-seeking administration the boot in 2023. Of course the problem will still be: which party and leader do you then give the reins of power to? Will the current opposition parties, large and small, form a united electoral front to beat Bio and his party and then agree to form it for the first in our nation’s history a coalition government – a government of national unity of sorts? It might be worth a try given that the winner-take-all political governance arrangement that we have put in place since independence has failed us woefully. We should be bold and imaginative enough as a nation to try something new.

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