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.