Abayomi Tejan: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 17 August 2019:
As no new nation is built on virgin ground, so it is with governments. All new governments must contend with the legacies of its predecessor, whatever they may be.
President Julius Maada Bio’s ‘New Direction’ is the same old Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) adopted by successive governments, following the restoration of democracy, after eleven years of armed civic conflict in Sierra Leone. A democracy that is still evolving and morphing, acquiring varying degrees of new attributes.
Bio’s New Direction is the fifth edition of the PRSP, supposedly the recipe for poverty reduction, economic stability and growth, food security, agriculture, education, employment, and all the other do’s and don’ts of achieving economic prosperity.
The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) serve to complement and streamline national development with the international benchmarks in the SDGs manifesto. Hundreds of nongovernmental organizations, Civil Society groups, UN Agencies, Bilateral Cooperation outfits, also offer, or purport to render, deliverables to lighten the burden on the Central Government.
In addition, a vast repository of paperwork offering innumerable solutions to what would appear infinite strangleholds on the economy, provides more than enough intellectual resource to a government ready and willing to avail itself.
Still, no government, since the turn of this millennium, has been able to deal with an economy that seems to defy all the laws of public finance, going at a tangent from it’s intended trajectory, over and over.
Something must be wrong somewhere. Otherwise, Sierra Leone would rank higher than Rwanda in the Human Development Index. And the people of this nation would never have lacked the most basic of all life’s necessities – food.
There is so much more lacking though, but the uncertainty that one would eat and not starve for the day, is the most degrading human condition one could possibly find oneself.
Therefore, President Bio’s primary responsibility now is making sure that there is enough food available in the market, and affordable to every household in Sierra Leone. This is one thing that can’t wait.
He must do it now, otherwise the opposition would be seen to be justified in its criticism and condemnation of the kind of leadership President Bio has ushered in, no matter how good his intentions might be.
Price control is out of the question; it is against the law for the government to tell a trader how much to sell goods in the open market. Neither could the government simply lift all port charges on imported rice. Or could it?
Growing what we eat is easier said than done. Provincial land tenure continues to militate against private investment in agriculture.
Those who have access to abundant arable lands in the provinces prefer to live in urban centres and cities, drawn to the distractions of popular culture. While those in cities consider farming as too menial an enterprise to their self-esteem.
Critics often overlook these negative notions in the psyche of the masses when holding government responsible for their hunger. Sometimes, it’s the fault of the citizens for their own predicament.
If Sierra Leoneans were the ‘crickets,’ then the Chinese were the ‘ants.’ We play and sing during summer, while the Chinese gather food.
Now it’s raining. When you talk about the president, you must also talk about the people. However, if the opposition thinks that the mere existence of privation is enough to topple a government, they are on the wrong page.
If that was the case, no government since Siaka Stevens would have lasted twelve months in office. There has never been a time when everything was fine, ever. But things could’ve been much better if the right leadership was in place.
When Siaka Stevens (Photo: Stevens with China’s Chairman Mao) made the disastrous blunder of hosting the OAU Summit in 1980, the economy of Sierra Leone found itself in a rather desperate situation.
It was then that the habit of stealing government money with impunity, by politicians and public servants, replaced honesty as a virtue.
The entire government infrastructure, its laws and constitution, it’s institutions and personnel – from the president to the mendicant in the streets, degenerated into a travesty of a failing nation, headed for anarchy and the dissolution of the state.
Anarchy came, there was a coup, then a war, and democracy fled. Only to return again in the year 2000.
It has a name – this poison of society. It’s called Corruption. And President Julius Maada Bio has chosen to pick a fight with this powerful, grotesque monster. What a fight this is going to be, on his hard journey to a ‘prosperous’ 2023.
Next, and in conclusion of this series, we will take a hard, dispassionate look at how the president is faring so far in his fight against corruption.