Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 April 2022:
A delegation of International Monetary Fund economic assessors are in Sierra Leone to review the Bio-led government’s performance in managing the country’s economy, as the government struggles to meet its financial obligations. Thousands of public sector workers have gone without pay for several months, including dock workers who have gone on strike.
But critics of the government say that the government’s use of the Covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine as an excuse for the dire economic conditions the people of Sierra Leone now face after four years of SLPP rule is untenable. They accuse the Bio-led government of incompetence, slothfulness, and corruption.
In September 2019, an IMF Mission led by Karen Ongley visited Sierra Leone and expressed confidence in the government’s handling of the economy, after discussions with the government on progress toward structural reforms.
Speaking about the discussions, Ms. Ongley said: “Today, we concluded a week of useful technical discussions in Freetown. Our discussions with stakeholders included an update on economic developments and engagement on the structural reform agenda ahead of the next visit to discuss the second review under the Enhanced Credit Facility (ECF) slated for later this year.”
Expressing confidence in the government’s handling of the economy, she said: “Economic performance in the first half of 2019 has been broadly in line with projections at the time of the first review under the ECF, according to preliminary data. Budget developments and credit to the government appear to have been within target, thanks to robust revenue collection and continued, although easing, under‑spending. Gross international reserves increased to almost US $517 million at end‑June (about 3½ months of imports).
“Discussions centred around the government’s progress in developing a strategy to clear a stock of domestic arrears. The government is finalizing the reconciliation of domestic payment arrears and discussed with IMF staff possible options to clear arrears consistent with debt sustainability and supported by reforms to strengthen public financial management.”
Also in June 2019, when the IMF completed its first review of the Bio-led government’s economic performance, the IMF said that “the government’s reform agenda will secure fiscal sustainability, create space for priority spending, and lay the foundation for inclusive growth and poverty reduction.”
But three years on, little can be said of the government’s performance in managing the economy as cost-of-living rises, inflation soars, youth unemployment grows, and most households facing extreme poverty.
Today, the IMF delegation visited the Freetown City Council (Photo above) as part of its review of the country’s economy and the government’s economic performance; and they spoke with Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr. After their meeting, this is what Mayor Aki-Sawyerr said:
“It was a pleasure to today receive the visiting IMF Delegation led by Mission Chief Sukhwinder Singh and IMF Country Representative Monique Newiak. Recognizing that Freetown accounts for 30% of “Sierra Leone’s GDP, we had extensive discussions around the multi-sectoral, data-driven and inclusive approach of the #TransformFreetown agenda. I explained how, because of a commitment to transparency and accountability, FCC reports on progress made against its 19 targets in the annual publications of the Transform Freetown report.
“I was pleased to use this opportunity to present to the delegation a copy of the Transform Freetown Overview and the First Year, Second Year and Third Year Reports.
“Our discussions also covered the innovative digital property reforms introduced at FCC in 2020; the MOPTAX system is now being promoted as a model for other cities in Africa. I stressed the importance of revenue collection for effective service delivery and explained how 20% of revenue collected by wards can now be ring fenced for direct expenditure in those wards.
“The ongoing construction of the three-story market in Wilberforce Village is an example of property rate collection being put to use for residents as is the daily sweeping of our city’s streets.
“Today’s discussions covered a range of other subjects including the urgent need for consistent climate action. FCC is planting, monitoring and digitally tracking 1m trees through the #FreetownTheTreeTown initiative whilst we are witnessing ongoing massive deforestation of millions of trees nationally due to the sale of protected forests for housing and unfettered timber logging. Climate change and home-grown environmental destruction are major risks to our economic growth and consistent action to effectively address these challenges is required.
“I was joined at the meeting by the Chief Administrator and the Mayor’s Delivery Team Lead.“
The IMF is expected to publish its country review report in the coming days, which would not make for pretty reading.