Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 November 2019:
The newly appointed Chief of Mission of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Sierra Leone, Ms. Karen Ongley, and her Resident Representative, Dr Monique Newiak, yesterday met president Bio at State House in Freetown, where they discussed a new partnership aimed at addressing the economic challenges facing the country.
The new IMF chief of mission to Sierra Leone (Photo – right of president Bio), told president Bio that she is delighted to be in the country, adding that the measures and progress made so far by the government have been very good, and welcome the government’s strategy to transform the country through innovation and digitalisation.
IMF Resident Representative in Sierra Leone, Dr Newiak (Photo – left of president Bio), said it’s an honour to meet the president, especially after hearing about all the good things that the government is delivering, including key reforms that are underway.
She added that the IMF is in Sierra Leone to support the government in its reforms, through partnership and collaboration.
President Bio told the IMF Chief that Sierra Leone is genuinely committed to making progress economically and socially. He said his government is making progress in tackling the economic challenges facing the government and people of Sierra Leone, for which he says the country needs genuine partners.
Five months ago, the IMF completed the first review of Sierra Leone’s economic performance, under its Extended Credit Facility (ECF) agreement with the government.
As a result of that review, it agreed to disburse the sum of $21.62 million to the government of Sierra Leone, bringing the total disbursements under the current ECF arrangement to about $43.25 million.
Expressing confidence in the Bio-led government in June 2019, 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”.
“Implementation of the program, supported by the IMF, has been satisfactory in the face of a challenging economic environment,” the June 2019 IMF report said.
This program includes the removal of subsidy on various consumer items – such fuel, the withdrawal of massive tax waivers granted by the APC government, prudent government spending, and tough fiscal policy.
But it is not certain whether the new IMF Chief of Mission to Sierra Leone (Photo: Top left), yesterday discussed the possibility of relaxing some of the IMF conditionalities imposed on the government, which many in the country are blaming for the difficult economic situation in the country, with very high taxes, high import duties and exorbitant costs of clearing goods at the seaport, adding to rising inflation and very high costs of living.
Sierra Leone’s 43‑month ECF arrangement for SDR124.44 million (about US$172.1 million or 60 percent of the country’s quota at the time of approval of the arrangement) was approved on November 30, 2018 (see Press Release No. 18/446).
At the end of the performance review in June 2019, the IMF said that the government’s reform agenda which is supported by the ECF, “aims to create fiscal space for priority spending, by strengthening revenue mobilization, containing current spending and improving the efficiency of public investment.”
In a nutshell, the government was told in June 2019, to reduce spending and raise more revenue as a matter of priority. But this is proving quite difficult to achieve, and may well require further negotiations with the IMF at the next review meeting in Freetown, including possible request for waiver of non-observance of performance criteria.
The new IMF Mission Chief to Sierra Leone, joined the IMF in 1998, bringing a wealth of experience to her role. She was previously Mission Chief for West Bank and Gaza and has worked in a range of low and middle-income countries, including Afghanistan, Albania, Egypt, Jordan, Nigeria and Yemen.