The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 April 2014
Sierra Leone may have one of the lowest GDP per capita in the continent, yet it is governed by an unwieldy, largely self-serving and dysfunctional structure – made up of 28 ministries, along with a plethora of departments and agencies.
After a decade of transformation strategies, the country’s public sector is regarded by many, as inefficient and unfit for purpose. It is costing over $200 million a year to run.
Over 70% of ministries, departments and agencies are failing each year to meet the government’s own performance benchmarks, set by president Koroma.
And there are serious doubts as to whether the country can continue to borrow and spend its way out of the financial difficulties the government has created.
But the president is insisting that he has the best and most capable team of ministers helping him run the country.
Two weeks ago, Koroma met with local council bosses, heads of departments and agencies, and ministers to sign yet another performance contract, despite the abysmal failings by the president’s henchmen.
Sierra Leone is still regarded as ‘a nation at risk’ – up one notch from being a failed state, following the massive destruction caused by ten years of brutal civil war.
Its dependency on international aid continues to help lever almost 40% of state revenue. GDP growth is averaging just over 6% annually – far better than the continent’s average of 5%.
The country’s debt is now estimated at more than $1.5 billion and climbing, as president Koroma continues his infrastructure development programme, which many analysts refer to as nothing but a ‘gravy train for government contract kickbacks’.
In 2007, when president Koroma was first elected to office on the back of a promised Agenda for Change, he said that he will run the country like a business. But critics are now referring to Sierra Leone as – the “Koroma family and friends’ enterprise Ltd.”
Since 2007, accountability for lucrative government contracts and ministerial spending has been very porous. The Koroma dynasty is now said to be worth over one hundred million dollars.
Successive reports of the country’s Audit Office have cited serious lapses in state financial controls and accountability, as well as a catalogue of evidence suggesting massive misappropriation of public funds.
In its latest report, the Audit Office concluded that millions of dollars remain unaccounted for across almost all ministries and departments, including the office of the president at State House.
In the last few months, president Koroma has faced intense pressure from the World Bank and other funders, to account for an estimated one hundred and fifty million dollars meant to tackle various infrastructural problems in the country, including electricity, water and sanitation, road maintenance, and a poorly managed fibre optic internet project.
As a result, various ministers and public officials have been ‘relieved of their duties’ without any formal investigation by the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission – which itself is listed as one of the worst failing institutions.
When president Koroma, two weeks ago announced the names of the only three state institutions that have performed well, there was no mention of the efforts of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC).
Despite the indictment of several state officials, no government minister or senior party official has been imprisoned for corruption, whilst the government faces international condemnation for the continuous harassment, arrest and jailing of journalists who dare to speak out.
Adult mortality is still rising; the economy is tittering on the edge of collapse as the government runs out of money.
Several communities including the capital Freetown is running short of clean drinking water.
Despite spending more than $500 million on developing the Bumbuna hydro-electricity generating plant, less than 20 Megawatts of electricity is being produced – a key priority of the government.
President Koroma speaking last week in the Netherlands, confirmed that Sierra Leone needs 1 gigawatts (which is 1,000 watts) of electricity to function as a developing and cohesive society. The country is currently producing less than 30 megawatts.
The recently sacked minister of energy – Robin Coker, has been accused of serious lapses of judgement. His entire senior management has been suspended. When president Koroma took office in 2007, he dubbed Sierra Leone – the darkest nation in the world.
But after six years in office, Sierra Leone may not necessarily be described the darkest country in the world, but is still classed among the six darkest.
Only ten percent of households in Sierra Leone have access to electricity, despite the government supposedly spending over $5 million a week on the importation of fuel that powers two aged electricity generators in Freetown.
According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s limited and ageing electricity generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure, is a major constraint to expanding electricity access in the country.
That is why when the World Bank announced last June that it has signed an agreement with the government of president Koroma, to fund an energy ‘resuscitation’ programme, it was greeted with hope.
But there were expectations from the World Bank, in return for providing matched funding of $16 million towards the $45 million project, which is co-financed by the British government through the British Department for International Development (DFID).
The money was handed over directly to the government of Sierra Leone in support of its Infrastructure Development Programme, despite widespread fears and warning that the money could disappear into a black hole through corruption.
According to the World Bank, $13.3 million of its contribution, was to have been spent on the rehabilitation of primary distribution network, loss reduction and improvement of the National Power Authority’s operational and commercial performance; £1.4 million and $1.2 million were to be spent on rural electrification and project implementation.
Unconfirmed report says that less than 40% of the $45 million project budget can now be accounted for by the ministry of energy.
So what has happened to the rest of the money?
According to report from Freetown, another major electricity generation project that is partly funded by the World Bank, costing over $20 million to install solar powered street lighting in the country has collapsed.
Last year, the project ran out of money. There are few functioning solar powered street lights in the country – contrary to agreed spending plans.
Over $7 million owed to contractors working on the solar project have still not been paid, sparking more fears of money meant for such vital project going into the pockets of government officials.
Similarly, when the World Bank handed over $20 million to the government in 2011 as pump-priming funding to invest in the development of a much needed fibre optic telecommunications network in Sierra Leone, few would have believed that most of that money would find its way into the private bank accounts of ministers.
Critics say that president Koroma must have been fully aware of the scam that was taking place, but failed to take proper steps to stop the financial loss and bring those responsible to account, rather than merely removing the minister responsible – Alhaji I.B.Kargbo into another lucrative ministerial role, where more damage continues to be done.
And after two years of political wrangling and confusion, the fibre optic technology is yet to take off, as the government tries to cobble together what is supposed to be a public-private partnership company, which should in theory commercially exploit the technology.
But a serious row is reported to have now erupted between the World Bank and the government.
The World Bank is said to have issued an ultimatum to the government to account for its spending, and progress the ill-fated fibre optic project, or face claw-back of its $31 million funding.
The current minister of information responsible for the fibre optic project – Alpha Kanu, is faced with the task of cleaning up the mess caused by poor leadership and corruption.
It is understood that several ministers – including minister Kanu himself, now own majority shares in the Sierra Leone Cable Limited (SALCAB), contrary to legislative provisions.
The World Bank is believed to have rebuked the government for failing to fully liberalize the market exploitation of the economic opportunities created by the fibre optic technology.
Unemployment continues to rise in Sierra Leone, despite $20 million funding support from the World Bank to help the government tackle rising youth unemployment.
The three main key sectors identified by the government in its Agenda for Change programme; fishing, tourism, agriculture, continue to suffer massive under-investment.
The government’s private sector development strategy launched in 2010 is too weak, muddled and not working.
The president’s desire for more public-private partnerships is yet to materialise into a sustained programme of economic development. Investors’ confidence and trust in the government remains appalling low.
There have been calls for president Koroma to reshuffle his cabinet, but stubbornly he hangs on to his ministers, despite revealing two weeks ago at State House that the vast majority of minsters are failing to meet expected and contracted performance indicators.
Yet, after six years in power and following the singing of successive, disappointing ministerial performance contracts, State House says that: “The time for wasting government revenue is over and that the limited available resources should be expended judiciously in order to fulfil the government aspiration.”
According to media report (Global Times), the following is the government’s 2013 Performance Report Card:
“Out of the 19 councils in the country, Makeni City Council in the North emerged as best performer; Bo City Council came second and Bonthe District Council third.”
“The best Chiefdom Administration in the country was Bo City Council and the worst performing council was Koidu New Sembehun Town Council.”
“Njala University College emerged as the best tertiary institution; followed by Eastern Polytechnic and the University of Sierra Leone, as second and third respectively; Freetown Teachers’ College and the Northern Polytechnic were the worst performing.”
“Among the Commissions, the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) was the best performing; with the National Youth Commission (NYC) and the Sierra Leone Insurance Company (SLICO) second and third respectively.”
“In the category of Agencies, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) emerged as the best performer; followed by the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and the Sierra Leone Water Company (SALWACO) second and third respectively; the Sierra Lone Postal Services (SALPOST) and the Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation (SLRTC) were the worst performing agencies.”
“As for the Ministries, the Ministry of Water Resources emerged as the best performing in 2013; Defence and Health second and third respectively.”
In his keynote address, the President is believed to have said that there has been a marked improvement in the performance of MDAs, but that there are challenges that should be addressed through collaborative efforts.
For the few that have performed well, he encouraged them to continue. And for those performed below expectations, he said he needed additional information to ascertain the reason for their poor performance.
Has the performance review process failed to inform the president as to why over 70% of ministries, departments and agencies are underperforming? Or did someone fail to ask the right questions during the review?
According to president Koroma, if the poor performance was as a result of poor leadership, he will take “appropriate action”.
The President said that “the naming and shaming of non-performing institutions has been done in the interest of good governance”.
But he has failed to say how poorly, key ministries and agencies such as education, electricity, trade and industry, agriculture, finance and economic development, mineral resources, and most importantly – the ANTI-CORRUPTION COMMISSION, have all performed.
Sadly, once again, for those Sierra Leoneans that have been calling for a ministerial reshuffle to get rid of dead weights – who are nothing but a drain on national resources, it seems the president is happy to continue business as usual, with his poor performing band of ministers at the helm.
Is this another missed opportunity to clear the deck of a sinking ship, after six years in power?