Our failed and vulnerable economy

Austin Thomas

11 February 2012

President Koroma

Sierra Leone’s economic tragedy is not that we are poor; the tragedy is that we lack a ruling class that is committed to overcoming our state of poverty. Real politics here has little to do with social and economic reconstruction. The observation of the assassinated South African writer Ruth First in her book; “The Barrel of a Gun”, published in 1970, remains valid today.

There has been eloquent, inexhaustible talk about politics, side by side with the gaping poverty of political thought. Down there on the ground in Sierra Leone, you can smother in the small talk of politics. Mostly it is about politicking – rarely about policies.

Politicians are men who compete with each other for power, not men who use power to confront their country’s problems. Since 2007 – with a change of government, decision-making on problematic areas, such as the economy, have become submerged in uncountable controversies.

The government is under-performing. It has woefully failed immeasurably; where it has sidelined the needs and aspirations of majority of the population, who for no palpable reason have to grapple with about eight more months of deception, and public display of wealth by government officials.

There has been too much rhetoric, counter-accusations, lies and commentaries based on nothing but political mudslinging and tittle-tattle. This has become the hallmark of the Koroma administration – pettiness and mediocrity.

The government has started to generate revenue from iron ore exports by African Minerals and London mining, but there is little practical impact on the economy.

Sierra Leoneans need to rethink hard about voting in November to change the direction of the country. Our history is no different to what is happening today. The APC government of Siaka Stevens and Joseph Momoh destroyed Sierra Leone.

In 1980, the Leone was in parity with the dollar. Today it is Le4,500 in exchange to the dollar. It was under an APC administration that we started to witness long queues in desperation for basic consumer commodities. Bank liquidity became so poor as to warrant the rationing of cash withdrawn from banks. But yet, we seem to have forgotten that history.

When president Koroma won the elections in 2007, after Tejan Kabbah’s success in ending the war and stabilizing the economy, all Ernest Koroma had to do was to steer a steady and prudent course. This, he has failed to do.

With such a poor economic record, one wonders why the president is so confident of winning the forthcoming elections in November 2012. Many in Sierra Leone believe that he is prepared to use violence and rig the ballots, as has been the policy and politics of the APC party.

Last week the president was reported to have happily commissioned 40 new buses at the national stadium. The government said that the buses were purchased using revenue generated internally – not donor funds.

But if those buses were bought using public funds, why should the public for whose benefit they were purchased, be asked by the president ‘to show gratitude’ to the government?

What president Koroma should be doing is to use public funds as leverage for private investments in improving the country’s air, rail and road transport networks and systems.

His party – the APC, is responsible for destroying the country’s national airline and trains – out of personal greed and corruption.

New challenges are emerging in Sierra Leone. The government’s response has been poor. The mismanagement of the country’s economy is a product of the deficient leadership and bad governance.

The government’s policy approach in stimulating economic growth has been largely driven by its support for the regeneration of the diamond, gold, rutile and ore mining industries. But it is obvious that the government’s industrial policy is straddled by a ‘beggar-thy-neighbour’ attitude.

Sierra Leone lacks strong leadership, and unless that changes, the country’s poor economic management, and recent debacle of foreign aid, mismanagement of donor funds and increased borrowing, would remain a disincentive for rapid economic growth, as domestic output decreases.

The president’s desire to protect his political appointees, cronies and party interests appears to be seriously influencing his politics, policies and judgement.

Recent unsolved scandals and allegations of corruption by senior government officials, the vice president, the Mayor of Freetown, the Director of the 50 Years Independence Celebrations Committee, do not bode well for the country’s development.

Inevitably, it is the people who are suffering from the perception that president Koroma and his government lacks the ability to govern, as genuine foreign investors stay away.

The constant engagement in self-deception and uttering of sweeping statements by government officials, which the president of a country does not condemn, are not only shocking and demeaning, but helping to define how far Sierra Leone’s democracy is deteriorating gradually.

Bad governance cannot foster development, and it is imperative the government begins to design and implement development strategies geared toward individual needs and circumstances, while ensuring improvement in the government machinery.

Sierra Leone is on life-support, against the backdrop of failed promises and trivialities that represent a mockery of the government and its paid commentators, who have disengaged their attention from “bread and butter” issues.

Many developing and post-war countries such as Rwanda are enjoying good governance, which is promoting rapid economic growth. This is because of their governments’ positive engagement with the citizenry, and innovative policy interventions.

This has been the bane of Sierra Leone’s post-independence experience. There is a serious absence of a genuine driving force for good economic management, as the government continuously fails to recognize that there is a correlation between development, poverty and poor governance.

The demand for fresh thinking and change is legitimate, partly moved by the fact that the people have been short-changed and micro-managed by deception. It is important the people learn and work toward change, and good governance.

The people of Sierra Leone are slowly but increasingly realising that; power lies in their hands, and that with such power they can determine which direction the nation takes, through the ballot box.

The 17th of November elections, will give the electorate an opportunity to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with president Koroma’s lackluster leadership and inept governance.

But the opposition SLPP must now unveil its alternative economic development and social policies, which will uplift the people from poverty and under-development.  

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