Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 August 2019:
An internal Sierra Leone Government memo making the rounds on social media, signed by president Bio’s Secretary, is calling on ministers and senior government officials to refrain from travelling abroad until further notice, to help reduce rising government spending.
This memo comes amid growing public disquiet, about the huge cost of the president’s travelling overseas to the tax payer, which many say has become unsustainable.
Some critics have estimated the cost of each trip made by the president at about $50,000 including per diem.
Although the leaked internal memo from State House does not say whether president Bio has also agreed to a self-imposed ban on foreign travel, the expectation is that the president will lead from the front – by example.
Sierra Leone’s economy is facing huge challenges, according to the latest World Bank report, including rising foreign debt, for which the president and his SLPP party had criticized and lampooned the former APC government of president Koroma.
While government spending is increasing, despite promises by Julius Maada Bio to curtail unnecessary government spending if elected to office, government revenue from mining export and domestic taxation has not improved much.
President Bio is now increasingly relying on foreign aid, borrowing, and the retrieval of stolen public funds by the Anti-Corruption Commission from former officials in the previous Koroma led APC government to run his government. But retrieved stolen funds is very little beer money to keep the government afloat.
The government has recently increased minimum salary for public sector workers, including teachers and nurses.
But the removal of subsidies on vital consumer products – such as petrol, electricity and water charges, as well as rising inflation, are making life very difficult for most Sierra Leoneans. Poverty is once again on the increase.
Lack of employment opportunities in the country is fast creating a nation of disaffected youths, over 70% of whom are out of work.
The country’s fishing, mining and tourism sectors are yet to receive the level of investments promised by president Bio and his government over sixteen months ago, when they won presidential elections with an uncomfortable 51% majority.
In just over three years from now (2023), Sierra Leoneans will go to the polls to decide whether to keep president Bio at State House, or bring in a new tenant who can do better.
Hence, any public outcry about frivolous spending by government officials, would make for an unhappy reading by the president, who has now decided to curb ministerial overseas travelling. But does this ban include himself? Will he lead by example?
This latest move by the president, could help ease growing pressure on the demand for foreign currencies, caused by ministerial visits abroad.
Sierra Leone’s currency – the Leone, has lost over 30% of its value since 2017. The governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone – Professor Kelfala Kallon, is running short of ideas as to how to turn the currency around.
Speaking on national radio this morning, the information minister said that president Bio is waging war on three fronts: Poverty, revenue leakages, and corruption. Sierra Leoneans are eagerly waiting to see a positive outcome on all fronts, soon.