Sierra Leone Telegraph: 6 July 2019:
Former president Koroma, former vice president, ministers and senior officials of the previous APC government have today received an inflation bursting windfall from president Julius Maada Bio, amounting to millions of dollars.
This massive windfall is in lieu of their end of service benefits and gratuities, after the Koroma government lost elections held in March last year.
The non-payment of these benefits and gratuities have been regarded by the opposition APC, as a major bone of contention for their party, which is led by former president Koroma.
It is understood that president Bio has decided to make these payments so as to end political tension in the country.
This announcement comes as former President Ernest Bai Koroma yesterday received half of his total of 26 security detail who were withdrawn by the police in May this year.
But today’s public statement about the payment has received mixed reviews from Sierra Leoneans at home and abroad.
Many believe that the payment amounts to political bribery. Whilst others say that the opposition APC have blackmailed the president into making this award.
Some policy analysts are questioning how the government could afford to make such huge payment in the face of very high inflation in the country, which is causing severe hardship for millions of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
Last year president Bio announced major government spending restrictions and austerity measures across all ministries and departments.
This tough fiscal policy has been widely applauded. But today’s payment is bound to dent the president’s image in the eyes of those who have supported his disciplined approach to governance.
“Is president Bio now cosily sleeping with those he has referred to as corrupt?”
That’s the question many SLPP supporters are now asking on social media, after the president’s vow to ensure that former government officials are held to account for hundreds of millions of dollars stolen whilst in office.
President Bio has always maintained that there is no money in the country. He has blamed former president Koroma, his ministers and senior officials of bleeding the country dry through corruption and mismanagement of public funds.
But today, it seems the president has decided to eat his words and re-write the narrative – all in the name of peace and stability in the country.
There are suggestions now that the president should disband the commissions of inquiry that are beginning to sound like toothless bulldogs.
Will today’s inflation bursting payment to the opposition APC lead to the national cohesion that the president has called for?
In today’s announcement from State House, president Bio said a total of Le66.8 Billion is owed to the president, his ministers and senior government official of the previous government. He said that 50% of this amount – Le33.4 Billion will be paid now and the rest to follow at some point.
Where did president Bio find this money to pay the opposition APC? Has he robbed Peter to pay Paul? Is he using part of the $21 Million borrowed from the IMF to build his political capital?
This is what the statement says:
“The Ministry of Finance announces for the information of the general public that the sum of Le33,415,0572, 70 has been disbursed for the payment of severance benefits, gratuities and arrears of pensions to former President, Vice President, Ministers and Deputy Ministers, and other Political Appointees of the previous Administration.
“The amount disbursed represents 50% of the total amount due as payment of severance benefits and gratuities while arrears due of the monthly pensions have been paid up to 31st May, 2019. Going forward, their monthly pensions from June 2019 will be paid by NASSIT.”
The table below shows a breakdown of payments by category and number of beneficiaries:
Former President & Vice President (2 officials) – amount owed Le6,806,480,697.00 – amount paid now – Le3,403,240,348.50
Former Ministers and Deputy Ministers (59 officials) – amount owed Le36,431,825 ,281.00 – amount paid now Le18 ,2 15,912 , 640.50
Ambassadors & Deputy Ambassasdors , Information & Cultural Attaches (44 officials) – amount owed Le7,277,843,695.00 – amount paid now Le3,638,921,847 .50
Heads of Agencies/Departments (38 officials) – amount owed Le5,721, 130,549.00 – amount paid now Le2,860,565,274.50
Subvented Agencies End of Service Benefits (154 officials) – amount owed Le6,902,150, 987.00 – amount paid now Le3,451 ,075,493.50
Contract Gratuities – Ex-Gratia (74 officials) – amount owed Le3,690,683,331.00 – amount paid now Le1,845 ,341,665.50
Total number of former government officials to receive payment – 371
Total owed by government – Le66,830,114,540.00
Total to be paid now – Le33,415,057,270.00
The government’s statement continues:
“The public would recall that in 2017, the IMF suspended its engagement with the then Administration due to low domestic revenue collection and slippages in the management of the finances of the State.
“Upon assumption of the leadership of the State, the new Administration prioritized and negotiated a new credible economic programme with the IMF and other development partners, which was approved in November 2018.
“The first review of the good economic track record and performance of Government was successfully completed on June 28, 2019, resulting to immediate disbursement of about US$21.62 million. This immediate disbursement includes direct budget support of US$13.9 million.
“It is worthy for the general public to know that at the time the previous Administration prepared the 2018 Budget, they did not make provisions for the payments of end of service benefits to ex President, Vice President, Ministers and Deputies, Diplomats and other political appointments.
“Therefore, these payments, which are part of the 2019 Budget of the new Administration, have been made possible as a result of the disbursement of the US$ l3.9 million by IMF reflecting the good economic performance of the Sierra Leone Government.
The balance 50% of the amount due will be paid in due course.”
Will this payment yield peace and political dividend for president Bio?
Will money succeed where peace talks led by the likes of Helen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and the Inter-Religious Council, have failed? Only time will tell.