Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 January 2019:
Just weeks after naming his cabinet – June 2018, president Bio convened an away day retreat involving his ministers, top civil servants and heads of parastatals, to discuss his mission and plan ahead for the delivery of his government’s New Direction agenda.
The aim of the first retreat was to establish cross-departmental working relationships to improve public service delivery across government. Since that first ministerial retreat, there have been mixed reactions regarding the performance results of the government. (Photo below: President Bio’s first ministerial retreat in June 2018).
The economy is still on life-support, thanks to a $172 million bail out by the International Monetary Fund, and the goodwill of the international community who have once again started to do business in Sierra Leone, after freezing their relationship with the former APC government of president Koroma because of rampant corruption and mismanagement.
Sierra Leone’s economic growth has stagnated, though expected to improve by the end of 2019, assuming that outputs from the mining industry and agriculture sector will rise. Unemployment remains very high, with almost 7 out of every 10 adults out of work.
Poverty is rising. Average daily household earnings continue to remain at less than $2 per person; and this, coupled with rising prices of basic consumer goods, is having a huge impact on the wellbeing of citizens.
But the government has made positive budgetary intervention by increasing the salaries of key public sector workers, as well as increase the number of people working in the state sector, including police and nurses.
Last week’s decision to reduce the pump price of various fuel products and reduced transportation costs, should help ameliorate the impact of high costs of living for most households.
Corruption is being tackled head-on by the Anti-Corruption Commission, bringing public officials to account and get them to pay back monies they have stolen.
The use of a Single Treasury Account by government departments and ministries, is having a positive impact on the management of public finances and in the fight against corruption.
Government investments in infrastructure, whilst trying to keep borrowing under control, is being pursued to aid economic development, but not at the expense of spending on health and education.
The government’s Free Education programme, launched a few months ago and this week’s unveiling of books and other learning materials for schools – costing $26 million, is a huge achievement for a government that has prioritised education.
But, political and social cohesion remain the biggest challenge for president Bio, with the opposition APC accusing the SLPP government of tribalism and selective justice in its pursuit of controlling government spending and fighting corruption.
The government is expecting foreign investments in key sectors of the economy to rise significantly in the next two years, which should create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the farming, fisheries, agro-processing, and tourism industries.
Three things Sierra Leoneans need right now, are: job creation, job creation, job creation.
So, what is the second ministerial retreat all about?
Yesterday, Thursday, 10th January 2019, president Bio officially opened the ‘Second Cabinet Retreat for Ministers and Civil Servants’ organised by the Office of the Chief Minister, at the Bintumani Conference Centre in Freetown.
In his opening address, the chief minister – professor David John Francis, said: “The objectives of this political and administrative retreat are targeted to review the eight strategic priority programmes, and to build a strong positive high performing connective between ministers and civil servants to deliver on government objectives.
“This retreat also provides the opportunity for ministers to have a first-hand information and knowledge about the performance management contract that they will be signing with the President by the 31st January 2019”.
Ministerial performance contract with the president is nothing new in Sierra Leone. In 2007 president Koroma said that he “will run Sierra Leone like a business”, a mantra with which he was lampooned by his opponents after presiding over rampant corruption in his government, which many observers said had been transformed into a ‘friends and family enterprise’.
Ministerial performance contract signed by president Koroma was a sham. There was no accountability. Ministerial performance was not properly managed and monitored, as friendship and nepotism got in the way.
Poor performing ministers were kept in their offices, whilst those deemed not to be towing the line and perceived as too outspoken, were booted out.
President Koroma promised to publish ministerial performance reports, but failed to do so, despite talk of strong leadership – based on openness, accountability, probity and transparency.
So, will ministerial performance contracts under president Bio be any different?
Speaking at the opening of yesterday’s retreat, president Bio did not say how the ministerial performance contracts will work this time round; who will be responsible for managing and monitoring those performance contracts – the chief minister, or the vice president; and whether he will be publishing ministerial performance reports and how frequent.
But he told ministers and heads of departments: “Collaboration among ministries must be driven by strategic outcomes. Cooperation among ministries must not only be purposeful and planned, it should also involve strategic review of those relationships at all times. So, what I emphasised in the last retreat was that we must have a shared understanding and the shared ownership of the national priorities as established.
“Our national priorities should be translated into deliverables for the people of Sierra Leone. Historically, there has been a discordant between the political and administrative leadership of Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDA), that has led to the series of challenges that affected our growth. This fractured relationship has had consequences on policy implementation and delivery,” he said.
These fractured relationships he said, have had huge performance and governance deficit on MDAs, as he called on all ministers and heads of departments to put their differences aside and work towards a common goal, because the interest of the nation is bigger and more important.
President Bio told the ministers and senior civil servants that corruption is a serious threat to the efficiency of the state, and one that has seriously affected the economic growth and development of Sierra Leone.
He assured that the Commissions of Inquiry will not only be there to discover stolen public funds and properties from former public officials, but will be there to identify deficiencies in the system and the way government is run.
“We must draw the line on the culture of impunity in this country. Civil and Public Servants must act with integrity, impartiality and fairness. We will not hesitate to deal with anyone going contrary. Now is the time to deliver for the people of Sierra Leone and tell our own stories,” president Bio said.
But it remains to be seen whether president Bio can translate his strong passion for discipline and good governance into effective management and supervision of ministers and senior civil servants, so as to improve public service delivery, drive economic development, create jobs and reduce poverty.
President Koroma’s ministerial performance contract was a sham. Will president Bio’s be any different? Only time will tell.