Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 October 2021:
As Sierra Leone government’s debt reaches record level for a post-war administration, and the economy sliding fast into deeper quagmire with prices of basic consumer items running at over 20% and unemployment at its worse since president Bio took office in 2018, there are calls for the ministry of finance to quickly conclude its 2022 Financial Year budgetary planning rounds with ministers. (Photo above – president Bio and his ministers at a ministerial retreat in 2018).
But the question many in the country are asking is whether the government can afford to massively increase public spending in 2022 ahead of general and presidential elections, by pushing its borrowing to over $4 Billion.
Speaking at a meeting with ministers early this week in Freetown, finance minister Dennis K. Vandi said that the focus of the government’s 2022 budget is to consolidate and complete all ongoing priority projects, especially those that have to do with roads, bridges, hospitals, water, energy, and human capital development programs in education and health.
But president Bio’s meeting with the IMF in New York this week does not bode well for the economy, nor will it inspire confidence that the government is managing the affairs of State in a prudent and responsible manner, especially with mounting allegations that the president has bloated the public sector wages bill by over 30% in just three years, simply to reward his ruling party cronies and supporters.
“New payroll documents and official correspondences of the government of Sierra Leone obtained by the Africanist Press reveal shocking evidence of how the Maada Bio administration has expanded the payroll to reward leading members and key supporters of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). These rewards for party members, friends, and loyal supporters include promotions, higher salaries, and added allowances. Meanwhile, regular civil service employees continue to earn lower wages despite a new internal policy on promotion and salary equity approved on 1st October, 2020. The result is an ever-widening payroll gap between political appointees and other civil servants.” These allegations have not been refuted by the government.
But finance minister Dennis K. Vandi appears adamant that the government is following strict budget planning rules. Addressing ministers, he discouraged ministers from submitting new project proposals for funding when ongoing projects have not been completed. He emphasized the challenges procurement of goods and services have posed on the management of the scarce resources of the country.
MDA’s he said, should be mindful and have a re-look and re-think in creating extra-budgetary expenditures, he warned that his finance ministry will not issue a certificate of approval to any MDA to enter into a new contract until unfinished programmes and projects are completed.
“To support reliable and credible financing of the 2023 general elections in the fulfilment of government commitment to implement recommendations of the elections observer report, the ministry of finance with support from the National Electoral Commission has established an Election Basket Fund at the Bank of Sierra Leone to support the timely provision of funds to meet elections-related activities,” Mr. Vandi said.
He urged all revenues generating MDA’s to liaise with his ministry and NRA in the drafting of the 2022 Finance Bill to incorporate the relevant charges to tax rates, fees charged, and fines that would increase the tax revenue collection rate.
As the government struggles to achieve the Abuja declaration of 15% of expenditure on health, the Ministry of Health and Sanitation says it needs Le 774 billion to continue its ongoing Public Investments Programs (PIP) across the country.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr. S.M Kenneh said that the ministry has spent more on the National Emergency Medical Services (NEMS) compared to what was budgeted for, noting that this cannot be compared to the expenditure in 2020, added that NEMS has responded to 15,000 calls within 8 months of service provision and that a total of 84 ambulances have been distributed and are actively used, with a backup of 16 ambulances (1 per district).
He highlighted some of the PIP Priority projects for 2022 which include the Kerry Town Warehouse of 7000m2 of high-end storage space and the National Emergency Medical service response; and spoke about the key deliverables and achievements for 2021, which are the UHC road maps that were launched, school health policy, free health care initiative expanded to include nutrition items among others.
He also said that a bill has been drafted by the law officers department and public consultations on the draft bill have been completed and an electronic tracing of pregnant women which is a joint deliverable with DSTI has been instituted.
The Ministry of Basic and Senior School Education (MBSSE) is asking for a budget of Le 57,496 Billion for 2022. According to the ministry, in 2022 they would be focusing on deliverables such as development and approval of the new Education Act, operationalize the School Fees utilization and school approval policy, bring forward a new West Africa Examination Council Act, develop National Programme for post-birth support to pregnant girls, construct three hostels for girls in three districts, establish additional Learning Centres for literacy programs, develop and roll out the Senior Secondary Education Curriculum and syllabuses, equip additional schools with science laboratories, strengthen education service delivery through staff capacity building and additional recruitment, and phase out double schooling in some selected schools.
The government’s 2022 budget planning discussions will continue till 4th October 2021 and the agreed 2022 government budget is expected to be read in parliament in early November 2021.