President Koroma’s Agenda for Prosperity – Challenges ahead

The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 9 April 2013:

In a few weeks president Koroma will formally launch his new Agenda for Prosperity, which will ‘replace’ the Agenda for Change manifesto – his roadmap for Sierra Leone’s development in 2007-2012.

But many questions are being asked as to why the president has decided to abandon a manifesto pledge – the Agenda for Change, which by his own recent admission, remains largely unaccomplished.

The Agenda for Prosperity, president Koroma said in Washington last week – will continue the work that he started in 2007.

The president is confident of his final five years in office. The economy, unemployment, education, health and infrastructure development will be prioritised – he said.

But there are doubters who accuse the president and his ministers of muddling through and ineptitude; and lacking understanding of public policy implementation.

In November 2011 – a year before the country’s general and presidential elections, president Koroma began setting his stage for re-election in 2012.

Despite gloomy economic conditions and deepening social divisions in the country, president Koroma told the country that his government had done very well in his first term.

On 1 November 2011, the Sierra Leone Telegraph published a report: ‘Sierra Leone’s development is encouraging – but more needs to be done’, reviewing the president’s performance and prospects for the future.

And as president Koroma now embark on putting together the nuts and bolts of his new Agenda for Prosperity, we remind readers of the foundation upon which he said he will build his new Agenda.

This is our re-published Report:

The Mo Ibrahim Africa Governance Index for 2011 ranks Sierra Leone 30th out of 53 countries – scoring two points below the African average of 50 points.

Although this performance shows a steady progress towards improving safety and rule of law; participation and human rights; sustainable economic opportunity; and human development, it is the daily grind of survival, which matters most to ordinary Sierra Leoneans – for whom progress is measured by the number of daily meals families can afford.

Most households survive on just one square meal a day.

According to the Mo Ibrahim Index, Sierra Leone is not in decline. Yet for the average household, life is certainly becoming quite depressing: youth unemployment stands at 80%; inflation has risen to double figures – over 20%, especially prices of foods and other essentials; and average daily income has declined to just over 60 US Cents.

But President Koroma was in buoyant and optimistic mood when he spoke to a half empty Houses of parliament last month, announcing the progress his government has made – after four years in power, approaching the end of his first term in office in 2012.

With the country’s opposition parties boycotting parliamentary proceedings, the State opening of parliament and the president’s statement to the House, lacked the usual pomp, colour and vibrancy. But President Koroma was not deterred by the empty opposition seats.

He needs to convince the people of Sierra Leone that the myriad of economic and social problems ordinary people are experiencing everyday are not only being addressed by his government, but that the next five years will be even better, if re-elected.

According to government sources, president Koroma is already working on his 2012 manifesto, titled: “Agenda For Growth (Prosperity)”.

There is little doubt, the biggest challenge facing President Koroma is the extent to which he can increase the volume and value of foreign investments he can bring into the country, by building confidence and guaranteeing return on investment not offered by other African countries.

Hence, when the president spoke in parliament last month – highlighting his government’s achievements and plans for the future, he was very much conscious of the impact his statement would have on his domestic and foreign audience.

Likewise, the president is conscious of the growing uneasiness and criticisms of his government’s management of the economy; his losing battle against corruption in high places; the rather snail’s pace reform of the public sector; and an over-commitment of scarce resources on his costly infrastructural development programme at the expense of anti-poverty initiatives.

Critics have accused president Koroma of being ‘plan-less’ and ‘clueless’. But judging by his record presented to parliament, it is clear that Sierra Leone has made significant progress in the last four years.

Independent analysts are beginning to conclude that; in the absence of a strong opposition and an alternative credible economic development plan, there is every chance of president Koroma staying on at State House for a second term.

Reminding his audience of where it all started, this is what the president told his half empty Houses of Parliament: “A little over four years ago, the people of this country affirmed their belief in the manifesto of the All People’s Congress and my ability to lead the implementation of our programmes by electing me President. Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament, let me turn to the achievements we have made, the remaining challenges and how we intend to overcome them.”

So what are his government’s achievements?

Agriculture & Fishing

President Koroma regards “agriculture as the engine for socio-economic growth and development, with a wholesome focus on the commercialization of the agricultural value chain and promotion of private sector participation”.

But although the president was right in saying that “agriculture contributes almost 50% of the country’s GDP, employs about two-thirds of the population, generates almost a quarter of the export earnings and provides most of the raw materials for industry”, the level of domestic private sector investment needed to increase yield and establish innovative agro-processing enterprises remain significantly low.

Two-thirds of the country’s population that are employed in agriculture adds very little value, if any, to agricultural produce. Their productivity is very low – due to illiteracy and lack of appropriate farming technology and modern techniques.

With inadequate storage facilities, incoherent marketing network and lack of reliable transportation from farms to market centres, production continues to be driven by local demand for food. Sierra Leone is far from feeding itself and is light years away from being a major agricultural exporting nation.

Many in Sierra Leone believe that the huge potential of the country’s agricultural sector is not being fully maximised, because of the government’s poor commitment and muddled policy.

But the president says that his government has “developed a long term Agricultural Development Programme, and drawing from it the current flagship Small-holder Commercialization Programme”.

He said that he has “focused on kick-starting the transformation of Agriculture with the smallholder farmers – because the majority of the poor people in this country belong to that category”.

And to answer his critics, the president says that he has achieved this ‘transformation’ by “providing smallholder farmers with high-yielding planting materials, fertilizers, weed killers, power tillers, rice cutters, rice threshers, rice mills and cassava graters. This is why we are rehabilitating inland valley swamps and constructing feeder roads”.

Sierra Leone needs at least $1 Billion to invest in developing a viable agriculture and agro-processing industry. Anything short of this would only serve to support the government’s food security objective, rather than transform the sector into a commercially driven value-chain.

As the president noted; “I am pleased to inform the nation that the programme has attracted over US$200million from our international partners, including US$50million from the Global Agriculture and Food Security Programme (GAFSP).”

According to President Koroma, with this investment of $200 Million he has been able to establish “193 agriculture business centres (ABCs) in virtually every chiefdom, district and region in the country”.

While few will criticise the intent and direction of this policy, given the low base inherited by his government in 2007, there is nevertheless a general sense of disconnect between policy formulation and effective implementation.

Many have accused the government of gerrymandering. They say that the government’s smallholder farming policy is driven by political patronage, rather than a dispassionate need to increase farming yield across the nation irrespective of tribal and political imperatives.

But the president attempts to dispel this accusation by saying that; “From Kabala to Pujehun, Port Loko to Kono, you will see the ABC buildings with milling, storage, marketing and office facilities, drying floors, water supply units, generators, and improved input supplies including seed rice and fertilizers.”

The political fallout from the launch of the government’s Small-holder Commercialization Programme – especially the implementation of the tractor hire purchase scheme appears to have been drowned out by other issues. The government has been criticised for charging exorbitant hiring fees for the few tractors it bought last year.

Many farmers across the country have complained of difficulty accessing the tractors and the high cost of using them, especially fuel. But the president is positive about the difference the tractors are making to the country’s farming sector.

“For the first time in the history of Sierra Leone, farmers have been made the proud owners of 265 tractors,” says President Koroma, but analysts argue that if the claim by the president that there are “193 agriculture business centres (ABCs) in virtually every chiefdom, district and region in the country” is true, then a total of 265 tractors is but a drop in the ocean.

There are allegations that some of the government-owned tractors are being used to plough farmlands owned by senior ministers.

But if the Small-holder Commercialization Programme is not inspiring much public confidence, the government is hoping that its ‘incentivisation programme for foreign investors in agriculture’ would help boost its record.

The president told parliament that; “the Government’s policy to provide investment incentives to the private sector has also triggered a good number of huge investments in the agricultural sector.”

Whilst few would deny the efforts being made by the government, what is in question is the legitimacy, legality and equity of the government’s large-scale land sales programme, referred to by critics as ‘land grab’.

“Today, we have Addax Bio-energy promoting ethanol and electricity production through the development of a sugar plantation; Gold Tree rehabilitating the oil palm plantation in the Daru area; Socfinco promoting oil palm in Pujehun District,” says president Koroma.

“Genesis promoting the intensive mechanization of rice production on the uplands in Masimera Chiefdom in Port Loko District; Arul producing, processing and packaging rice in Moyamba District; and Africa Felix producing fruit juice concentrates in Koya in the Western Area,” the list goes on.

Critics argue that this large-scale mechanized programme is displacing local farmers and denying them of their livelihood, once they sell or lease their lands to foreign investors.

They also argue that the programme is inconsistent with the government’s food security agenda.

But president Koroma says that; “These private sector enterprises have not only made substantial investments in the agricultural sector, but have created thousands of jobs for our people.”

In other areas of agriculture too, the president is claiming success. “In the livestock sector, two large investors have made significant investments in the production of poultry products: Pajah and IJ Ltd have installed an incubator with a capacity of 38,400 setters and 19,200 day-old chick hatchers at the Lumley Agricultural Station.”

“Sierra Akker Ltd has also installed a modern 10,000-capacity layer facility and a 10 tonnes feed mill at Sumbuya Village, Koya Chiefdom in Port Loko District,” president Koroma told parliament.

Major weaknesses of successive government’s strategy in creating a sustainable agriculture and agro-processing industry are; the lack of processing technology and facilities; lack of entrepreneurial capacity; poor farming techniques; illiteracy; poor marketing; and unavailability of finance.

President Koroma says that his policy is making a difference.

He told parliament that “in order to enhance the agricultural value chain – especially processing and marketing, 30 giant rice mills have been constructed in all districts”.

He said that; “The well-known Newton Livestock Station is currently under reconstruction and is housing the Sierra Leone Agri-Business Initiative (SABI) Training Centre that is training youths to be commercially self-employed along the agricultural value chain.”

“To assist the farmers in better water management, multiple cropping and other intensification activities, over 1,794 hectares of inland valley swamps (IVS) have been developed and cultivated to enhance all year round cultivation of rice and vegetables,” says president Koroma.

And in tackling poor access to business finance, the president told parliament that; “As part of my Government’s effort to improve farmers’ access to financial services, six additional Financial Services Associations (FSAs or Village Banks) have been constructed and equipped in the Eastern Districts of Kenema, Kailahun and Kono. They will be spread to other districts from this year onwards.”

With so much happening in the agricultural sector to give some hope of a better future for Sierra Leone, can the same be said for the country’s fishing industry?

According to the World Bank, Sierra Leone’s fishing industry has the potential to generate hundreds of millions of dollars a year in exports – if properly managed and illicit fishing tackled.

President Koroma says that; “We are also increasing our revenues from our marine resources. From Le 3.8 billion in 2007, we more than tripled our revenue generation to Le13 billion (just over £2 Million) in 2010.”

Two Million Pounds revenue from the entire fishing industry is appalling for a country that boasts of its Atlantic coast location. But the industry is under-resourced. It lacks investment and a coherent strategy for growth.

Some industry analysts say that the industry requires at least $300 Million investment in modern fishing vessels, cold storage facilities, fish processing plants, training and development of skilled workforce, and support for the creation of new private fishing enterprises – including marketing and distribution.

But the president is pleased to announce that; “In the fisheries sector, we are modernizing the legal framework for fisheries in the country, establishing stakeholders/government co-managed marine protected areas, registering successes in joint patrols with the United States Coast Guard to combat illegal fishing and smuggling of contraband goods, and arresting several vessels.”

“We have also built fish landing sites at Bonthe, Shenge, Tombo and Goderich, and we shall be constructing a fish harbour and opening a Marine Training School to provide training opportunities for fishermen and seafarers in Sierra Leone,” says the president.

And on that note, President Koroma ended his report to parliament on his achievements in transforming the country’s agriculture and fishing sectors.

With youth unemployment standing at 80%; inflation at double figures – especially rising prices of foods and other essentials; and average daily income having declined to just over 60 US Cents, the government would need to do more to ensure that the agriculture and fisheries industries not only provide more job opportunities for the country’s youth, but generates greater revenue for the national purse.

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