Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 March 2018:
In less than forty-eight hours, voting in the second round of elections in Sierra Leone will be briskly underway, as the people of Sierra Leone decide whether to continue to be governed by the ruling APC, whose poor economic performance record and lack of good governance, have brought ten years of poverty and suffering for most Sierra Leoneans.
Two weeks ago, the presidential result of the first round voting was inconclusive, as none of the parties was able to poll the required 55% votes to form a government.
The ruling APC candidate – Dr Samura Kamara polled 42.7%, whilst the opposition SLPP candidate – Julius Maada Bio, whose performance was slightly better – polled 43.3%.
What is at stake for the more than 2.5 million voters that are likely to turn up to vote on Saturday, 31st March 2018, is the cost of living, which has been steeply rising in the last 12 months, as the economy stutters.
Month on month inflation rises have hovered around 18%, as households struggle to buy basic food items – such as rice and cooking oil.
The cost of electricity, water, petrol, and kerosene, have gone up by more than 30% since the start of this year alone.
Most consumer items are imported. And with a rapid decline in the value of the country’s currency – the Leone, there are fears inflation will continue to bring much suffering to the majority of Sierra Leoneans, 80% of whom are out of work and living on less than one dollar a day.
Over 70% of Sierra Leoneans that are employed are working for the government – public sector, where salaries are as low as Le250,000 (Leones) a month – equivalent to 25 British Pounds.
Most public sector workers go without pay for over two months. The government has run out of cash. Foreign donors have either cut back or stopped their funding.
In 2007, when the ruling APC came to power, it promised major economic reforms and restructuring that was to end the country’s dependency on mineral exports – largely iron ore, rutile, diamond and gold.
It also promised to end the nation’s dependency on foreign aid which accounts for over 40% of government’s spending.
Those promises never materialised. The APC government is today more than ever dependent on foreign aid and mineral exports, as it fails to take the tough decisions and instil the discipline needed to implement and enforce much needed reforms.
But the failures of the APC government did not start a few months ago. It is the culmination of ten years of poor governance, corruption, failed leadership and ineptitude, whose genesis can be traced as far back as 2012.
In 2012 – five years after elected as president – and his ruling APC party formed a government, on an agenda that promised change and prosperity, Sierra Leone began to crumble. The economy was in decline, despite huge one-off investments by African Minerals and other foreign companies.
This is jamaican reggae singer – Wayne Wonder calling for peaceful election and change in Sierra Leone:
Poor governance, massive corruption and a clueless leadership paved the way for mass unemployment, abject poverty, higher childhood and maternal mortality, declining standards of education, poor sanitation, poor access to water and electricity.
Today, Sierra Leone is classed as one of the most corrupt and poorest nations in the world, despite huge reserves of diamond, gold, ruitle, bauxite, and a plethora of agricultural produce and fishing potential.
But all of that is about to change, should voters at the run-off election between the ruling APC and the opposition SLPP taking place this Saturday, 31st March 2018, vote for regime change.
Poverty in Sierra Leone is no accident. It’s the fault of a clueless and corrupt regime who in 2012 planted the seeds of economic decline and social inequality, by paying huge salaries to its cronies whilst granting massive tax concessions to friends and families engaged in importing goods into the country.
Government revenue meant for paying for education, healthcare, social care, water and electricity provision have gone into the bank accounts of the well connected.
This is what happened to Sierra Leone six years ago, that laid the foundation for the economic mess of today:
Citizens of financially depressed countries, trying to manage crippling austerity measures would be alarmed to discover that, in Sierra Leone – one of the poorest nations in the world, the president and his cronies continue to siphon state funds for their own personal use.
The president has approved massive salary increases for senior officials in his government and those supporting his party – six months before the 2012 general and presidential elections.
This comes despite continuing warning from the IMF about the dire consequences of uncontrolled government spending and profligacy.
According to the government’s own gazetted report published a month ago (May 2012), the speaker of the Houses of Parliament – Abel Stronge, himself an unelected official of the government, will now be earning a whopping annual salary of one hundred and six thousand dollars – $106,000. This is equivalent to four hundred and fifty-four million Leones (June 2012 exchange rate).
British Prime Minister – David Cameron, the head of one of the most prosperous nations in the world, earns about $222,000 – including his $101,000 salary as an MP.
Poverty in Sierra Leone is obscene, as families across the country struggle to survive on one square meal a day. Average daily income for a population of just over 6 million people is less than one dollar.
Recent reports of international NGOs, say that at least 90 children die every day, due to inadequate health care.
International donors’ support for the government’s free health care programme for children under five, lactating mothers and pregnant women, is estimated at $200 million. The country is awash with international aid, but very little of that gets to the poor.
The head of the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission earns over $150,000 a year, excluding allowances, which observers say is far higher than the total amount he recovers annually from the few corruption cases he manages to win in court.
The price of rice – the country’s main staple diet has soared in the last five years, from Le60,000 for a bag of rice in June 2007 – equivalent to ten British Pounds, to a high of Le180,000 (thirty Pounds) in June 2012.
Most doctors earn less than $200 a month, nurses – $100 and teachers receive a low monthly salary of $30.
The government has been accused of playing ‘catching up’ with the salaries of low-paid public sector workers, who usually go unpaid for several months, causing hardship and misery for many.
The latest monthly salary increase for the speaker of parliament, approved by president Koroma, is said to be Le25 million, which ironically is also the monthly salary earned by the president.
But when other benefits and personal allowances are added, the speaker will ferret a massive inflation bursting monthly salary of Le38 Million (June 2012):
Le25 million to help pay for furnishing his house – while the poor goes hungry
Le25 million holiday allowance to enjoy 45 days abroad – while teachers, nurses and rubbish collectors work round the clock to make ends meet
Le5 million monthly accommodation allowance to pay for the house that he owns
Le2.3 million monthly fuel allowance – while motorists abandon their vehicles and walk – due to rising cost of fuel
Le5 million monthly allowance for domestic servant – while those he is meant to be serving are slaving away in plantations to feed their families
Le0.5 million monthly allowance for health care – while 90 children die every day
And if you think that the Le454 million a year salary earned by the speaker of parliament is ridiculous, see how much president Koroma pays himself, every month for his own housing allowance.
The president owns a large family house in Goderich – valued at over $1 million, but chose to live at the state owned presidential lodge in Hill Station.
Yet, he pays himself a whopping monthly housing allowance of $10,000, equivalent to well over Le40 million every month.
A new house being constructed by the president, replacing his existing modern family house in Goderich is said to be valued at over $5 million.
The British government yesterday proposed a pay cut for members of the House of Lords – the second chamber of parliament, and most public sector workers are having to put up with pay freeze.
Sierra Leone relies on an annual international donor contribution of over £300 million to pay for the cost of delivering basic social services, including the provision of education, clean safe drinking water, which 60% of the population cannot access.
Children are poorly educated due to lack of resources; electricity supply in most parts of the capital Freetown is virtually non-existent; mountains of rubbish lay uncollected as refuse collectors take industrial action. They have not been paid their salaries for several months.
Disturbing levels of crime and lawlessness are the result of very high youth unemployment and joblessness in the country. Under such difficult social and economic conditions and extreme poverty, those in power are expected to act selflessly, patriotically and with some common sense, when they do decide to help themselves with state funds.
But citizens of countries struggling to survive, amid painful austerity measures and spending cuts imposed by their governments, will be appalled to see that money ring-fenced to help the poor in Sierra Leone is being ferreted away by greedy and thoughtless politicians.
Where is the humanity?
Whilst massive pay rise for a few fat cats, including the president, costing a poor nation like Sierra Leone millions of dollars may be legal, it just does not make it right.
The World Bank and international aid donors do have a duty of care – if not to the people of Sierra Leone, but to the cash strapped tax payers of nations that are contributing so much to the daily survival of the people of Sierra Leone, to stop this madness.
That was in 2012. Fast-track to 31st March 2018 – six years on, voters in Sierra Leone will be going out to vote – either for more of the same corruption and clueless leadership, or a change of regime that could bring hope and relief to the country.
The ruling APC presidential candidate – Dr Samura Kamara is “promising to uphold the legacy of president Koroma” whom many in Sierra Leone are blaming for the poverty being suffered by the majority of households.
Dr Samura said he is standing on an agenda of continuity. But continuity will bring more suffering and early deaths.
Julius Maada Bio, the opposition SLPP candidate – a retired Brigadier in the country’s military, is promising tough, regimental and disciplined reforms in the economy, education, law and order, and governance. He said he will tackle corruption head on.
But who will the voters trust with their votes?
If the result of the first round elections which took place on 7th March is anything to go by, then there is little doubt the majority of Sierra Leoneans will be voting for Julius Maada Bio this Saturday.
Will voters allow tribalism, regionalism and cash for votes to cloud their thinking and judgement at the ballot box this Saturday, or will the economic hardship of the past ten years – the bread and butter issues – inform the choice they will make?
Sunday, April 1st – the day after polling, is April Fools Day, and the joke may well be on the ruling APC, whose ten years of poor custodianship and leadership could come to an end, to make way for a fresh beginning and five years of hope for a better and brighter future under a new government.