Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 March 2018:
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.
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, 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.
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 27 March 2018, voters in Sierra Leone will be going out to vote for more of the same corruption and clueless leadership, or a change of regime that could bring hope and relief to the country.
Vote wisely – vote for change.