Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2017
The people of Sierra Leone are today marking 56 years of independence from Britain. But with economic hardship and massive unemployment – estimated at over 70% of the economically active population, this year’s celebration is a quiet affair and its filled with despondency.
After ten years of missed opportunity and hardship, and despite deafening government propaganda that standards of living in the country have risen since 2007 and new roads built, not many people in the country will be out celebrating the country’s independence today.
Severe economic hardship has gripped the country and is getting worse. What the people of Sierra Leone need is deep-rooted change, starting with the ruling APC party and its governing cabal. They must be thrown out at next year’s general and presidential elections, to make way for fresh minds and hands, who will also be kicked out in 2023 if they too fail the people. (Photo: Rubbish piled on main roads in Freetown after 56 years of independence and ten years of APC misrule).
Reports from Freetown this morning, as is quite common in the last few years, say that the capital is eerily quiet, with few signs of 56 years of independence celebration. As rubbish remains uncollected in many streets of the city, question is being asked as to whether any lessons have been learnt from the Ebola outbreak. (Photo: Rubbish piled on main roads in Freetown after 56 years of independence and ten years of APC misrule). Over four thousand people died of Ebola two and half years ago in Sierra Leone, caused by poor sanitation.
News from neighbouring Liberia today is not good, and poses renewed public health threat. According to the BBC reporter Umaru Fofana; “The UN has issued a precaution to its staff in Liberia saying an “unusual number of deaths” occurred at the FJ Grante hospital in the southeast Sinoe country. My sources on the ground say they are linked to the death of an 11-year-old girl who presented with weakness, diarrhoea, abdominal pain and vomiting over the weekend.
“She had attended a funeral of a religious leader in Greenville. Another patient – who also attended the funeral of the same religious leader presented with headache, body pain and skin itching – also died at the same hospital on the same night.
“Another lady from Rail hill community who attended the same funeral presented at FJ Grante hospital early yesterday with diarrhoea and vomiting and died upon arrival. Cumulatively, 14 “unexplained cluster of health events including 8 deaths” have been reported from Sinoe County.
“Samples from dead bodies and patients have been collected for laboratory confirmation. WHO, CDC and other partners are working with Sinoe County Health Team to control the situation. Health workers in the area have been advised to don their PPEs whether or not patients are suspect cases”.
After 56 years of independence Sierra Leone is one of the poorest and filthiest countries in the World. Funding meant for street cleaning and waste collection have disappeared into the pockets of those in power.
The main event planned by the government to mark today’s historical event is the annual presidential speech at the Brookfields Stadium in Freetown, where a procession of military, police, school children and other institutions will march to the stadium. There are doubts this will go ahead due to serious cash restrictions.
Sierra Leoneans are struggling to stretch their daily budgets in order to make ends meet. And despite government’s gloating about rising agricultural production, prices of basic foodstuff are very high and rising.
Cost of living has more than doubled since the ruling APC came to power in 2007, whiles corruption in high places remains. Yet the ruling APC has decided it will build a new international airport at a cost of $400 million in honour of president Koroma’s stewardship.
Mrs. Francess Kamara is a nurse who lives in Freetown. She earns less than Le400, 000 (four hundred thousand Leones) – less than £50 salary a month.
After 52 years of independence from colonial rule, Sierra Leone is nowhere near considering herself truly independent. The country may be out of life-support after peace returned in 2001 – following a bloody ten year war, but there is little doubt it is still in intensive care, due to corruption, economic mismanagement and lack of political leadership.
There are efforts to slowly resuscitate the economy through massive borrowing and donor aid, rather than the injection of private sector investments and indigenous wealth creation. But the result is continuing unemployment, poverty, early deaths, and poor quality of life.
The government is running a bankrupt economy of its own making. Not only is the amount of money being raised through taxation less than anticipated, but government’s spending on non-essential expenditure has grown to alarming proportion, causing the international community to freeze their funding.
The government’s taxation policy is in tatters, despite legislation to curb tax exemptions. The overgenerous tax incentives enjoyed by foreign companies were granted in return for millions of dollars paid to the government in 2011, which boosted the country’s GDP figures for that year.
In 2012 the country enjoyed another surge in GDP of more than 15%, as international investment in the country’s iron ore mines started to filter into the economy.
A 15% rise in iron ore production by African Minerals Ltd in 2011 and the one-off payment of millions of dollars in royalties to the government, had skewed the country’s economic growth projections, which has in the last couple of years reverted to its expected annual growth trajectory of 2.5%.
Prior to this one-off surge in iron ore mining in 2011/12, Sierra Leone’s annul economic growth had been steady at 4.5% under the former SLPP government.
It is now expected that annual GDP growth will continue at no more than 3% for the next few years at least, as China – the country’s leading consumer of iron ore, restructure its economy.
This continuing low GDP growth is bad news for a government that has, in the last ten years, become accustomed to spending its way out of economic mess, through borrowing and international donor handouts, rather than hard work.
But with recent allegations of rising corruption among senior government ministers and officials, significant sums of money pledged by donors have been frozen.
In 2013 the British government’s Department for International Development (DFID) suspended remittances to the government of Sierra Leone, while it conducted an investigation into allegations of misappropriation of £36 million of British aid. There are rumours the British government is considering doing the same this year.
At the end of 2012, a total of $13 million went missing from both the country’s mineral resources fund and the malaria fund. And in 2014 over $14 million meant for helping those afflicted by Ebola went missing. No one has been prosecuted for the disappearance of those funds.
Twenty-nine people appeared in court in 2012, accused of embezzling $5 million from the malaria fund, including a government minister and other senior officials. The malaria fund was set up and funded by Bill Gates and the British government to help fight malaria.
The government confirmed in December 2012, the disappearance of $8 million from the country’s mineral resources fund. The fund was set up to help rehabilitate and develop poor mining communities.
At the height of the Ebola outbreak in 2014, the ruling APC misappropriated the best part of $12 million it said it had spent on buying 50 buses from China. Where are the 50 buses today?
The charges of corruption brought by the government against a former chief of staff in the Koroma government – Richard Konteh were dropped two weeks ago, after State House decided it no longer wishes to pursue the matter – ‘nolle prosequi’.
Konteh had been accused of embezzling over $40 million, after claims that he forged the president’s signature to sign contracts with companies. He was sacked by the president who said he had overwhelming evidence proving that Konteh is guilty as charged.
There are reports of government ministers – including the president, living opulent lifestyles and building mansions in the capital Freetown and in their respective hometowns in the provinces, using embezzled government funds.
Such flagrant abuse of power and impunity is sure to continue to destroy any chance of Sierra Leone recovering from the ashes of Ebola and ten years of civil war.
Sierra Leone is 56 years old today. But to repeat those pungent words made four years ago by a Mr. Francis Bangura who lives in Freetown:
“What a remarkable day, as Mama Salone shed tears of dirge and melancholy. She celebrates her birthday in peace, though with shattered dreams.”