Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 December 2019:
This Christmas is going to be very painful for millions of Sierra Leoneans, who have patiently waited for almost two years for the newly elected government of president Julius Maada Bio to turn the economy around.
With fewer than 40% of young people in the country – who make up the bulk of the population, in gainful employment, most households are finding it very difficult to afford three square meals a day.
Prices of foods and other basic consumer items remain high, as the value of the Leone continues to fall, losing more than 20% of its value in over a year – since the Bio-led government came to power.
Signs of an economic recovery are yet to be seen. But the government is confident it can turn the country’s fortunes around next year, which is built on mineral exports; blaming the former APC government’s mismanagement and corruption for the current economic hardship.
The opposition and sections of the media are lampooning the president and his ministers for their expensive overseas trips, running into millions of dollars while millions of people starve.
The government says that these foreign trips are designed to promote Sierra Leone and woo investors. But the reality is that so far, not a single investor has poured money into the economy, while mining companies that are responsible for keeping the economy afloat are being chased out of the country.
Since coming to power, president Bio has signed countless number of Memorandum of Understanding (MOUs) with “potential investors”. According to State House media report, yesterday, president Bio signed five more agreements and MOUs with a high-level delegation from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), led by its Minister of State – Dr Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber.
Critics say that this is reminiscent of the former Koroma – led government, whose obsession with MOUs was never translated into real investments in the economy. (Photo: Sierra Leone Finance Miniser – JJ Saffa signs agreement).
“As part of strengthening bilateral cooperation between the two countries, the UAE head of delegation said he was instructed by His Highness, Sheikh Mohamed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE, to focus on sectors such as mining, oil and gas, infrastructure, education, health, water, roads, renewable energy and agriculture.
“The five agreements also covered the avoidance of double taxation, the protection of investments, a joint committee for cooperation agreement, a framework of cooperation for the agricultural production of rice and maize and a memorandum of understanding on small and medium scale enterprises,” the State House report said yesterday.
But where are the jobs? Where are the investment projects? How much are the Arabs investing in the country and how soon?
The signing of these “paper agreements” which Sierra Leoneans have seen before – far too many times, was preceded by a two-day joint working group meeting between the governments of Sierra Leone and the United Arab Emirates, aimed at exploring possible areas of investment between the two countries, which took place last weekend at Radisson Blu Hotel in Aberdeen in Freetown.
Chief Minister of Sierra Leone – Professor David John Francis said that “the two countries have made tremendous progress and that was the result of the visit; to deliberate and come up with roadmaps to build strong lasting bilateral relationship focusing on economic diplomacy that would change and transform the two countries.”
Fine words, but how much will be invested by UAE and when?
Professor Chief Minister also said that “the government of Sierra Leone is committed to develop strong long-lasting bilateral high level strategic partnership between the two countries and expressed hope that the high level visit would provide an opportunity for the joint working group to share ideas and to identity the critical sectors for development.”
Director of African Affairs Department at the UAE, Ms. Shaikha AlZaabi, said that “the two countries are meeting for the second time in Freetown in order to enhance their bilateral relations and through the signing of six agreements and Memorandum of Understanding that would be evidence of the willingness from the two countries in enhancing diplomatic ties through trade, economic cooperation and shared dialogue.”
The people of Sierra Leone need more than the current fluffy and patronising platitudes coming from the government. People are hungry, and quite rightly feeling quite impatient for change.
The president (Photo) and his ministers were fully aware of the massive challenges ahead when they were elected in March 2018, after promising to turn the economy around in six months and address the country’s bread and butter issues.
It is now fast approaching two years, and still there are no signs of an economic turnaround.
The Auditor General’s report into the financial management of the country’s affairs by the government, speaks of massive corruption – running into tens of millions of dollars. This is not the Christmas present the people of Sierra Leone were hoping to receive from the government.
So, what will president Bio tell the nation in his Christmas and New Year’s broadcast?