Sierra Leone – how do we balance regional and national Interests?

Jenkins Sulaiman: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 May 2019:

Like many other countries, Sierra Leone’s national government heavily influences the rules under which subnational/regional government operate.  This allows subnational interests in the national government to somehow influence how intergovernmental relationships are executed.

However, in a country with a bifurcated political system that nourishes regional suspicions, managing subnational interests at the level of the national government can present formidable challenges.

One serious challenge arises when national government consider how much power should be devolved to regional government.  On the one hand, devolving too much power to regional government means that in the event of a conflict, the national government would find it difficult to defend its interests against regional interests.

Not devolving power to regional government, on the other hand, means that a strong national government stifles the opportunity to grow more leaders while also discouraging more transparency and accountability.

The fragile nature of Sierra Leone’s democracy makes issues of political stability and openness on the one hand and economic growth on the other, to be extremely important.

But with the country currently in the throes of a stubborn stagflation (high inflation and high unemployment), achieving economic recovery and stabilization must take precedence over all other issues.

Economic stability serves as a center of gravity for political stability and openness.  Additionally, there is strong evidence of a positive relationship between economic growth, high wages and political stability.

In any given society, an economic system defines the mechanism of production, distribution and allocation of resources.

Thus, a country’s economy serves as the institutional structure through which government, individuals and firms coordinate their activities.  It follows that a stable economic environment serves as a platform that balances national and regional interests.

Correspondingly, countries with disciplined national government have the wherewithal to manage economic growth more efficiently than countries where corruption is rife.  A disciplined national government can promote institutional reforms to curb corruption, thereby ensuring that the gains of growth trickle down to the citizenry.

In such environment, national and regional interests can be strengthened even in systems that are constitutionally highly decentralized.

Proponents of decentralization have argued that the current model of governance/public administration in Sierra Leone, has failed to meet the governance and development needs/challenges of the country.

They have therefore called for a new paradigm of governance that would place sustainable development and the tenets of good governance as cornerstones for the construction of a strong, viable and prosperous country, blossoming into a distinct civilization.

According to the proponents of decentralization, meaningful decentralization of power can manifest itself in strong systems of local governance that can facilitate sustainable development and good governance.

Yet others have argued that a paradigm of government, based on real devolution of power from the central government to newly energized participatory local governance structures, may breed local politicians/administrators from different regions that may clash with each other.

And since these new powerful agents have independent decision-making roles, resolving inter-regional conflicts may become more and more difficult.  Notwithstanding this, it is also argued that same-level competing leaders may refuse to coordinate and cooperate with each other for the national good.

Indeed, over-ambitious regional leaders must never be underestimated.  However, such leaders must be taught that better ideas of governance usually evolve from competing pliable and viable ideas, that an open exchange of ideas within and across regional boundaries is critical to balancing regional and national interests in a democratic formation.

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