Sierra Leone loses out yet again on US millennium challenge compact funds

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 December 2019:

Poor governance has once again got in the way of Sierra Leone winning the much sought after Millennium Challenge Compact Fund, administered by the United States government.

Several well governed African countries are now in their concluding phase of delivering lifesaving projects, using MCC funds – providing access to water, education, electricity, good healthcare, whilst Sierra Leone continues to languish at the bottom of the funding application process.

This is what the latest statement by the MCC says:

“At its quarterly meeting on December 9, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Board of Directors selected Mozambique for a new compact—MCC’s five-year grant program—to reduce poverty through targeted investments that increase economic growth. The Board also selected Kenya for an MCC threshold program—the agency’s smaller grant program focused on policy and institutional reform.

“MCC provides time-limited grants to developing countries that meet rigorous standards for good governance, from fighting corruption to respecting democratic rights, as evaluated by MCC’s scorecard. MCC takes a business-like approach, with bedrock commitments to data, accountability, and evidence-based decision making.

“I am pleased to announce MCC’s new compact partnership with Mozambique and new threshold partnership with Kenya,”/ MCC Chief Executive Officer Sean Cairncross/ said. “MCC works around the world to reduce poverty through/ economic growth—consolidating democratic and free–market reforms, and enabling public and private sector collaboration to create jobs, sustainable growth, and better economic opportunities within our partner countries.”

“Mozambique successfully completed its first MCC compact in September 2013 and has recently demonstrated encouraging policy improvement on the scorecard. A new compact would build on the country’s continued commitment to sector reform and MCC’s strong relationship with the country.

“The selection of Kenya for a threshold program will give MCC the opportunity to engage with the country on its path toward policy and institutional reform. Kenya is an important partner to the United States in East Africa, where MCC’s presence is growing.

“As part of their annual selection process, MCC’s Board of Directors reselected Burkina Faso, Indonesia, Lesotho, Malawi, Timor-Leste, and Tunisia to continue developing bilateral compacts. The Board also reselected Benin, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, and Niger as eligible for concurrent compact programs for regional integration.

“This allows MCC to continue working with these countries to determine if there are potential regional programs that meet MCC’s strict investment criteria that could be supported through concurrent compacts. The Board also reselected Ethiopia and Solomon Islands to continue developing threshold programs. The Board also reaffirmed its commitment to developing a compact with Kosovo.​” END

Sierra Leone was not mentioned.

In 2015 the MCC approved $257 million Compact with Liberia and $44.4 million threshold program with Sierra Leone to help both countries recover from the Ebola crisis.

Sierra Leone’s  $44 million Compact preparedness and Ebola support funding comes to an end next year.

However, because of poor governance and rampant corruption, the APC government failed to convince the MCC that it had gone beyond achieving the evaluation threshold, necessary for Sierra Leone to be granted a full Compact worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

The Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) announced on Wednesday, 13th November 2013 in a statement, that: “MCC’s Board of Directors meets once a year to select eligible country partners for that fiscal year. The MCC Board of Directors selected Sierra Leone as eligible to develop a compact in December 2012. Sierra Leone and MCC are currently working on developing a compact; however, to continue this process past December, the Board will need to affirmatively re-select Sierra Leone when it meets in December 2013.”

“Sierra Leone has been a strong partner in compact development so far. However, due to the negative change in its scorecard, MCC’s Board will review the overall policy environment in Sierra Leone regarding transparency and efforts to combat corruption.”

Six years on, the Koroma led APC government has gone. Sierra Leone now has a new government – an SLPP government, led by president Julius Maada Bio.

But, how much have things changed in the country’s pursuit of the US Millennium Challenge Compact Fund?

In 2014, the Koroma government managed to pass only 11 out of the 20 indicators mentioned in the MCC’s 2014 Country Scorecard. The 11 areas passed included: Inflation, Regulatory Quality, Trade Policy, Gender in the Economy, Access to Credit, Business Start-up, Girls Primary Education Completion Rate, Political Rights, Civil Liberties, Freedom of Information and Rule of Law.

But president Koroma spectacularly failed on key policy areas, such as; Fiscal policy (government revenue generation and spending), Health Expenditures, Primary Education Expenditures, Natural Resources, Immunization Rates, Child health, Land Rights and Access, Government Effectiveness and Control of Corruption.

As a result, the MCC did not award the APC government hundreds of millions of dollars needed to tackle poverty in the country.

Fast forward November 2019 – same bus, same journey, but a different driver – president Julius Maada Bio and his SLPP cabinet ministers. The MCC published its 2020 Scorecard last month, which sparked mixed reactions across the country.

According to the Scorecard presented to president Bio at State House by Maria Brewer – the American ambassador to Sierra Leone, the government performed quite well after just seventeen months in office.

But is this performance good enough to take Sierra Leone’s Compact readiness from the threshold, to a full blown Compact Funding worth hundreds of millions of dollars?

The Sierra Leone Telegraph can report that out of a total of twenty policy areas assessed by the MCC, the Bio-led government passed only eleven, which is the same level of achievement as the Koroma-led APC government, back in 2013/2014.

But both governments scored highly in slightly different policy areas (see Koroma’s scores above)..

The SLPP government scored well in the following arears: Promoting Political Rights – 92%; Promoting Civil Liberties – 88%; Controlling Corruption – 79%; Putting Good Trade Policy in Place – 70%; Promoting Rule of Law – 58%; Promoting Freedom of Information – 85%; Promoting Gender in the economy – 61%; Spending on Healthcare – 68%; Investing in Primary Education – No data available prior to publication of the report but MCC gave the government a Pass; Promoting Business Start-Ups – 85%; Girls Primary Education completion Rate – 68%.

But the Bio-led government failed in nine policy areas that need a lot of attention, in order to significantly improve its overall governance performance, especially in managing the economy where most households in the country are experiencing great difficulty in putting food on the table.

According to the MCC report, the SLPP government scored an appalling 4% on Fiscal Policy (raising revenue and government spending). Taxation in Sierra Leone is very high for both middle and higher income earners, as well as local businesses. This is bad for investments, job creation and employee productivity. High government spending, especially on public sector salaries, and increasing borrowing, have also accounted for this very poor score, and needs immediate policy reset.

With the government struggling to stabilise the value of the Leone against foreign currencies, the impact on prices of goods and services in the country is being felt across the country, as the ministry of finance appears to be running out of ideas to control inflation. As a result, the MCC scored the government 16.9% for all its efforts in manging the economy.

In promoting high standards of Regulations in the country, the government scored 42%.

The government’s overall effectiveness in promoting justice was scored 40%, though it scored 58% in enforcing the rule of law, a sign perhaps of the massive delays in ensuring that court cases and election petition appeals are heard in a timely and fair manner.

Pollical violence at recent bye-elections and the arrest of opposition party supporters and officials have also contributed significantly towards this low score.  (Photo: An opposition APC supporter along with several others beaten and arrested by police outside the APC party office).

In promoting Land Rights and access, the government is performing poorly with a score of 24%, after recent and continuing reported cases of unfair and heavy-handed approach by the Ministry of Lands and Housing, which at times appear to threaten the peace and stability of communities.

The government scored an appalling 19% in promoting access to credit finance – a significant driver of private sector investments, jobs and wealth creation.

In Protecting Sierra Leone’s Natural Resources, the government does not seem to have a clear policy or direction. The destruction of forest reserves for timber logging and the cutting down of trees to make way for new roads and building construction is having a massive impact on the environment, with catastrophic consequences such as flooding and destruction of the eco-system. The MCC report gave the government a score of 38% for its efforts.

For Rates of Immunisation across the country, the government scored 48%, and 21% for promoting Child Health respectively. This needs serious attention by the government.

It is pointless spending millions of dollars in promoting free quality education for primary school children, if their health is poor and survival rate from disease is low.

Although president Bio was reportedly pleased with his 2020 MCC Scorecard Report, there is little doubt the country is still lagging behind other African countries, when it comes to being able to convince the MCC to part with hundreds of millions of dollars in funding to help the government tackle poverty.

The Bio-led government’s overall performance may have been impressive, given its relatively short time in office, but it must do more to improve in those policy areas they are performing badly, if they are to be taken seriously by the MCC and indeed voters at the 2023 elections.

As the Sierra Leone Telegraph concluded last month, “The government must up its game on the economy. If those employed to control inflation and stabilise the Leone against foreign currencies are struggling to succeed, then perhaps a change of leadership in the ministry of finance and the Bank of Sierra Leone should be looked at again by the president. There is no room for sentiments where the lives of citizens are at stake.”

And it is equally important to add also, that the current growing perception by many in Sierra Leone, of a Bio-led government that is increasingly trampling on the democratic rights of opposition parties; and failure to dispense justice in a timely and politically unfettered manner, will only serve to continue to tarnish the image and credibility of the president and his ruling party.

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