Sierra Leone must go back to the drawing board to fix its economy

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 August 2019:

It is an undeniable fact, that Sierra Leone is a rich country; but also paradoxically true that it is one of the poorest countries in the world. If such an illogical logic is anything to go by, how come we are where, and what we are?

But thanks to the perennial afflictions of corruption, mismanagement and bad governance, that have been laced with tribalism, nepotism, and abject sycophancy, Sierra Leone has been reduced to a basket case. It will be delusional if we don’t admit that Sierra Leone’s economy is in dire straits.

We have to be honest with ourselves and accept that our economy is on a life support machine. The recent focus which has seen growing calls for an overhaul of the Ministry of Finance, is a clear manifestation of the people’s frustration, which embodies the opinion that the economy is in neutral gear.

Many have concluded that the economy has not shifted any gears, since President Maada Bio took over the reins of government. That is a matter of opinion.

Many of us, as undesirable as it is, are not shocked by the current state of the economy. President Bio took over with all the fanfare and hope that usually follows a change in government. Sadly in his case, the take-over came with a hazard warning; that the coffers were EMPTY and that the country was toying with the symptoms of bankruptcy.

Those that see the replacement of the Minister of Finance Mr J.J Saffa as an antidote to our economic woes have hastily forgotten that Bio’s government inherited a country with a blood supply of AUSTERITY MEASURES. They forgot so soon, that due to waste, corruption, bad governance, Sierra Leone was economically haemorrhaged, and needing a massive resource transfusion.

President Bio’s government diagnosed that the arteries and capillaries, through which the economy was bled needed some sutures and blood clot. But after 18 months of intensive care, we are nowhere the intended targets today.

The general opinion of the public is understandably one of disappointment as price increase of basic commodities continues to threaten standards of living and quality of life.

It is an open secret that a small country like Sierra Leone, with a population of 7 million cannot overdose on the abundance of resources that we have been blessed with. Against the backdrop of an abundant natural resources, it sounds like these resources have become a “blessed curse”; of the proverbial man that sits by the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean and washes his hands with spittle.

So how did we get into this quagmire? If Sierra Leone should get out of this mess, it would require a monumental effort from all its citizens. One of the trending angsts has been the exchange rate of the dollar, which reportedly is currently Le 1 million = 100 dollars.

My idea of economics is to buy a piece of bread and give the “korthor” the change. So I am not going to pretend that I have a clue about the country’s money matters. But if we are to build our economic muscle, much will be dependent on our Gross Domestic Products (GDP), among other things. If that is the case, what has Sierra Leone got to offer?

I am not talking about potentials and minerals buried in the ground that are yet to be actualised. If Sierra Leone is to compete on the foreign exchange platforms of the world market, shouldn’t we have something to EXCHANGE, literally, in the first place? So what have we got?

In the last three decades, successive governments have systematically demolished our cash generating establishments. In those days, we had Sierra Leone Produce Marketing Board (SLPMB), Sierra Leone Fisheries, National Diamond Mining Company (NDMC), Sierra Leone Petroleum, etc.

In Sierra Leone today, we cannot even afford to process our raw materials. Even the basic gara (batik) clothes are now replaced with cheap imitations from China. We used to import and process crude oil, with all its cost cutting benefits.

Today, we import refined fuel at market prices. Gone are the days when palm produce, coffee, cacao, Piassava, etc. were our cash cows. When the iron ore Marampa mines was resuscitated, our country gained a very rare accolade as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Many have identified the Ebola epidemic, the mud slide and the decade long war as causal factors for our economic demise. We cannot dismiss these as not having an impact. However, Sierra Leone should be able to recover, but only if we are able to manage our resources. Sadly today, fake news has become our main export commodity.

We all know that after the end of the war, Sierra Leone became a charitable case. It is also true that donor countries fell over themselves to redeem our failed state at the time. A lot of NGOs poured in to rebuild our infrastructures; so as to provide the foundations necessary for economic recovery.

But those funds were plundered with reckless abandon. We can talk about corruption till the cows come home. But a large chunk of what was embezzled by our corrupt officials was not from what we produced but from what was DONATED to us – to get us out of our economic quagmire.

When you have officials and politicians with the conscience of chain saws, the outcome is always predictable.

Bio and his government took over with an audacity of hope. There is nothing wrong with being hopeful, but many are now seeing that hope as misplaced and hasty. Judging by the slow pace of an economic recovery, some may be inclined to conclude that President Bio and his team did not have a full grasp of the task that lay ahead.

With the economy deeply buried in a sink hole, it was always going to be difficult to move into first gear. However, we cannot continue to use the actions of the past government as an excuse.

We all know that things went wrong. But Bio and his government have the authority, by virtue of the ACC, which has parliamentary blessings to recover those stolen funds. This is about the law, not political expediency.

With Maada trying to stamp his government’s own signature of policies like Free Quality education, Health care and so forth, it is inevitable that the government will find itself stuck in the bog. It may be a case of one step forward and two steps backwards.

Sierra Leone needs to go back to the drawing board. It is all well and good to embark on lofty ideas about development and so forth, but in doing so, we need to prioritise. There are a lot of examples around the world, which we can emulate.

When the former President of USA – George Bush, presided over two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq on credit cards, the effects were not felt until Obama took over in 2008. His first 4 years were dedicated purely to the recovery of the US economy from recession. Obama embarked on stimulus packages, which were very unpopular at the time.

The Republicans used every trick in the book to thwart his efforts, but he persevered. Obama succeeded in steadying the ship. Interestingly today, Donald Trump is enjoying the economic boost that owes its origin from Obama’s fiscal policies. Perhaps, Maada could take a leaf or two from Obama’s manual.

If we are to recover from the alleged damage done by the previous government, then Maada should spend more time doing some heavy lifting in the garage to repair the damage caused by EBK and his cohorts.

You cannot build your house on quick sand. We need to get the foundations right; the ones upon which we can build to move forward. We cannot develop the country on shaky or non-existent foundations.

We all agree that Bio inherited an economy that was heavily bastardised by the previous government. And now that our donor partners are suffering from donor fatigue, what have we got to say for ourselves?

We know full well that a large part of what was stolen was not from what our country produced, save for the badly written contracts with companies like Koidu Holdings, Sierra Rutile or African Mining. Is the government going to recover those stolen funds? That is the hope, but a lot of people believe that this recovery programme is at a snail’s pace.

To say that Sierra Leone’s economy needs to recover and recover fast is like saying that the Pope is catholic. But if we are to do so, we need to go back to the drawing board. We need to build the foundations stronger. We can do so if we get our priorities right, in the first place.

There is need for development. But we can’t develop on shaky foundations. Perhaps, some programmes need to be shelved in the short term, to make room for steadying the ship. Those who are calling for change in the Finance Ministry have very plausible reasons to do so. But when you drive a broken vehicle, changing the driver may not be the best of solutions. Let’s get the vehicle fixed first.

Maada has put the brakes on all overseas travelling for officials at the moment. He has visited many places since becoming the tenant of State House. The hope is that he has learnt a lot from these places, and especially from Rwanda.

Rwanda experienced one of the bloodiest wars of genocidal proportions. It is the proverbial phoenix that is now rising from its ashes. If Rwanda can do it, so should Sierra Leone. We just need to read the manual from their President, but above all need to have our country’s interest at heart. So let us prioritise, prioritise, and prioritise. Let’s get the basics right.

Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.

13 Comments

  1. Over to you Mr Franklin G Pomeranz. Take the gauntlet from Sahr Matturi. Please keep it civil. As for Sulaiman Jalloh, there is a difference between “purporting” and “suggesting”. I only wish you read the article again. May be, just may be, you would find some of the “obvious” solutions by looking at some of the problems highlighted.

  2. This is a very interesting and insightful article. I would add only that a priority of Sierra Leone should also be to preserve its rich and important history. It is not, I must emphasize, because Sierra Leoneans should lament over the former glories of the past, or to bemoan the former epithet of “Athens of West Africa.” It is rather to gain insights from the past, courage from the incredible resilience which Sierra Leoneans possess, and stride forward with confidence born of a rich heritage and proud history.

    Above all, Sierra Leone’s development should not come at the cost of ecological catastrophe, or willingly permitting outsiders to plunder and extract. One thing which always comes to my mind when I am in Freetown is waste. I see trash strewn everywhere, along the sides of roads.

    If a deal were to be struck with a recycling company, or something similar, to employ young people to collect trash, providing badly needed jobs, and repurpose the waste into usable materials suitable for re-use. The streets would be cleaner, more employment would result, and money would not be swept into piles and burned, putting toxins into the air. I’m no economist, but I do know that this is where my thoughts turn as I walk along the roads. Perhaps a true economist would have more ideas to help in the recovery of such a beautiful and proud nation.

  3. Mr Mansaray, like the example of the US revamping their economy as you cited, I would have loved to see some examples of the “get back to the drawing board” you are purporting. What policies you think the government should implement in order to settle the crumbling economy?

  4. Franklin took the words right out of my mouth. That’s exactly what I have been telling our people blindly supporting President Bio,here in Sierra Leone. Contrary to what many believe, it doesn’t take quite long for any viable,effective economic policy,to yield sustainable dividends,and tangible, profitable returns.

    The only obstacle that stands in its way is gross Incompetence! Six months is more than enough to achieve promising results,and Trump understood that very well. I have been carefully watching him! SInce his first day in office,he knew very well,that with the correct implementation of logical,common sense,practical economic policies, the sky was not just the limit,but only the beginning of success – drastic,positive change was possible in the shortest amount of time.

    So like a sprinter, he cleverly took that glorious idea,and ran furiously with it,and today,he is still reaching for more greater heights! Surely, understandably,most people will find it very hard to like a man with extremist,nationalistic ideas,like Donald. But one must put that aside,and give credit where it is due – renegotiating trade deals with Mexico,and China,and many other affluent nations are key factors to Americas now robust,thriving economy.

    Again,withholding countless millions of dollars in financial support for UNESCO,and hundreds more millions of Benjamin’s to three Central American Countries,blocking financial support for Plan Parenthood,and other liberal institutions are also contributing factors to America’s current prosperous disposition. Obama did the hard,and tedious work – steering the US economy away from impending disaster, and preventing it from submerging into the depths of recession looming on the horizon,at that time,and he deserves praises,and credit for that. It must be so!

    But here in my beloved country endless excuses,poor sense of judgement,and incompetence,are the loudest, most deafening trumpets currently being practiced,and blown. Tribalism has its own unique,blasting trumpet sound,and it is the loudest,and most shocking of them all – so does mindless stupidity,indifference,and arrogance. What kind of heavy financial lifting is a lazy Finance Minister doing in a small country like our own,that should incapacitate him completely,rendering him useless,hopeless,and strategically handicapped? None whatsoever!

    It is the strangest thing to ever witness – light,feathery burdens,appearing as crushing,backbreaking,and heavy loads to them.Truly pathetic! Imagine this for a minute – these scoundrels,are indeed strange people – because their greatest delights,joys and confidence comes from blowing religiously their harsh,sadistic,unusual sounding tribalistic trumpets….Rising Sun Will Rise Again.

  5. If Maada cannot deliver the goods, let him go and finish his PhD in USA. He came in, disrupted the work force and brought in a chief minister as adviser in TRIBALISM to reduce the other tribes to rubbish and brought in so called PhD holders, but can’t diligently understand how to run the daycare. What a mess Mr. Rude JJ Saffa.

    I am very sad that we found ourselves in an appalling situation. The fullah VP is just an ordinary empty vessel, while the chief minister is going round busy employing the Mendes in government offices and sacking other tribes. So please fix the economy with all your PhD.

    • Thanks Mr. Alusine Afriju for your insight. We told them long ago that, we don’t need Phd graduates to fix our POLITICAL and ECONOMIC WOES. PATRIOTS, even if ILLITERATE, will do. After all, we are all Sierra Leoneans. GOD BLESS YOU Mr. Alusine Afriju for your insight.

  6. Trump did not benefit from a stable Obama economy. Obama was a totally ineffective president. Trump had to undo many of Obama’s economic policies so that America could economically breathe again!

    • Hi Franklin G Pomeranz. I welcome you first of all to this well RESPECTED PLATFORM were the FORUMITES are not only well INFORMED about the issues in their beloved SIERRA LEONE, but also on World affairs. I respect what you said but, I need more clarifications and examples to back your statements. Just to let you know, I have plenty of ammunition in stock concerning your statements and I am prepared to challenge you on this matter here on this PLATFORM right now, before taking the discussions fight behind the SCHOOLS GYM BACKYARD.

      So, will you please give us examples to back up your STATEMENTS over this issue Mr. Franklin G Pomeranz? This issue will not go away till I hear from you Mr. Franklin G Pomeranz. It’s TOUGH here on this platform as you can now see EH.

      Mr. Franklin G Pomeranz there thinking we don’t know about World Affairs. GOD BLESS YOU Mr. Franklin G Pomeranz.

  7. A fantastic article with the trade mark of Abdulai Manssrsy. The ideas profered and wise advice put forward are immense contribution to the economic solution for Sierra Leone. Kudos Mr Abdulai Mansaray!!

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