Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 November 2019:
As parliamentarians prepare to receive the SLPP government’s 2020 Budget and Financial Statement tomorrow Friday, 8 November, to be delivered by finance minister Jacob Jusu Saffa, president Bio has today announced a snap cabinet reshuffle.
Although a cabinet reshuffle was expected after calls from various sources including the Sierra Leone Telegraph for immediate reset of the president’s governing machinery and ministerial leadership, today’s cabinet reshuffle falls far short of expectations.
President Bio has resisted calls for the sacking of his finance minister – JJ Saffa (Photo) and governor of the central bank – professor Kallon, despite worsening economic crisis in the country, for which supporters of the SLPP government are blaming the former government of president Ernest Bai Koroma.
The president has also decided to keep his chief minister – Dr David Francis close by his side, after calls for his post to be made redundant, which many believe is a serious duplication of the vice president’s role.
But there are other surprises in today’s reshuffle which may be welcomed by many, including the sacking of the minister of water resources – Dr. Jonathan Tengbe, who has been replaced by Mr P. K. Lansana, as the water crisis in the country continues.
Dr Tengbe has over 30 years’ experience in the design, project and contract management of highways and civil infrastructure projects. who had spent several years working on various infrastructure projects both in Sierra Leone – and most recently in the Middle East, where he gave up his job to return to Sierra Leone to contest the presidential candidacy of the SLPP party, which he lost to president Julius Maada Bio.
Dr Tengbe was then appointed minister of water resources by Bio after the SLPP won elections last year, to help resolve the country’s perennial problem of water shortage.
Another shocking addition to the ministerial cabinet by the president is the appointment of Dr David Sengeh (Photo) as the new minister of basic and senior secondary education , replacing Alpha Timbo who was quite instrumental in helping the president establish and roll out his Free Quality Education programme across the country.
But the implementation of the government’s free education programme has been fraught with immense and complex difficulties, such as inadequate learning resources, shortage of classrooms – overcrowding in schools, poor motivation of teachers.
The declining morale of staff across the education sector after recent corruption scandals and stories of examination fraud, is also conspiring to threaten the smooth delivery of the free education programme.
Alpha Timbo is now the new Labour and Social Security Minister, taking over from Mr Adekunkle King who has been appointed Ambassador to Ethiopia and African Union.
It is not clear what added value Dr Sengeh would bring into the basic education ministerial role, after championing last week’s launch of the government’s Innovation and Digitalisation Strategy.
The question remains as to who will take over the running of the government’s Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) as Sierra Leone’s Chief Innovation Officer – a role many in and out of Sierra Leone believe to be superfluous to the country’s priorities and development requirements.
It is understood that Dr Sengeh will now focus on bringing computerisation and internet connectivity across primary and secondary schools, to improve universal access to learning materials, and help change school curriculum. But will he continue to also run the DSTI?
The ministry of defence has also got a new leadership today. The new minister of defence is the country’s former head of national security – Retired Brigadier Kellie Conteh. He will be assisted by Retired Colonel Muana Brima Massaquoi. President Bio was minister of Defence.
Another key ministry that has received a big shake-up today is the ministry of agriculture and forestry, which for far too long has been underperforming – unable to respond to the country’s acute food shortage.
After 58 years of independence, Sierra Leone cannot feed itself. This is a testament to the massive failing of successive governments to address and tackle the problem of farming and food production in the country.
Today, president Bio has sacked both the incumbent minister – Mr. Joseph J. Ndanema and his deputy minister at the ministry of agriculture. They have been replaced by Mr Denis K. Vandi and Dr Abu Bakarr Karim respectively.
Not much is known about the performance track record of these two agriculture ministry appointees, but there are 7 million hungry mouths in Sierra Leone, wide open and waiting to be fed. Denis Vandi was sacked last year from State House by president Bio.
The Executive Chairman of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – Dr. Foday Moriba Jaward, who holds a PhD in Environmental Science from Lancaster University, United Kingdom, is appointed to take over as minister of the newly established ministry for the environment which has today been decoupled from the ministry of lands and Housing..
Jaward now has the massive task of working with the ministry of lands to put a stop to the mindless deforestation, that is taking place along the Freetown Peninsular which is the cause of recent flooding that have taken hundreds of lives. He will be assisted by the newly appointed deputy minister for the environment – Mr Steven James Jusu.
Another ministry that has been broken up is the ministry of Social welfare, Gender, Children and Religious Affairs, thus creating more jobs for new ministers and deputies at a time that the country is suffering from serious economic problems.
The new minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs is Ms Manti Tarawallie. Social Welfare and Religious Affairs will now function as a separate entity under the incumbent substantive minister – Baindu Dassama.
Today’s cabinet reshuffle would be seen by many as a cosmetic exercise, aimed at repopulating the decks of a ship that is in serious trouble, as it sails closer to the shores of general elections in 2023.
While there is still time for further mid-term reshuffle next year, the economic crisis facing the country will continue if serious steps are not taken to change direction, in terms of the government’s fiscal and spending policies.
Tomorrow, Friday 8 November 2019, is government budget day in Sierra Leone. Who are the winners and losers? Will there be more tax rises? Will the government continue its massive borrowing trajectory to keep up with its high spending?
What measures will be put in place to stimulate exports? Will the government reduce import taxes and cost of clearing goods at the seaport?