Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 November 2019:
An International Monetary Fund (IMF) mission, led by Karen Ongley, on Wednesday completed its 2019 Article IV consultation with the authorities in Sierra Leone; as well as its second review of its financing arrangement with the government, under the Extended Credit Facility (ECF), which was approved by its Executive Board in November 2018.
The IMF review comes amid rising concern, both at home and abroad, about the continuing economic hardship facing the people of Sierra Leone, after decades of poor governance, misallocation of resources, and rampant corruption.
Although the country’s economy saw a 20% drop in economic growth in 2013-2015, as a result of the twin economic shock caused by the Ebola virus and falling global market prices for iron ore – the country’s main export earner, rising government debt levels to almost 80% of GDP have had greater impact on the economy.
The current government, led by President Julius Maada Bio (Photo) which came to office in May 2018, is facing serious challenges, trying to manage an almost bankrupt economy.
Following its review of the economy last Wednesday, the IMF head of Mission to Sierra Leone – Ms. Ongley, issued the following statement:
“The economy is continuing to recover, with economic growth set to pick up in 2019 to 5.1 percent, up from 3.5 percent in 2018, buoyed by improved activity in agriculture, mining, and construction. While external accounts have improved, the current account deficit is expected to narrow to 14.1 percent of GDP from 18.7 percent, and exchange rate pressures remain, in particular during the lean season in the third quarter of the year.
“Overcoming the legacy of prolonged economic instability and numerous shocks, and improving the wellbeing of Sierra Leoneans remains challenging.
“In this regard, the Government’s National Development Plan (NDP) promises to put the country on a sustainable development path. It aspires to develop human and physical capital, while strengthening governance and accountability to build an economy that is macro-economically sound, inclusive and resilient to shocks.
“However, the authorities are pursuing this plan against a tight financing situation. Pursuing these important goals—boosting education, health, agriculture, and infrastructure—will require carefully calibrated policies.
“Progress under the ECF-supported program has helped stabilize the macroeconomy—vital as a launchpad for the NDP’s goals. The Government met all of the end-June 2019 quantitative performance criteria and indicative targets—net credit to the government and net domestic assets of BSL by large margins. They also met the indicative targets on domestic government revenue, poverty-related spending, and the domestic primary balance.
“The authorities made headway on structural reforms, such as by submitting draft amendments to the National Revenue Authority Act for IMF staff review, finalizing the stocktaking of domestic arrears in September, and publishing the forensic audit report in June. Steps toward developing a remedial action plan to address the findings of the forensic audit are advancing well.
“We appreciate the open dialogue on the 2020 budget, which strikes a balance between meeting priority spending needs and navigating the tight financing situation. To this end, the Government’s efforts to mobilize domestic revenue are advancing well, thanks to significant tax administration measures, such as operationalizing the Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS).
“Looking ahead, continuing to generate strong revenues to finance Sierra Leone’s large priority spending needs requires a mix of both tax policy and administration reforms. The IMF team welcomes the Government’s committed efforts to promote more efficient spending and improve public finance management.
“Planning arrears clearance—most of which originated in 2016/17—in a manner that is transparent, equitable, fiscally sustainable, and limits the risks to financial stability is an important step in this direction.
“Ongoing efforts to bolster the independence and effectiveness of monetary policy will support the Bank of Sierra Leone’s (BSL) objective to bring inflation down to single-digits in the medium term. Limiting recourse to domestic bank financing of the budget will reinforce efforts to achieving this goal.
“Maintaining a flexible exchange rate system and continuing to build foreign exchange reserves will boost resilience to economic shocks, while the impact of recent foreign exchange directives should be closely monitored.
“The Government and the IMF team reached preliminary agreement on macroeconomic and financial policies that could pave the way for the IMF’s Executive Board to consider the second ECF review, scheduled for January 2020. Completion of the review would make available SDR 15.56 million (US$20.0 million), bringing total disbursements under the program to about SDR 46.56 million (US$62.2 million).
“The IMF team met with a range of government representatives – including President Bio, Minister of Finance Saffa (Photo), Minister of Planning and Economic Development Kai-kai, Bank of Sierra Leone Governor Kallon, Auditor General Taylor‑Pearce, Minister of Youth Affairs Bangura – as well as representatives from private and financial sectors, civil society organizations, and development partners. We thank all our partners for their warm hospitality, and constructive and rich discussions.”
Last Friday, 8 November 2019, the country’s finance minister – Jacob Jusu Saffa presented the government’s Budget for next year to MPs in parliament which was this week approved and has become law.
What this means is that the government can now proceed with its plans to reduce inflation; increase export earnings to stem the decline of the value of the Leone; stimulate investments in the manufacturing sector; boost tourism; promote more business start-ups through a new micro-credit programme; employ more nurses, teachers, and police officers; and engage thousands of young people in farming and reforestation.
The government is hoping that by this time next year, Sierra Leone’s economy would have returned to its pre-ebola growth trajectory, with greater stability and green shoots of recovery.