Sheriff Mahmud Ismail: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 06 January 2022:
Traditionally, international partners, not least the United Nations, which is more or less the custodian of international diplomacy, would conduct their public engagements with host countries in the most benign and circumspect way.
Even when the circumstances may be uncomplimentary, their public statements in particular, are usually well guarded such that every word is reviewed and ascertained to be within the limits of diplomatic restraint. This way, only those who are deep in the wool of diplomacy would be able to discern the diplomat’s disapproval in their statements.
But in a rare development, the United Nations’ Office in Sierra Leone has shown exhaustion in the exercise of diplomatic restraint with this Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Government. Through his New Year’s message to Sierra Leone titled: “2022 – A Year to Put Sierra Leone First”, the United Nations (UN) Resident Coordinator, Dr Babatunde Ahonsi (Photo), appears peeved with the SLPP Government’s cluelessness and he was quite direct about their lack of finesse and focus.
The angst and disappointment in the UN’s point man was not difficult to notice; as soon as he started his message, the fragments started flying. Ahonsi bluntly said, “Sierra Leone is off the sustainable development track”. Though he admitted that Covid -19 had a large role to play in that sad situation, he insisted that there are other complex factors responsible for Sierra Leone’s embarrassing setback.
The UN Resident Coordinator therefore highlighted three of the issues he believes “should be of particular concern” to the Government. One of these is the COVID -19 pandemic whose seriousness he seems to think that the regime does not fully understand; that they and have bungled the response.
Ahonsi is particularly worried about the authorities’ ineffective vaccination drive as well as their unprincipled adherence to the preventive protocols as seen recently during the ruling party’s National Delegates’ Conference Here is how he rubbed it on the Government:
“…the national Covid-19 response needs to be significantly re-engineered around a sustained ‘Do-It-All’ strategy. This must seek to deliver by year-end full vaccination for at least 70 percent of the population and foster broad adherence to Covid-19 prevention protocols around handwashing, face mask-wearing, and safe physical spacing.”
And he said this is not rocket science rather; all that is required to get the job done is available if the leadership understands what they are doing. “These are not unrealistic targets given, for example, the availability of significant supplies of vaccines to Sierra Leone. But they can only be achieved through strong, sustained leadership by government”.
Then, Dr Ahonsi practically upended the ‘Paopaganda’ (the deliberate dissemination of misinformation with the arrogance that everyone must accept it as accurate) about the so –called economic recovery and urged the Government to, for once, be serious.
“For now, therefore, rather than talk about post-Covid recovery, the focus should be on containing Covid-19 transmission and sustaining inclusive and nature-positive economic growth in the course of doing so.”
In a very damning way, he told the SLPP that this ‘New Direction’ is a disaster, that they are leading the country into an economic, political and social abyss and that they must urgently do a detour.
“In addition, dealing with impact of Covid-19 offers a resetting opportunity for real transformation in economic policy responses towards protecting and improving livelihoods for the teeming population of young people and women in the informal sector”
The UN Resident Coordinator’s disappointment with this regime is not limited to the opening lines of his New Year’s message; it actually metastasized throughout. On the economy, Dr Ahonsi pointedly called out the Government’s deadly combination of insincerity, arrogance and incompetence.
This is how he told the SLPP that their noise about bringing down inflation to single digit was a hoax; that throughout the last four years they have been up to no good and that their monumental failure might cast a dark shadow on 2022. (Photo above: President Bio).
“…the long-standing weaknesses in the fundamentals of the national economy are likely to be exacerbated in 2022. The less-than-ideal trends in per capita income, consumer price inflation, foreign direct investment, current account deficit and the debt-to-GDP ratio could potentially worsen. …”
He also said the government was clueless and insincere about the projections they made in the 2022 budget. “Revenue and economic growth forecasts in the 2022 budget and expectations of a more positive macroeconomic outlook in the medium term would probably now have to be adjusted downwards.”
In other words, Dr Ahonsi is saying to the folks at the ministry of finance – stop lying, those figures are not accurate – go back to the drawing board and do your assignment well.
On the government’s reckless spending and what others have described as pillage of the national coffers, the UN Resident Coordinator was very brutal in telling them that they have run out of luck and that they would now have to carry their cross by cutting back on the wastage which the Bank Governor, Professor Kallon, was bold enough to admit.
This is how Dr Ahonsi put the hot fire behind them: “…Government may have no choice but to institute severe austerity measures and to do a lot more to eliminate inefficiencies and gaps in the allocation and management of public finances”.
One would think that at this stage the UN’s top diplomat would hang the gloves but no; he is not done yet. He still needed to express that he neither respects nor trusts the system even with the depleted national treasury. Whatever little that is left there must be protected.
“All hands must be on deck to ensure the ring-fencing of funding for key priorities around education, livelihoods protection, and health which are key to ensuring social stability and speedy return to the path of economic recovery.”
What Guterres’ representative is saying to this Government is that any more funding coming from the international community would be tied to specific activities and that disbursement would depend on certain deliverables.
For those of us who are familiar with the work of international partners, we know that Ahonsi is sending a message on behalf of the rest of the international community that as we approach elections, they are changing the Country Partnership Strategy. This is even clearer in his perspectives on the toxic political environment for which he believes the government is the belligerent.
“We saw an unmistakable rise in political tensions in the land and louder expressions of anxieties about the democratic health of the country. These tendencies would need to be reversed in 2022 *to lay the foundation for an enabling environment for peaceful and credible elections in 2023.”
With that blistering rebuke, the UN is acknowledging that over the last four years, this Government has shredded Sierra Leone’s sterling democratic credentials and uprooted even the foundation for peaceful and credible elections. Then, he bemoaned the hypocrisy of the one –sided Bintumani Peace Conference and the ‘rogue’ establishment of the so – called National Peace Commission.
“Therefore, a recommitment to genuine dialogue between the leaders of the ruling party and the main opposition parties to address unresolved political grievances in a mutually satisfactory way before the end of 2022 is an absolute necessity”.
Dr Ahonsi is saying this with the knowledge of the imposition of Speaker on Parliament, the beating and forceful removal of Members of Parliament from the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) and their replacement with SLPP candidates who were runners up in the elections. He was saying that in view of the imposition of an elections commissioner, the failure to hear APC petitions in court, the attempt to run away with a strange Mid Term Housing and Population Census, the controversial removal of an auditor -general on eve of the publication of a national audit report, as well as the perpetual harassment, arrests and detention of political opponents,
To drive the point home, Guterres’ representative urged the SLPP to go back to the good inclusive governance of the APC which was the basis for their (the APC) success in building national cohesion. This is what Ahonsi had to say:
“The country needs more than ever before to return to the path of inclusive politics that builds bridges across ethnic, regional, gender, generational, and disability status divides”.
What the UN Resident Coordinator meant is that inclusive politics was there before but this government abandoned it and took the country to ‘a new direction’ whose destination is a national disaster.
It is that disastrous direction the country has been headed in the last years that informs the UN Resident Coordinator’s main theme: ‘2022 – A Year to Put Sierra Leone First’; itself a biting chastisement of the ‘powers that be’
But Guterres’s man is certainly not alone in this, both bilateral and multi – lateral partners like the United Kingdom, the European Union and recently the World Bank, have expressed grave concerns over the misdirection this government has gotten Sierra Leone into. Sierra Leoneans are also fed up with the status quo and are desirous for a peaceful change of government.
It is therefore reassuring that, on behalf of the rest of the international community in Sierra Leone, Guterres’s point man has given a stern warning to those who think they could rig the 2023 elections and get away with it; especially those hoodlums whose pastime has been the vandalisation and violent disruptions of electoral processes.
“The UN will also work with key stakeholders to directly support efforts to foster peaceful, credible, and inclusive elections in 2023,” asserted the UN Resident Coordinator.
Given that the five-year tenure of this Government is almost up, and we are gearing up for elections; Guterres’ point man is saying that from now on, whether anyone likes it or not, political violence and brinkmanship must stop.
The serious business of serving Sierra Leone, at least for a peaceful election which must be a true reflection of the people’s will, must take precedence. The UN says they would rally round all the other partners to ensure just that. A word to the wise….