The economy is not stupid – it’s our politics that’s gone mad

Concerned citizen: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 13 August 2019:

It is a fact that Sierra Leone’s economy is taking a nose dive. Whether it is the cost of goods, rising inflation or stagnated wages, a lot of people measure the performance of the economy against the Leone versus US Dollar exchange rate.

This is not surprising, and is understandable because it is the easiest way to appreciate the economy even though it does not tell the entire story of the living standards of people.

But why the dollar when economists will tell you there are many other factors, including export performance, level of tax burden on businesses and individuals, government revenue, consumer spending, agricultural productivity, increased service sector performance – including the education sector, pay levels and so on.

I am not an economist but there is consensus that of all these factors, export performance plays a major role in exchange rate differences. Yet the over simplification of the factors that make the economy stupid tends to put unnecessary spotlight on the Bank of Sierra Leone, and by extension makes the Bank Governor – Professor Kefala Kallon (Photo) the single individual responsible for the economy. This is as absurd as it is stupid.

This article is not to make a defence for a governor that is clearly a novice to such an intense policy environment. It does not try to exculpate him of the fact that his interventions are either late or insensitive.

I do not wish to go down the route of vilification of a revered academic who is clearly retired. But I wish to draw your attention to the fact that the reason for the state of the economy is more political or the result of political mismanagement than monetary policy effectiveness.

To start with, everyone agrees that since the mismanagement of the mining sector that saw the collapse of the major mining companies under the last regime, the economy needed some dynamism and prudent management.

The euphoria that swept the New Direction to power would have lasted long enough by reversing the mistakes of the past government. Instead, here is what is happening that is wrong:

Instead of reducing the wage bill, we are witnessing the biggest expansion of the public sector despite all the ethnicised sackings that took place in the first twelve months of the New Direction government coming to power.

Across government, employment has soared in almost every department.  Take a few examples; here, at State House alone where the office of the Chief of Staff had about three dozen staff in the previous government, we now have over one hundred.

Parliament has moved from a bloated staffing of 120 administrative staff to 230 now employed.

Despite sacking over 30 people at NatCom, the Commission only recently had to purchase extra chairs and tables to accommodate the large intake of staff, sometimes in duplicating roles.

The Police and the Army will soon continue their regular recruitment while offices like the ONS, NCRA, PPRC, EPA, ACC among others have seen a 15 to 20 percent jump in their staffing levels.

The Ministry of Agriculture budget proposal include 969 new extension workers.

Every embassy position has been filled, including the household staffing that Ambassadors fly in from home.

These are not mere statistics but will have significant levels on the government’s budget.

Discussions about the government wage bill in fact masks the real killers of its budget, such as the hidden emoluments in the administrative budgets of MDAs.

In our public sector, every official from grade 7 (graduate level) upward is entitled to 45 litres of fuel. This is not budgeted for under wages and emoluments but rather as activities for the administration of the Ministries. In some MDAs, vote controllers and Ministers can get as much fuel as they like including fuel for their home generators. There is no exact figure on the cost of fuel as this is very difficult to quantify, not including the fact that most MDAs get donor support that also come with fuel.

This is clearly not an efficient way to run a government and one would expect that if a situation like this occurs in one’s personal life, major efficiency savings would have been implemented. The recent ban on ministerial international travel appears to come close to this principle, but it is as superficial as it claims.

No Minister will submit a travel request without making a good case of the importance to government business. Besides, there is no objective criteria to determine this.

We were all very excited in the early days of the New Direction when they went after the previous government in order to track down government vehicles. Their findings reveal that there are over a thousand government vehicles in active use.

But why the need for all these vehicles and new ones when the country is on the brink of bankruptcy (without donor direct budget support)? Take the EPA with over 30 vehicles where even a junior officer can have a car assigned.

No one disputes the need for transportation to facilitate government business within this four-kilometre administrative hub of the city. But one wonders if there are no better ways of running a government transport system when the cost of maintenance of these vehicles can run into hundreds of millions for a small agency.

This is no exaggeration that we are all too familiar with the manner of usage and abuse of government vehicles; vehicles that work throughout the week including Saturday and Sundays when they are not essential service sectors (medical and security), will not last long.

Vehicles that ply rough terrains to ferry building materials for government officials building their mansions will not last long.

One would expect a government complaining about a sterile economy to be sensitive to the rising cost of running the machinery of government, but what we continue to see is a complete failure.

For those of us closer to this government, when we complain about the rising cost of living or “the grun dry” albeit sotto voce, we forget that we are the same ones that cheer the long convoys of the president when he returns from his numerous foreign trips that cost nothing less than a million dollars.

I won’t go into his travel cost which are now sufficiently discussed even in our Bonthe whatsapp fora.

The point here is that, we cannot blame a bank governor we all knew was clearly out of touch with policy, and looking to augment his retirement purse. The problem is the mental imprisonment we find ourselves due to a patrimonial political party system that has become even more dangerous through a more entrenched ethnic mobilisation strategy.

The last time this was the case was the Momoh “Ekutay” APC government, when we could hardly pay teacher salaries and those employed in the public sector, but reward others for thuggery and violence against political opponents.

History likes to repeat itself. To say that we will see an end to this economic malaise is a pipe dream.

As long as we have bought into this dangerous political masochism, do not expect a pay rise if you are a teacher whose salary now battles with a bag of rice; nor expect the dollar to fall.

It will never fall when the currency of choice of the President, Vice President, Chief Minister, First Lady, Finance Minister and Financial Secretary and so on is the US dollar, do not expect the Leone to rise.

When we continue to recruit partisans (although we like to be believe that they are more qualified than the others who were there), do not expect that things will improve.

This economy is not stupid, it is our politics that has gone mad.

10 Comments

  1. This is a brilliant article. Thank you, very much, for it. I, for one, am not surprised at the facts you exposed. We have a serious governance illness – dominated by corruption, tribalism and analytic stupidity – that we don’t know how to cure, and hence will keep our dear country, Sierra Leone, underdeveloped and low-income, for a long time.

    • “I, for one, am not surprised at the facts you exposed.” Dr. Omotunde E. G. Johnson

      Dr. Johnson, how did you come to the conclusion that the writer’s statements were factual statements?

  2. “Your perception is always your reality“. Based on my own perception about the statement on this article about hiring of government officials, I personally believe that it’s a step in the right direction as long as they are qualified staffs and they are not “round pegs in square holes”.

    It’s now obvious that by strengthening NRA, ACC, NACCIT staffs, to name but few, and provide them with the needed tools to perform their duty, they will be well equipped to face and overcome the challenges of the present and the future. For example, the amount of money that the NRA is now generating for which I applaud the government because “the only guaranteed in life is death and taxes“. vehicles and fuel should be provided for most government officers in order to minimize corruption.

    Since the new direction is doing their best to pay all government workers without borrowing, then we have to hope and pray that investors will start coming to our country since the president has already made the effort. Data has also proved that the economy of Israel, Nigeria and Ghana is mostly built by their citizens living in the diaspora. So I personally believe that if every Sierra Leonean living abroad over a decade can sacrifice to support our government’s agenda to diversify our economy by investing in our villages (agriculture and fishing) and try to re-model or build a house, that will also be an incentive for some of our families living in the slums and impoverished areas of Freetown to relocate back to the villages which will definitely transform our economy.

    Finally, based on reality on the ground, we now have clean cities, Free and Quality education with reasonable school bus fare,Premier football league to relieve stress, much safer environment for our girls, more accountability in the government thanks to the ACC; and hopefully by next year all ECOWAS countries will start using the ECO which I hope will help our economy.

    So let’s start counting our blessings and continue to pray for our leaders of all political parties to take MAMA SIERRA LEONE to a higher height.

  3. It’s amazing how politics can alter one’s view point within the twinkle of an eye. Reading through the numerous comments being posted on selected articles on this forum, one can clearly see how divided we are as Sierra Leoneans when it comes to politics.

    Most of us claim to love mama Salone, vowing to defend her by calling out ills of our dysfunctional politics and the partisan policies that comes along with that. However, we are only willing to do so when our own parties are in the opposition. The minute we are in governance, nothing matters any more. Government acts/policies that we used to criticize, screaming on top of our voices as being undemocratic are no longer terrible. All of a sudden, those actions are normal; it’s the citizen who are culprit.

    Instead of seeking out answers for injustices, party insiders are now saying the government should be allowed to do its job. The question is, why were you on the opposite fence when the other party was doing the same things? Why were you yelling and screaming for justice, when these same actions/polices were being implemented by the other party? Its really sad to say the least.

    In fact, our so called educated elites are the worst in my opinion when it comes to this aspect. A PHD holder will suddenly tell you 1+1=3 instead of being equal to 2, so long as his party is in power. Currently, our economy continues to struggle. 16 months of the current regime has not shown any dividend.

    Instead of going to the positive direction or better yet stay neutral, the economy continues to get worst towards the negative direction. Didn’t the former regime lost the election for this same reasons? Joblessness, hardship, injustices, tribalism, incompetency, etc – all existed during the former regime and many of us were happy to call them out and advocate for a change of regime.

    Has anything of the listed aspect changed over the past 16months? Or are we seeing any indication that the listed aspects are at least improving? We all know the answer, except again if you are among the ruling party insider. So, as long as things continue to remain the same or for that matter getting worse, it’s every patriotic Sierra Leonean’s duty/right to continue to advocate for better days.

    We all want the government of the day to succeed. In light of this, we must always make sure we offer constructive criticism when the need arises.

  4. I laughed very hard when I read this article. What really got me cracking was the writer, who I believe beyond any reasonable doubt to be an opposition cheer leader, masquerading as a member of the ruling party. But that’s fair in politics. It is natural to expect such games.

    However, I would like to implore the writer to cite his/her sources in the future when he/she decides to make controversial claims. Frivolous assertions that cannot be backed by strong evidence are not good for public consumption.

  5. Thank you Mr Rashid Thomas. You just snatched the word from my mouth.You know, there is a problem among our elites who think everything about others is just as meek as theirs or themselves. Most people, especially those who call themselves political pundits these days, are so quick to jump into wrong conclusions or even cynical about others views just because the other side does not ride along with views they consider a challenge to the government.

    Mr Yajah, your rush to not only misinterprete the writer’s article but also failing to fully comprehend the whole article is not only an insult to the elites of this noble forum but also a blatantly erroneous way of killing our freedom of speech all in the single name of “partisanship”.

    For whatever reason that the author chooses to analyze the current administration’s economic challenges and weaknesses, it is his/her opinion and views, and solely entitled to. You can’t tell him how he should see things because you are the advocate or mouthpiece of the new direction.

    I am saying this because you went beyond by even denying and discrediting the author’s ethnicity as a bonthonian because he expressed an opinion about the current administration. This is a problem for some Sierra Leoneans and a huge setback for Sierra Leone.

    In these of our new political era today, one cannot criticize a sitting government. The sooner you do, straight up, you are being labeled by that administration’s political pundits as a hater, opposition, a novice and above all an apc or slpp supporter.

    PLEASE GUYS LET US PUT PARTY ASIDE AND AND WORK FOR THE GOOD OF SIERRA LEONE AND ALL SIERRA LEONEANS. If we are to criticize let’s not do it for party sake. Lets do it with integrity and as it is the right thing to do or say for the good of Sierra Leone and Sierra Leoneans.

    Above all, let us start and continue to accept others’ views and opinion as theirs to express; and be cautious when responding to it…..

  6. Welcome Sir, and I am sorry if I have misquoted what the writer said in his publication. Thank you for your necessary correction. Regards.

  7. Good morning All. Mr. Thomas, do you like the truth? I am sure you are a man of high moral standards and this is the reason why I always follow your publication; and I personally believe almost 95% of your publications. But let me fully write this note that, the Writer of this publication on the economy is totally wrong based on his analysis. In fact he has shown to be more political in his analysis and more likely a strong supporter of the main opposition party (A.P.C) but claiming to be part of the government.

    If the area of recruiting more people whether members of the party in governance or not as stated by this writer is giving serious weakness in the economy, I strongly disagree with him on this issue. It is believed by even the least illiterate that employment in a country will provide very strong economy to the nation but this is an inverse for this writer; misleading people.

    Why do you think young people are dying on their way to Europe and America from Africa? Simply because they are moving to these continents for employment. Please let us leave party politics aside and put the way forward for our economy in black and white.

    I will partly agree with the writer of this publication on the area of civil servants receiving 45 litres of fuel each week to be another issue to the economy. This to me is not a problem because these Civil servants are merely receiving small amount of pay at the end of the month. Please note that only civil servants with personal or official vehicles are provided with this opportunity but not all from grade 7 and upwards are receiving fuel sheets weekly as stated by the writer of this publication claiming to be a Bonthanian or a strong member of the present government.

    The Writer of this publication also said that “The president, his Veep and the Chief Minister are paid in dollars”. This is another issue that is exposing you Mr. Writer that you either have a personal vendetta against this government or you really don`t know the solution to be put in place to solve the problem of Sierra Leone economy.

    Recently, the office of the president released a memo on all transactions in Sierra Leone to be done in Leones but not in dollars; yet you are saying these three people are paid in dollars. Also, I wonder how big and how many offices are there in State House to accommodate two hundred people under the office of the Chief Minister alone. Hahahaha, I personally will check on this but as it is now, I am not sure of this statement but if it is true, then all is part of employment Sir.

    Lastly, many supporters of the then A.P.C have been sacked from office. So if these people were still working in these offices, are you saying this kind of economic problem won`t have surface in the country at this moment? Are you one of the men that was sacked in the office?

    My brother, let us hope for a better Sierra Leone in terms of our economy but your reasons advanced to solve our economic crisis now are certainly not correct. Once more, thank you all.

    • Mr Yajah, your freedom of speech is guaranteed here, and so will that of the opposition to express their views and opinions. That’s democracy, let us cherish it. But please go back and read the article, as you may have misquoted what the writer said in his/her article. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.


*


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.