Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 January 2023:
Last Monday, President Bio of Sierra Leone presided over the oath-swearing of his new Minister of Finance, Sheku Ahmed Fantamadi Bangura, amid calls for a change of government at the polls on 24th of June, as the government struggles to address the economic difficulties facing millions of people across the country.
“You are no stranger to the challenges we face as a country. But I believe that you have a team that will take you through this successfully. The world is going through a challenging time, and we are part of the world. I do appreciate that. But I also appreciate the fact that we have to find solutions for our own peculiar economic challenges,” President Bio tells minister Bangura.
With the government having failed to diversify the economy and lever the foreign investments President Bio promised five years ago, not only is unemployment continuing to rise, there are concerns also that the government’s reliance on borrowing to pay for recurring spending has taken the country’s public debt to an all-time high – from $1.4 Billion in 2018 to over $3 Billion in 2023.
Sierra Leone’s government debt is predicted to reach $4.26 Billion by 2026.
But President Bio remains sanguine. “We have registered quite a lot on so many points, but we will continue to be encumbered by the economic crunch, be it fiscal or monetary, which we have to accept,” he told his new finance minister.
“Under the circumstances, we have done extremely well. But we have to do more on the economic front. However, I take solace in the fact that you have what it takes in terms of technical know-how and the team”.
“I also ask your team to give you their fullest support, and you can be rest assured that you have my full support,” the President said.
He said that Sierra Leone will not succeed without a strong economy. “But we can fix it and move on. That is the task that has fallen squarely on your shoulders. I just want you to know that you are not alone in this fight and that we will all support you. I am sure that, with the support that you have, if you can earnestly pursue it, you can traverse this successfully. That is the goal.”
In response, Mr. Fantamadi Bangura, thanked President Bio for his leadership, saying: “The trust and confidence you have reposed in me has prepared me for this enviable position and grateful for the honour it brings to my family”.
He described his appointment as a decision taken at a crucial time in the country’s turbulent journey and five months before elections, when President Bio will be seeking a second term mandate.
“Your excellency, barely four and a half years into the administration, you delivered very solid accomplishments as promised to the people of this country in the New Direction Manifesto. Under very tenuous circumstances, both globally and also within Sierra Leone, these challenges still continue, and they are actually affecting our country and our society in different ways.
“However, we are very much aware of your vision for Sierra Leone, one that is focused on ensuring that we deliver economic sovereignty for this country. You have always got us to appreciate, and we must always utilise all our resources, both human and God-given, to ensure that we explore their potential to deliver on the aspirations of the state,” he said.
“I want to assure you that we will work with the team that we have at the economic management level, but also across government, the cabinet, and different organs of government, to ensure that we are able to earnestly engage all our partners and bring credibility to all the programmes that we have defined in the state, be it in the medium-term strategy but also on the budgetary programmes and all the other advisories,” he told the President.
Assuring President Bio, the finance minister said: “I will render this service with probity. I also want to count on your full support, His Excellency, to deliver on your expectations. Once more, I want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to serve at the highest level in this country, under your leadership”.
With cost of living in Sierra Leone running at over 40%, the value of the Leone at less than 65% its 2018 value against the Dollar, and government’s taxation receipts showing no sign of improving, both the Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone and the new finance minister are now on borrowed time to work economic miracles, if President Bio is to be re-elected on June 24th, 2023.