The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 May 2014
After launching his ambitious $217 million youth development programme in Freetown last month, the question many analysts are asking is whether the government has the capacity and capability to achieve such an ambitious and challenging programme, before leaving office in 2017.
Recent reports indicate that the government has failed to achieve key manifesto targets, such as reducing maternal and childhood deaths, improving electricity and water supply.
With poverty on the increase, corruption, impunity and lawlessness on the rise, the government appears to have lost the credibility and political capital it had enjoyed in 2007, when it came to power.
And after six years in office, good governance – a key element of programme management success and transformational change, is seriously missing.
There are now doubts as to whether the president’s announcement of a series of measures aimed at young people – who represent over 60% of the country’s voting population, is purely to nurture their political support, in advance of the historical constitutional referendum taking place next year.
Costing $217 million to establish, the programme according to the president, will create one million high quality jobs for the young unemployed.
But critics say that this promise is not new. When president Koroma promised in 2007 that he will run the country like a business if elected, he also said that he will prioritise youth employment and drastically cut the number of young people out of work. He has failed to deliver.
Questions are being asked as to why government procurement and infrastructure contracts have not been tied to customised skills training, and priority labour hiring schemes.
Such an approach could have gone a long way to addressing some of the most basic employment and skills development needs of young people in the country.
The majority of unemployed youths in Sierra Leone lack basic education; they lack occupational skills, work ethics, and possibly still suffering from post-war traumatic stress that is yet to be addressed, since the end of the brutal civil war.
It is without doubt that the potential success of the recently announced youth employment programme largely depends on the state of the economy and the performance of the industrial sectors: where are the high growth businesses?
Where is the capital investment that is necessary for business expansion, which creates the job opportunities?
Where is the private sector led ‘industry-public-voluntary sector partnership’ framework, which should be in place to develop and drive this programme forward?
Where are the governance and transformational change structures that will support the delivery of the programme?
Perhaps more importantly, where is the industry led and accredited employment and occupational skills training programme delivery capacity?
When president Koroma recently failed to win the US Millennium Compact Challenge Fund, his government was heavily criticised for failing to curb corruption and impunity, identified by the MCC as their most significant funding criteria.
But more so, the government had failed to put together a credible and transparent proposal that is clearly linked to the country’s development aspirations.
There is a significant chance that the proposed youth development programme will collapse, because of the government’s lack of commitment to tackling youth unemployment, without politicising the youth ahead of the 2017 elections.
General and presidential elections may be three years away, but it seems political campaigning has started in earnest.
Despite announcing last week that he is not thinking of running for a third term in office, critics say that the president is covertly sponsoring a national campaign for the amendment of the country’s constitution, in order to extend his mandated two terms to three, and possibly beyond.
With the opposition and civil society groups strongly opposing any move aimed at extending the presidency, there is a serious crisis looming in Sierra Leone, which could derail the country’s hard won peace.
Observers say that president Koroma is shooting himself in the foot, with the help of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Office in Freetown, who are providing the $217 million funding support for the youth employment programme.
It is unclear whether the international community, including the World Bank Office in Freetown, are also in support of the third term presidency agenda.
But independent observers say that, tearing up the country’s constitution in favour of the ruling party will not bode well for peace in Sierra Leone, a country whose budding democracy needs to be nurtured and preserved – based on the established principles of a two terms presidency.
Speaking at an event in Freetown last week, the president failed once again to uphold the two terms presidency principle, in the face of support from his camp calling on him to continue in power beyond 2017.
President Koroma’s credibility as an honest custodian of the constitution and the country’s democratic principles is waning, as politics takes centre stage, ahead of successful implementation of development programmes.
This, observers say will have a negative impact on the proposed $217 million national youth employment programme, which the president is accused of using to develop his ruling APC party’s communist style National Youth League, in preparation for the 2017 general elections.
According to local government media report: “the APC Youth League National Secretary General – Alie Conteh, has said that, if the APC Youth Wing remains united, nothing will be impossible for them to achieve, including the ‘After U Nar U’ campaign.”
Conteh also said; “President Koroma has performed tremendously well and in order to pay him back, Sierra Leoneans have thought of giving him another term so that he could do more.”
Minister Mustapha Bai Attila – the first disabled cabinet minister in Sierra Leone, has gone on record saying that; “the disabled community were ready to lay their lives down for President Koroma to get a third term in office.”
Accentuating the importance of the voice of the youth in Sierra Leone, president Koroma could not have been clearer, when he spoke at the launch of his national youth employment programme.
He said: “When the youths say yes, no other section of our nation can stop them. We are a democracy because the youths are saying yes to democracy; we are at peace because the youths are saying yes to peace; we are constructing roads because the energy and talents of the youths are behind it; the majority of our teachers, nurses, construction workers, mine workers and farmers are youths.”
“With the dedication and support of young people, we have come a long way since 2007. With the support and dedication of young people we implemented the Agenda for Change; with the support and dedication of young people we transformed the country’s infrastructure; turned around energy, enhanced agricultural productivity and improved our health and other human development indicators.
“We still face challenges, but I challenge everyone to show me any government in this country that has done more to increase job opportunities for youths than my government.
“From mining to agriculture to road construction, my government has created thousands of job opportunities; more young people now have jobs in road construction in all districts; more young people now have well paying jobs in the mining sector; and we have recruited more young people into the Police, the Armed Forces, the Fire Force, the Civil Service and in other governance structures.”
But is this party political rhetoric and national political drum beating by Koroma, to woo support for his third term presidency campaign?
According to the UNDP, during recent years, successive governments in Sierra Leone have placed significant focus on improving the environment for investment and private sector development, with a view to creating jobs.
But youth unemployment has grown since 2007 and continues to rise, with almost 70% of young people out of work.
It says that it has provided substantial support in developing the capacity of the country’s ministry of youth affairs and the national youth commission, aimed at empowering the youths.
The UNDP reports that; there is a strong belief among young people in Sierra Leone that their needs are not being met by the national and local political structures.
Although the youths are aware of the important role local councils play in delivering services to the community, they feel that the enabling environment is not present for them to participate actively in the national or local decision making process.
They are of the view that they are systematically ‘shut out’ of the decision making process and that the services delivered do not meet their expectations, says the UNDP.
But president Koroma disagrees. He says that: “Young People are leaders in parliament, holders of very important cabinet posts, heads of local governments, chairpersons and directors of many government commissions and agencies.”
The UNDP says that it is backing the development of the programme through the ministry of youth affairs, complete with clear implementing strategies, a results framework and budget, and management and coordinating mechanism.
It says that the programme will focus on three objectives: Pro‐Youth Private Sector Development; Resilient and Effective Youth-Serving Institutions; and Youth-friendly Public Services.
According to the UNDP, during the next five years, the programme will coordinate, mobilise, mainstream, and extend youth-focused action to create one million new youth jobs, produce two million active young citizens and get 300,000 more youths in secondary or higher education.
Will the national youth employment programme succeed, where several other programmes established by the government have so far failed to achieve their goals?
A very tall order – you might say, especially given the current political tension, and the government’s lack of capacity and capability in delivering large-scale programmes.
President Koroma is going to need every ounce of cross-party political goodwill and support he can find – across all the regions of Sierra Leone, if he genuinely wants the national youth employment programme to succeed.
But the government’s track record so far, is very poor on governance, partnership building, and genuine inclusiveness.
Speaking about the work of the government in his political and tribal heartlands, Koroma said that:
“I have championed the establishment of the National Youth Village to improve on skills capacity for young people at all levels. My Government has secured One Thousand (1000) acres of land in Koinadugu district with the possibility to extend it to 3000 acres for the National Youth Village.
“There is now an established staff recruited (including a Director) that will speed up the process. The Ministry of Youth Affairs has also established a National Youth Farm at Masalia Village in the Port Loko District, covering 250 acres of land with a target of 500 acres.”
The president has an uphill task convincing doubters and critics that the national youth employment initiative is not another name for the National APC youth league employment programme for his northern tribesmen.
Furthermore, Koroma will find it difficult also, to convince those opposed to his staying in power campaign that, the proposed $217 million national youth employment programme is not a carrot aimed at the country’s youths to woo support for the “after you nar you” crusade.
After all, did the president not say: “when the youths say YES, no other section of our nation can stop them”?