Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 December 2022:
As MPs in Sierra Leone’s parliament begin debating the government’s proposed revenue and spending budget for next financial year – outlined in its Appropriation Act, 2023, the Parliamentary Leader of the opposition National Grand Coalition (NGC) Party – Dr Kandeh Yumkella, is calling on the government to be honest with the people of Sierra Leone in its management of the country’s finances.
Dr Yumkella, whom supporters and senior members of the ruling SLPP are hoping will cross-carpet to the SLPP very soon, ahead of presidential and general elections next June, is clearly firing at the government’s incompetence after almost five years in office.
With the country’s economy on its knees, inflation running at almost 50%, the value of the Leone falling rapidly against the dollar and sterling; unemployment at almost 80%, and economic growth at its lowest since 2018, most Sierra Leoneans are now wondering whether it was a big mistake to have voted for President Bio over four years ago. They are calling for change.
Critics of President Bio say that the poor performance of the economy and the suffering and poverty being experienced by most Sierra Leoneans today, are not the result of global economic downturn caused by the war in Ukraine, but the incompetence of President Bio and his ministers.
In the run-up to the 2018 elections, many pundits had said that President Bio lacks the financial prudence, governance expertise, and economic management discipline required to turn the country’s decades of misfortunes around.
What is evidently clear in the last twelve months is the deafening disquiet of both the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, who have quite rightly decided to hang on to their purse strings after pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into the governments gaping spending blackhole whilst the country’s economic woes worsen.
With elections just few months away, its unlikely the IMF and World bank would be foolish enough to bail out the government from an economic crisis of its own making – a good lesson both the IMF and World Bank had learnt from the former Koroma-led APC government’s reckless use of public funds for election campaigning across the country.
So, what is Dr Yumkella’s position on the government’s proposed budget for next year, which many say lacks credibility and honesty?
Speaking on the budget last Friday, 2nd December, Yumkella said, the “Budget we have in front of us, the timing of it as well, means that we need serious reflection. These are not normal times.”
“Mr. Speaker, I am a centrist, not a praise singer or obstructionist. I am also an analyst. We are in Stagflation and an unprecedented crisis with inflation at 29%, food price inflation at 35% (page 4) current foreign reserves of the bank of Sierra Leone at $599 million (barely enough for two moths import cover) and accompanied by stagnation and unemployment. We must be in a more robust crisis management mode”.
“So, my critic is not a criticism. It is a call to action to consolidate, because the worst is yet to come. It is a call for extra-ordinary measures to deal with extraordinary circumstances. There is a saying ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going’.”
“We must be honest with the facts, we must be realistic, and we must prioritize. We cannot afford to pretend and ‘suffer posh’. I say we because, the government proposes, but we in parliament appropriate. So, we are in this together”.
With many Sierra Leoneans now calling for a change of government, the debate as to whether the people could be best served by a government of national unity is once again taking sway.
What is clear after decades of poor governance and mismanagement under the two main political parties, there is need to significantly change the way the country is being governed.
Whiles Proportional Representation (PR) in Parliament could be the vehicle through which a government of national unity can be built, its obvious that the approach taken by President Bio and the timing to bring in PR, is deliberately aimed at preserving his tenure in office rather than promoting honest and sustainable political change for the good of all Sierra Leoneans.