SEPTEMBER 17 ON THE DOT: Exactly three years ago today, newly sworn-in President Ernest Bai Koroma promised to turn Sierra Leone’s economy around in 36 months. Right on target, he has succeeded in turning it around. But not for the better!
The results are for everyone to feel - escalating price hikes with a rapid decline in earned local currency power to purchase basic needs. There has been an accelerated decline in real incomes which now amounts to heightening costs of living and steep slump in living standards. Whilst inflation is bringing hardship to consumers who constitute 98% of the citizenry, currency depreciation is neither boosting exports nor attracting investments that promise fair, sustainable, just and equitable benefits to the country and its people. The legislation of the London Mining and Africa Minerals agreements and the highly partisan and opaque manners in which they are being implemented have all the symptoms of unfair deals with minimal benefits which credible civil society organizations think will not filter across the country. The activists have seen it coming and indeed it is coming!
Also seen glaringly coming now is the repercussion of APC’s ongoing policy of currency devaluation in the midst of heightening inflation. In three years time, this has discouraged indigenous trade in imports, thereby increasing joblessness among the large number of youth who survive on import trading. Depreciation and inflation are also reducing the real incomes of Sierra Leonean professionals working in the public, private and voluntary sectors who receive salaries in local currency. The recent UN workers’ industrial action in Freetown and their employers’ immediate concession of increasing salaries by 30% is clearly indicative that the rate at which real incomes in the country’s skilled and unskilled labour market is dropping is faster than the rate at which nominal incomes are being marginally increased for merely a minute proportion of the workforce (2%). Mind you increase in nominal incomes in not even forthcoming for public servants paid out the consolidated funds who constitute over 80% of the professional workforce in the country.
Now compare the management of inflation and currency value under APC’s predecessor regime SLPP. The former regime held the ‘Leone’ exchange rate to the ‘Dollar’ at 3000 for over ten years (1996-2007). The APC met it at 3000 three years ago (2007) and has devalued it at over 4000 now (2010). So what the SLPP was able to maintain for ten years the APC couldn’t in just three years. Mind you, half of the ten years of SLPP rule (1996-2002) was a war period and the subsequent half (2002-2007) was a period of immediate post-war relief, resettlement, reconstruction and rehabilitation of the lives and livelihood of over 4.5 million Sierra Leoneans (over 90% of the population).
Despite the above outlined challenges, the soundness of SLPP’s macroeconomic policy, implemented mostly during wartime emergency, was justified by not only a minimal but impressive economic growth that reached double digits. Real economic growth rose to 27% after the war in 2002 and was painstakingly maintained at double digits throughout the SLPP regime of Ahmed Tejan Kabbah. In 2008 few months after Ernest Koroma assumed power, the economic growth of the country plunged to 5.5 % and the downward trend which alarmingly reached 4.2% in 2009 has inexcusably since not been reversed to pick up in 2010 which completes three years of APC in power. Again 2002 was when the former SLPP regime was addressing a myriad of problems of resettlement, reconstruction and peace building in the country.
The downward GDP slouch is simply due to the massive fiscal impropriety and exuberant kick-back motivated spending that the Koroma administration started office with. It included a catalogue of well recorded exponential spending on shady deals and activities, including the WANZA payment, the Income Electrix misprocurement, the Indian Rice Diversion/Duty Waiver/Contractgate, Lavished Spending on Unwarranted illiterate People in Presidential Travel Missions, the Cocaine Plane Affair, the Taakor Logging Affair, the Presidential Salary Saga, and more recently attempts to waste more monies on Witch Hunting through Political Inquests, the Printing of New Local Currency Notes without any disclosure of how much and what was involved in the process, the Sababu Project Commission of Enquiry, the act of reinstating the Position of District Officers in the public service, and orchestrating compensation requests from the Government of Sierra Leone through a shady legal claim on behalf of Togolese Helicopter Accident Victims for an accident that had since not prompted claims when it occurred since 2007 and did not involve a government helicopter and a government insurance company.
It is also an open secret that the APC regime has over the last three has been undermining the public service by ridding it of needed human resource capacities through its policy of unwarranted dismissal, marginalization and victimization of mostly south-eastern professionals perceived of affiliation with the opposition SLPP. The APC wind of change discriminatingly swept without any charges against professionals like Kanja Sesay and Justin Bangura of NaCSA, John Karimu of NRA, J.D. Rogers of Bank of Sierra Leone, Usman Boi Kamara of the Mines Ministry, Professor Alghali of Njala University, Professor Gbakima of Fourah Bay College, Emmanuel Gaima of DeCSec, M.A. Sandy of the Ministry of Health, Kalilu Totangi of the Ministry of Information, Andrew Lavali of ENCISS, Fouad Sheriff of the Marine Ministry, among many others. Others including Chief Karpen of Mambolo, the late Honorable Hadi Sheriff and Justin Bangura suffered physical assault on their lives and properties by APC thugs for which President Ernest Bai Koroma has never apologized or offered reparation. Still others including Sitta Turay received deep dagger stabs from President Ernest Bai Koroma’s personal bodyguards for merely serving as reporter of a registered opposition newspaper. The President’s bodyguard called “leader booth” has also been severally accused of rape offences and the brutalization of innocent and unarmed electricity workers in Kenema without prosecution and dismissal.
The desire to spend public funds wastefully and to receive massive kick-backs from spending both for personal enrichment and to bankroll the 2012 elections have been the biggest single cause of Sierra Leone’s recent economic downturns under APC. No economists in their right senses would imagine a regime behaving in such a fiscally and monetarily irrational way throughout and beyond 2008 – the year which climaxed the global economic downturn and saw the start of Sierra Leone’s biggest revenue decline since the war ended in 2002. At this very time when disciplined fellow African countries were tightening their state expenditure valves in order to cushion the effects of the global crisis on their budgets, Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC was at the height of its zest to pay Wanza, Income Electrix and Global Trading huge amounts of money either as direct payments or duty waiver concessions for benefits that showed no value for money. As if enough was not enough, Ernest Bai Koroma’s APC unsympathetically ventured in 2010 into re-printing the local currency without any disclosure to date of the cost of the exercise and the amount of notes reprinted and replaced, why and how.
Further disheartening is that APC’s desire is even rising towards wasting more money on ‘forgoable’ activities in the hope that the expended amounts would leak into personal pockets. A team called “the 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee” has been appointed by President Koroma to replicate the “Ghana at 50” experience in Sierra Leone, an experience which has resulted into the prosecution of the committee members in Ghana on corruption and embezzlement charges. This makes it a worst practice for President Ernest Koroma to imitate as neither the flamboyant “Ghana at 50” celebrations by former President Kufour nor his extravagant printing of new currency notes had justified money spent at the time of national and global austerity. The Koroma administration is poised to repeat Ghana’s ugly experience without any business case simply because the experience is going to augment personal pockets in Sierra Leone as it reportedly did in Ghana.
The end result is that most Sierra Leoneans currently residing in the country have become poorer by over 100% through the last three years of APC rule. Citizens whose earned or subsidized incomes were able to afford a daily household meal at U$10,000 three years ago now require over U$20,000 for far below the daily minimum household diet in the midst of no pay increase or pay cuts with painful delays in getting paid on time. All but beneficiaries of corruption and cronyism hardly eat or eat well these days.
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.