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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

WHY GOOD PEOPLE STAY AWAY
By Titus Boye-Thompson, Strategic Media & Development Communications Unit
Mar 21, 2013, 17:02
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Principles of economic development are clear on the human resource implications of the growth aspirations of poor countries in so far as it impacts on their capacity to manage and plan for growth. Education has been identified as a key developmental tool because it is guaranteed to enhance standards of living by increasing income earning and generating potential. As countries tend towards economic development, it is essential that human resource capacities are harnessed to their fullest potential. Sierra Leone however suffers from a disjoint in the human resource capital available through its core of professional and educated cadres and the development needs of its growth potential. This is not a strange or unique phenomenon because like other African nations, this country has suffered disproportionately as a result of brain drain of its educated and trained elites compounded by human capital flight due to instability and civil war that has plagued its recent history.


The end of the civil war ushered in a period of opportunity for urban renewal that was lost, a unique opportunity for national rebuilding and infrastructure development that was only engendered after considerable delay and inaction by the political dispensation that managed the post conflict era.Consequently, Sierra Leone now suffers from a disenchantment between those who have decided to return to engage with the developmental effort and those who resisted the temptation to flee, had weathered the storms of war and conflict. The preponderance of these factions are slowly compounding the interactions and engagement of these discernible groups to such an extent that the focus on national development is lost amidst the high prevalence of a "pull him/her down syndrome" as expatiated by the former President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah.  Still yet, there are others who are wont to consider the possibility of returning home to engage at such a close level with the developmental effort. For some, their position is conditioned by the propensity for Sierra Leoneans to continue in a superficial self imposed exile from their native land even though they possess the requisite skills and knowledge that would make a difference. Good people would understandably resist heyto be lumbered with the type of failure that would accompany a badly planned return home so for that reason, most would stay away because of the uncertainties involved in making that bold step to opt out of a secure lifestyle to that of being in a country where there are peculiar challenges to daily life.  


Whilst the country faces the challenges of human resource capacity, those who have made the bold step to relocate need the support and encouragement of their fellow citizens. Only in Sierra Leone would citizens returning to play their part in nation building be met with hostility whilst at the same time, Sierra Leoneans welcome other expatriates with open arms and accord them every benefit and luxuries under the sun and in the confines of this beautiful land. Only in Sierra Leone would you see professional people being lampooned because they dared to return to their native land to occupy public office. The minute you assume such high office, one is considered legitimate targets for abuse and allegations of corruption, malpractice and mismanagement. The reason for such lambasting and the desire to see very good men and women disgraced from high office is not in some way unconnected with the inequalities in incomes, earnings  and lifestyles but such is the politics of greed and envy that should not be tolerated in a society that intends to lift itself out of poverty by wealth creation and expansion in the growth dynamic through professionalism and the practice of democratic values, the pursuit of freedoms and the aspirations of a better life.

 

There is also another critical component in the engagement of a professional cadre that should underpin growth and development. This is the promotion of merit within society to the extent that those who are competent are accorded priority in opportunities to assume positions of authority. This is an era that has produced many firsts in correcting the gender imbalance in the Sierra Leone labor force. The increase in the proportion of women in positions of authority is encouraging, pointing to an unbundling of the traditional and cultural barriers that had deterred women from aspiring to such heights in the national body politic in the past. It is also a good sign that the country is being managed with a balanced viewpoint, with a vision for harnessing its talents and an aspiration to deploy the best people in areas where their contribution can be marked. The opportunities for retraining should not be lost and the standards and conditions of service reviewed with a view to attracting professionals and other skilled labor from abroad.

 

There is considerable displeasure at the fact that with an expanded mining industry, the impact of local content is not being adequately felt because the top paying jobs are being passed on to foreigners whilst Sierra Leoneans languish on low skilled lower paid positions. Good people will stay away from such an environment where unfavorable labor laws do not accord indigenes adequate protection nor enforce agreements that restrict the employment of expatriates in certain key areas. Where Sierra Leoneans are not adequately trained or where there is disparate supply of Sierra Leoneans for specific skills, then the focus should be on training of local staff rather than on outsourcing staff from other countries with attendant exorbitant salaries and perks that are tantamount to tax avoidance and capital repatriation.

 

It is incumbent therefore on the authorities to review the prevalence any loophole in our tax or otherwise labor legislation that allows such malpractice to fester.

 

It is important to identify where specific constraints occur in the economy and raise these issues in the right forum so that they can be addressed. It is possible that a trained workforce is not necessarily an unachievable dream for Sierra Leone, given that there are significant numbers of skilled and highly qualified Sierra Leoneans living away from the country at the present moment. It is also probable that a connection may need to be established in order to attract these people to this economy and such may be a test of the efficacy of the office of the Diaspora. However, there is a dialogue to be had on whether highly skilled and educated people are lacking in Sierra Leone; whether the supply of such labor can be sourced and attracted from the Diaspora; whether there is a capacity to generate their supply locally, particularly looking at the output of our extant educational system or alternatively whether we have a significant disjoint in the curriculum development strategies in relation to the training being offered in our institutions and their adaptability to the demands of new and emerging industrial sectors such as mining, energy, Oil and petrochemicals etc. We also need to consider whether the impact of education raises income disproportionately to such an extent that education may be considered a binding constraint on the growth of this economy.


The above co
nsiderations are tangential to the discourse on which the MCC / Sierra Leone Team is currently engaged. The result of a concerted examination of these paradigms would be the appropriate weight put on education as a national priority considering its potential for lifting communities out of poverty. The development of this nation may well be accelerated by wealth and income generation through relevant educational attainment rather than by donor dependence. The challenge rests on the last mile travelled and so it is incumbent on all Sierra Leoneans to engage on the discourse to examine reasons why good men and women would opt to stay away rather than come back to contribute to the development of this great nation, this blessed land that we love, our Sierra Leone!


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