=PONDER MY THOUGHTS= Sierra Leone – Reflections on a Decade

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By Andrew Keili

As we reflect on the past decade, one needs no reminding that politically, it was very much a tale of two parties-SLPP and APC.

Two people, Ernest Bai Koroma our immediate past President and Julius Maada Bio our current President have been at the helm of affairs, with a good eight of the ten years attributed to President Koroma’s leadership.

For President Bio, he was in the trenches for the opposition SLPP and having overcome challenges, often brutal, both within and without, emerged as Presidential candidate on two occasions, becoming President in 2018.

But what has the last decade wrought for us as Sierra Leoneans?

In taking a reflective look, I will resist commenting on rhetoric and grandiose plans and go to the heart of the matter at how our lives have been impacted over this past decade.

We have a lot to be thankful for. For ten good years we have not had a war. The peace we inherited from the last decade still continues unabated.

We are regarded as one of the most peaceful countries on the continent and are at peace with our neighbours. We have had two General Elections over this period that have generally been regarded as free and fair with no major incidences of violence on a national scale.

We have, unlike some other countries on the continent been spared from the scourges of terrorism and famine.

Though we may have made moderate progress in governance, much remains to be done. Thankfully, we are still a democracy, committed to a tripartite system of governance even if in name only.

The 2018 Ibrahim Index of African Governance report indicates that we have only made very slow progress. It ranks Sierra Leone 26th out of 54 African countries with an overall governance score of 50.4% (African average-49,7%).

Tracking this score from 2008 to 2017 indicates that there was only moderate improvement in overall governance and there are still warning signs. The key components of the overall governance score are:

• Safety and rule of law (Sierra Leone-20th with warning signs)

• Participation and human rights (Sierra Leone -15th with increasing improvement)

• Sustainable economic development (Sierra Leone 39th with increasing deterioration)

• Human Development (Sierra Leone 44th with warning signs)

We have had a fairly healthy democracy with vibrant opposition parties and freedom of expression to a large extent. Governance watchdog institutions set up by government and civil society has been allowed to function.

The Press is relatively free, despite some challenges. We however have had a considerable number of challenges. The judiciary remained severely challenged over this period, despite attempts at improving the situation. Questionable judgements in political cases have given the impression that they are easily amenable to the whims of the Executive.

The performance of Parliament especially in passing laws has also given the impression that the Executive is much too powerful and unrestrained. During this period respect for human rights and freedom of expression were within acceptable levels.

There were however a few incidences of Police overreaching their mandate with questionable human rights performances.

Throughout this period attempts were made to improve on financial accountability. Budget hearings and government’s cooperation with watchdog organizations on the budget became the norm.

The Anti-Corruption Act was strengthened over this period on several occasions, even though this was not necessarily accompanied by a reduction in corruption.

The Press remained relatively free over this period and the media landscape was pluralistic, especially with the proliferation of radio stations.

The 2010 Auditor General’s report made reference to “material uncertainties over domestic revenue, cash balances and lack of supporting documentation”. The 2018 report is not dissimilar. It also made mention of payments made in respect of goods and services by various MDAs without the relevant documentary evidence such as; payment vouchers, receipts and other supporting documents and cash loses and irregularities.

The lives of Sierra Leoneans did not change much. Between 2010 and 2018, Sierra Leone’s HDI value increased from 0.391 to 0.438, an increase of 12.0 percent. Between 2010 and 2018, Sierra Leone’s life expectancy at birth increased by 4.9 years to 54.3 years, mean years of schooling increased by 2.0 years and expected years of schooling increased by 0.5 years.

Sierra Leone’s GNI per capita increased by about 13.0 percent between 2010 and 2018. Sierra Leone’s 2018 HDI of 0.438 is below the average of 0.507 for countries in the low human development group and below the average of 0.541 for countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.

The overall poverty rate in Sierra Leone is 57 percent, with 10.8 percent of the population living in extreme poverty. It is highest in the rural areas (a poverty incidence of 72.4 percent) and lowest in Freetown (18.5 percent), thereby indicating that poverty in Sierra Leone remains a rural issue.

All of these are not surprising, as our economy over the past ten years has been severely challenged. Previously, Sierra Leone was an established tourism destination and had a number of agro-industrial manufacturing plants.

We have however not shown signs of significant recovery in the manufacturing and tourism sectors after the war. The agriculture sector still continues to be the main driver of economic growth contributing about 50% of GDP and 60% of livelihoods. There are however severe constraints obstructing higher levels of crop production. The services sector has however grown contributing to 36.6 percent of GDP.

Sierra Leone has always been overly dependent on minerals. The country experienced a great “economic boom” between 2010 – 2014 from investments in the mining sector, especially with the establishment of new iron ore mines. It had a period of steady economic growth until the Ebola outbreak in 2014. Mining revenue dropped from $998m in 2014 to $209 m in 2015 (Revenue from iron ore dropped from $742m to $1.4m during this period).

The mining subsector contribution to the total merchandise exports increased from 77.6% in 2012 to 94.6% in 2013. Economic expansion in Sierra Leone in 2013 resulted in a growth rate of 20.1 percent, compared to 15.2 percent in 2012. At the end of 2019 the mining sector appears to be on life support with only three major mines in operation and iron ore production at a standstill.

A Goods and Services tax (GST) was introduced in 2010 to combine and replace several distinct categories of taxation. This considerably broadened the tax base and improved the government’s ability to raise domestic revenue on a sustained basis. In 2010 alone resource mobilization increased by 34% over 2009.

The new Government’s implementation of the single Treasury Account concept seems to be yielding dividends. The economy still however remains severely challenged, with inflation rate at 2010 levels of 15%, exchange rate challenges and low volumes of exports. The budgeted is still supported by donors, although to a lesser extent.

The business environment remained challenging over this period. Improvements were made in various aspects of the World Bank “Doing Business” indices but the basic problems of lack of capital and several other concerns still persist. The local private sector remains severely challenged.

Despite the formation of a National Commission of Privatization, many State-Owned Enterprises that were slated for privatization still remain under government, with such loss-making enterprises draining the budget.

Despite the paucity of infrastructure there were some improvements over this period. A considerable number of new roads projects were constructed in various parts of the country linking various areas.

Roads were constructed and refurbished in some major towns and cities. Locally funded roads have come with their peculiar economic challenges.

The past decade has been devoted to emergency reconstruction of electrical power to the Western Area but the nation still lacks a national grid. There was some improvement in electricity generation.

With the completion of Bumbuna I hydro-power facility in 2010, the country jumped from 13 to 63 MW of installed capacity.

We have witnessed the unbundling of the electricity sector and the introduction of Independent Power Providers. Despite these, national access to electricity still remains at 15% (being considerably lower in rural areas).

Sierra Leone’s participation in the West African Power Pool through the installation of a cross-regional transmission line however presents some interesting possibilities for the future. In 2018, the energy sector of Sierra Leone had an approximate output of 105 megawatts of installed generation capacity.

Access to water and sanitation improved a notch but still remains very challenging nationwide with both GUMA and SALWACO facing immense challenges.

The coverage of the rural population by safe water supply facilities is still very low, at about 48 percent. Only 16 percent of the population has access to improved sanitation facilities.

In the telecommunications sector, liberalization and licensing of private entrants into mobile telephony has expanded telecommunications service to Sierra Leone’s population and demand in the voice market has been growing at double digit rates.

Internet penetration is, however, exceedingly low and the cost of service is extremely high. The new submarine fibre optic cable however provides opportunities.

The conversion of Sierra Leone Ports Authority into a port landlord and securing of a concession contract for QE II container terminal Operation and the expansion of the container terminal by Bollore improved the Ports operation.

Sierra Leone had its share of natural disasters during this period. These included perennial annual flooding, an Ebola outbreak and a significant mudslide-all accompanied by significant loss of life. We still remain extremely susceptible to the vagaries of climate change.

Youth problems continued unabated during this period. Unemployment was rampant, with youths being most affected. Youths have been affected by several social problems. Despite several programmes introduced by government, development partners and NGOs addressing the youth problem still remains one of the most challenging issues for government.

The youth problem is so huge that current attempts to address them will only scratch the surface. New social problems seemed to have reared their ugly heads over this period. These include the rape of minors, youth violence and drugs.

Yes, there were concerted plans drawn up by government during the last decade. We started with the Agenda for Change (2008-2012) and graduated to the Agenda for Prosperity which touted Sierra Leone’s Vision for 2013 to 2035 to become a middle-income country – “It would be an inclusive, green country, with 80% of the population above the poverty line. It would have gender equality, a well-educated, healthy population, good governance and rule of law, well developed infrastructure, macroeconomic stability, with private-sector, export-led growth generating wide employment opportunities.”

A reflective look at the past decade indicates that as a country we had lofty ideals which for various reasons could not be realized.

As we embark upon our new journey into this decade, we are guided by the country’s Medium-Term Development Plan (2018-2023) with Human Capital Development at its centre.

The President in his introduction states that this is the most fundamental pathway to achieving middle-income status and sustainable development for the country in the not too distant future.

The Government has also identified other critical results areas such as Economic Diversification, Governance and Accountability for Results, Infrastructure, and Economic Competitiveness.

These are all well and good. But what will the new decade bring for us Sierra Leoneans. Will we finally put paid the constitution issue and have a new constitution in place? Will we seriously embark upon national cohesion and set up a purposeful Peace Commission? Will we stop having sacred cows and making appointments made on merit?

The list of questions goes on and on. Suffice it to say however that as a country, it behooves us to perform much better than we did in the last decade-otherwise we will be running to stay in the same place.

President Bio and his government have already been in office for the last two years of the last decade, and would obviously not be oblivious of the huge task at hand.

Goodbye 2010s and welcome to the 2020s Sierra Leoneans. And here is to hoping that the new decade will be considerably better that the last.

Ponder my thoughts.


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