Despite the challenges, Sierra Leoneans are paying attention

Despite the current socio-economic challenges facing the country, majority of Sierra Leoneans are paying attention to the efforts of the government to turn things around for the betterment of everyone. Even in times of trails and difficulties, our people have shown the capacity to keep their eyes on the ball; they had shown resilience during the Ebola epidemic that almost brought the country to its knees.

At a recent emergency pre-cabinet meeting, His Excellency the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma said that if we were able to fight and defeat Ebola, we should be able to put up a fight that will turn around the economic fortunes of the country. I cannot agree more with the president. Sierra Leoneans have shown resilience time without number. Our recovery after the war in the 1990s to early 2000s is a case in point in support of our capacity to fight back and come out strong which eventually endeared the country to many multi-lateral organizations like the UN, IMF and World Bank. Sierra Leone was affectionately singled out as an example of a post-war country that recovered in record time.

There’s no gainsaying that the Ebola outbreak disrupted every aspect of life, and economic growth particularly, was hit like a thunderbolt. Considering the deadly nature of the virus and the horrific narrative accompanying it, it wasn’t easy to break the back of the disease. But with perseverance, determination and resilience, Sierra Leoneans, led by their result-oriented leader, embarked on a massive social mobilization campaign for community ownership and responsibility of the fight against Ebola, which ultimately led to victory against the stubborn virus.

Similarly, if this engendered spirit of ownership and responsibility were replicated in the current economic conditions, it would not only bring an end to the economic crisis, but will accelerate growth in almost all sectors. It would be logical therefore to draw an inference that effective engagement of people would create effective and practical ways of proffering solutions, hence, reiterating the president’s call to look at practical ways to minimize the challenges facing the country.

The recent policy measures adopted by government have been a topical debate in almost every quarter of the population. These comprehensive measures have captured a significant proportion of public imagination concerning government spending and have led some sections of the public to liken President Koroma to the Tanzanian President, John Mogufuli, fondly called the “Bulldozer”. Like Mogufuli, Koroma is determined to cut unnecessary expenditure, shrink the number of overseas travels and put stringent measures in place to turn around what many knew was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Such public display of prudence is bound to be a lasting legacy of President Koroma’s leadership to restore equitable and sustainable economic growth in this country.

Unfortunately, the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), in a press release issued on Thursday October 6, 2016, blamed the current economic slowdown on what they described as “lack of vision…and mismanagement of our economy” by the government. Apart from the fact that the APC assumed the mantle of office on the eve of the global financial crisis, with high commodity and oil prices, affecting almost every country on earth, the Ebola epidemic and a slump in iron ore prices have had their own devastating impact on the country’s economy as the SLPP itself admits.

Recently, the IMF, in an end-of mission press statement, described the economic reforms undertaken by the Government of Sierra Leone as largely on track and largely successful. “The economy proved resilient in the face of two major exogenous shocks: the Ebola epidemic and collapse of iron ore prices and associated loss of production in 2014 – 2015,” the fund said in its press release issued on September 27, 2016. What does the SLPP mean by “…it is deceitful for this government to wilfully blame our economic woes on the EVD…”? So is the IMF also “deceitful” for praising the economic reforms undertaken by the Government of Sierra Leone?

The World Economic Outlook (WEO) published a few days ago by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) presents IMF economists’ analyses of global economic developments, issues affecting advanced, emerging, and developing economies like ours. The global economy is expected to slow to 3.1 percent in 2016 before recovering to 3.4 percent in 2017. However, risks to the outlook remain and include uncertainty regarding the impact of the UK Vote in favour of leaving the European Union (Brexit), weakness in aggregate demand and investment and low commodity prices.

Big and small nations all stand to be affected by this but the IMF has already recommended that countries need to rely on all policy levers—monetary, fiscal and structural—to lift growth prospects. Just yesterday the British Pound tumbled to lowest level against the dollar since 1985. This year, the US dollar index also hit a five month low.

According to the World Economic Outlook, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economies continue to struggle with lower commodity revenues, weighing on growth in the region. Nigeria’s economy is forecast to shrink 1.7 percent in 2016, and South Africa’s will barely expand. By contrast, several of the region’s non-commodity exporters, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal, are expected to continue to grow at a robust pace of more than 5 percent this year.” The Monetary Policy Statement issued by the Bank of Sierra Leone following their Q3 2016 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on September 28, notes that, in spite of the weak global economic environment, especially low commodity prices, real GDP growth is projected at 4.9 per cent in 2016, up from an earlier projection of 4.3 per cent. The MPC concluded that there is potential to further diversify the economy from ongoing investments in the agricultural sector, as domestic output was still below its potential.

But in all of this, one thing that gives some of us comfort is the fact that Sierra Leoneans are paying attention. They understand and appreciate the developmental and transformative efforts of this government since 2007. They know that the roads today are far better than 9 years ago; they know that electricity generation and distribution is far better than 9 years ago; Sierra Leoneans know that there has been considerable improvement in agricultural production and value addition. We all know that marine and fisheries sector is making tremendous contribution to the GDP more than ever before. A lot has happened on the legal landscape insofar as access to justice is concerned and the ordinary man and woman are paying rapt attention to the work of the Legal Aid Board.

In addition, it is good that the SLPP has found time to “rub some tongue” (a Mende saying) on the current economic challenges facing our country. It’s a good thing to find time to weigh in on our country’s socio-economic melancholy, especially when they are only well known over a decade now for infighting and political bickering. But then the people are paying attention to all this and many still believe the SLPP is unfit to serve as an alternative for now. They still don’t have a clue as to how to run their party let alone a whole country in a world plagued by recession.

New Year’s Message from His Excellency the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the New Year usually beckons hope and a strong yearning for the fulfillment of our aspirations.

As Sierra Leoneans across the country gather with family and friends to celebrate, I want to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2017. The New Year has come upon us with the promise of bright days ahead. It has come upon us with the assurance of an economy on the path of full recovery. With more investments in agriculture, fisheries and small manufacturing, the evidence now points to a positive and steady growth trajectory. With the better prices in the international market, we are attracting more and stronger investments in our iron ore mines and other extractives, indicative of a boost to our exports earnings. We have also acted to improve on our own revenue generation, reviewed public expenditure, and sought support from our friends and partners to help in our recovery programme.

Every Sierra Leonean has had to make some adjustments and sacrifices – from the fisherman at Funkia to the farmer in Buedu; from the petty trader at Abacha Street to the bike rider in Pujehun and our compatriots in the Disapora –Sierra Leoneans have shown great resilience and have been at the forefront of discussions and actions to turn this country around. I believe that the Sierra Leonean goodwill is second to none and in this season of goodwill, I say thanks to you all.

I thank you for the support you have given to our recovery priorities; I say thank you for the support you are giving to us to reposition the economy back to the better times we had before the last two difficulties. We are not yet there, but we are doing what is required to achieve our goals. In agriculture, our support is making our farmers cultivate more, produce more, and earn more. We will continue to promote value addition, support local content and access to finance in the sector. With these actions, national and international experts are telling us that we could surpass our own targets of creating 10,000 new jobs in the sector.

We are also investing more in education; building more schools, establishing more universities and rebuilding Fourah Bay College. We are training more teachers, reviewing and developing relevant content, providing more incentives to both pupils and teachers and implementing quality assurance mechanisms in our schools. Our National School Feeding Programme is gathering momentum with instant positive impact on school attendance and retention and in the local economy.

In the health sector, we will continue our efforts to build a resilient system, with new hospitals, more qualified personnel and specialists, and a better referral system, with more ambulances and more state-of-the-art equipment. With your continued support, we will scale up nutrition, improve on health service delivery, and continue to support the most vulnerable among our compatriots. We are taking similar actions to double access to energy, increase access to safe drinking water and to justice so that electricity, pipe borne water and the rule of law are not only limited to our capital and the major towns. The rural communities where most Sierra Leoneans live must also enjoy these social services.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, as we celebrate the New Year with these better prospects; as we make new resolutions, and set ourselves new targets; we must also back our hopes and determination with actions that will ensure the accomplishment of our new resolutions. This is why, by mid 2017, we will review the austerity measures we are implementing and we will reassess the progress we have made under the Recovery Priorities to determine where we are and to define our new actions going forward. We owe it to ourselves and to posterity to do what is right for the development of our country and I believe we will get there, sooner.

We have shown the world our resilience, our ability to pull together in times of adversity and our determination to succeed against all odds. We can do it again; but we must approach national issues with considerations that transcend partisan affiliations, and we must adopt the imperatives that put Sierra Leone first in our actions. As Sierra Leoneans, our destinies are bound together and our fortunes are intertwined. The school enrolment of a child in Kamakwie in the North, may in the future, translate to the availability of one more doctor in Gbondapi in the South. The safe delivery of a child in a Community Health Centre in Kailahun in the East, could translate in the availability of a lawyer in Waterloo in the Western Area. My Government therefore counts on your attentiveness towards our development programmes; we rely on you to help in the monitoring of projects in your chiefdoms, in your constituencies and in your districts. In the end, the achievements of any government are achievements for Sierra Leone. My government’s ambitious infrastructural drive is to the benefit of every region; our improvements in access to energy, clean water, justice are to the benefit of everyone.

We have put policies and institutions in place to ensure a sustainable economic turn-around but we can only achieve this when we abandon the mentality of leaving government in the hands of government officials. We will continue to build roads but our success will be limited if we continue to use the drainages to dump trash. We will continue to empower the Anti Corruption Commission, but you can also help our fight against graft when you decide not to pay any bribe, no matter the interest at stake. We will continue to train and equip our military and police to keep us safe, but you will enhance their job when we choose to report on irregular activities in our neighborhoods, discourage violence and promote peace by adhering to the rule of Law.

Fellow Sierra Leoneans, soon, our national electoral processes will begin. There will be several aspirants seeking political office; debates will go on, tensions may rise but whatever you do; you must never lose sight of the fact that Sierra Leone is bigger than everyone; it is bigger than every group and every political party. We therefore owe it to ourselves and to our future generations to stay together, to work together and to build this our beloved nation together.

With hard work, determination and resilience, we have established our country as a united, peaceful and democratic nation. With hard work, determination and resilience, we were able to establish our economy among the fastest growing economies in the world. With those same attributes, we are overcoming our current challenges; our economy is rebounding strongly and with your continued support, we will build Sierra Leone to a better and prosperous nation.
Happy New Year, God bless you all and God bless Sierra Leone!