By Ragan M. Conteh
As thousands of Sierra Leoneans continue to suffer hardship and starvation as a result of the increasing depreciation of the Leone against the dollar, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, has said in Freetown during an interview with a popular local radio station that the Ministry of Finance and the New Direction Government are satisfied with the economic policies and programs of the New Direction Government.
Saffa who is increasingly under pressure from many citizens to resign his position as the country’s Minister of Finance, says Government has not been able to only increase the number of teachers and nurses on the payroll, but has also provided free quality education to over two million Sierra Leonean pupils of school going age.
Saffa revealed that the government has been able to improve bad borrowing, tamed bad agreements in a bid to put the challenging economy on the right footing for the benefit of Sierra Leoneans.
Public reaction to Mr. Saffa’s interview at the height of a defiant macroeconomic performance where the current exchange rate at the country’s black market stands at over one million Leones is negative.
Many say the Finance Minister was merely diverting public attention to the failed policies of the government.
Inflationary rate has remained at two digits while the Leone has been exponentially subdued by the US dollar.
Many poor Sierra Leoneans go to bed hungry today and small businesses are crumbling largely due to the exchange rate and high domestic taxes.
Ishmatu Marah, an economics student, says the fiscal deficit continues to worsen, adding that the single treasury account and the reduction of waivers and exemptions from customs duties are major factors to the current predicament of the country.
She furthered that inspite of the Bank of Sierra Leone’s pro-active implementation of a tight monetary policy and reduced the space of government financing needs, internal controls are still weak and this threatens reserve build up and macroeconomic stability.
She concluded that the inflation remains high and hence robust actions and policies that are public friendly should be initiated
Osman Fornah, an economist said Sierra Leone’s economic development has always been hampered by overdependence on minerals.
Mr. Fornah says successive governments and the citizenry have always relied on “diamonds and gold” for the creation of foreign currency earnings.
Many Sierra Leoneans including our development partners are also of the view that governments have over the years, neglected substantial investment into the agro- processing and manufacturing sectors.
Such investment if undertaken would have triggered the much needed foreign exchange and jobs necessary to stabilize the economy.
Many have blamed the government for the underperformance of the economy and many say the overspending on foreign trips, bogus unsustainable financial policies and ambitious infrastructural projects, coupled with very high taxation has thwarted economic growth .
Many of those who spoke to this medium said the economy during the rebel war and the past ten years of the former APC regime, is far better than the current economic status.
By Ragan M. Conteh