The hardships that we are experiencing, three years after this government was forced on us (Paopa) because the APC could not get its house in order after 10 successful years under Ernest Bai Koroma, is not what many people expected from the New Direction regime.
The promised delivery on bread and butter issues (that affect everyday people like tax rates or road conditions, and other basic, fundamental matters that have some connection to money) has now been replaced by hard facts and realities that are taking a toll on them, hence the people. The results is that today, three years down the line, the people are short on bread and butter, and see no end in sight. They are dealing with more hardships than they could ever remember, except for the years before the civil war.
During the electioneering stage, one promise that resounded well with people is rarely hinted on because of the central role that corruption and leakages play in our continued underdevelopment. Owing the overwhelming poverty across the country, Bio, the then challenger for the seat of the presidency, and his planners promised the people pro-poor policies that were hoped then would sort out their problems bit by bit, if not entirely.
Seeing their progress made under Bai Koroma when money flowed from Kabala to Zimmi, the people expected for a continuity of their progress. The monies they made and had saved, their business investments, putting their children through school, and other progressive steps they’d taken under Pa Koroma, emboldened them to believe that with the discipline and all-out assault on lawlessness as promised by the former military and junta head, things would always or at least continue to look up into the foreseeable future.
But the smiles and excitement created at his inauguration three years ago have been turned to tears, complaints and regret as the country rapidly descends into hardships. And as if Bio’s pro-rich policies were not causing enough strain on the already suffering masses, our hardships were made much, much harder by poorly planned and executed coronavirus measures that resulted into price hikes we are still grappling with after the expiration of the unnecessary and unregulated yearlong State of Emergency. The path towards sustainable peace, reconciliation and sustainable development, is now blurred by corruption, intraparty violence, and hardship after hardship.
The road construction projects that created so many jobs for the youth and brought critical business opportunities to locals then have stalled under this regime. There are even suggestions from some segment of our leadership that are calling for a halt on feeder road projects across the country. A supply demand analysis of our basic and most pressing consumer needs would show that while the goods are available and are still in demand, the resulting cash needed to buy them, even at their present high costs, is in very short and low supply. Cash is not circulating as it was during the Ernest Bai Koroma presidency. The few people that have it are no longer willing to share it with the have-nots. Even banks don’t seem to have cash these days. Unsure of how things would pan out, people are hoarding whatever goods and services they have in hopes of capitalising on further price hikes.
Presently, the love of most has turned cold. It is not easy to get help or assistance from a friend, neighbour, relative or people you used to get help from. The hardship is written on the people’s faces through empty plates and hardly any food at home, with the resulting frustration creating unnecessary tension among an already tense citizenry. Very few people are willing to lend money to those who desperately need money, which is all of us. Those who succeed in getting loans are failing to repay, making it difficult for others to get such help from lenders. From transport to tea and bread; from clothes to milk and sugar; from rice, gari and pepper to house rent and petrol, everything is expensive.
And with the artificial price hikes that the NACOVERC instituted COVID-19 lockdowns, curfews, and travel restrictions brought about still with us, those who hoarded are still laughing all the way to the bank, to the detriment and further hardship of the struggling masses, who say the first thing the government should do to show that they are really pro-poor is to ensure that prices of all goods and services return to pre-coronavirus levels. But chances are with a government that is showing unwillingness to bend to the wishes of the people this call too will go unheeded.
Still on the bread and butter economics, we are not sure of what the benefits of the taxes we continue to pay as a people are, especially for Small and Medium Size Enterprises, as we are yet to receive any concrete help from the central government, since any forthcoming help or assistance is expected to come from the international community, which help the SLPP government will share along partisan lines. Notwithstanding that, such monies are never enough to meet and sort out all your needs as whatever they could fix would leave much more to be desired.
A regime and party of self-styled intellectuals that are far removed from the issues at the grassroots level, is wholly unsuitable for the all-hands-on-deck approach that is needed to turn things around. It is common knowledge that intellectuals are so aloof and far from the experiences and needs of the struggling masses they look down on that, they go as far as blaming the poor for their condition. Sadly, these are the very people who, when they are in need of votes, they would run to using all manner of rhetoric, only to turn their backs on them after getting the mandate.
So as the rich keeps getting richer and the poor poorer, bread and butter seem far from those who need them the most – the poor that forms the majority of us. Three years down the line and with no end in sight, we still want to know, when will this current hardship end? What plans does the government have to ensure that it ends? If this government that is showing itself as a new direction in the same old corrupt, lawless, violent and leakage direction of the past is yet to turn things around for the people, which one among the opposition is capable?
“We will have to find out in the ballot box in 2023,” said a very disgruntled Sierra Leone People’s Partisan.