By Yusuf Moiguah
There were towering hopes of a positive turnaround in national economic growth particularly with the coming in of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) President Julius Maada Bio’s led management, even as the Central Bank of Sierra Leone continues to auction thousands of United States dollars which Sierra Leone’s economy now hardly produce, under the ill experienced governorship of US based classroom Prof. Kelfala Kollon and his bread and butter Finance minister, Jacob Jusu Saffa. The most incompetent Finance Minister and worst ever Bank Governor Sierra Leone has produced in recent history.
But barely a year on much has not been realized as far as growth is concerned, with the 2019 GDP stands at 5.1%, which is a serious indictment of the government for poor management of economic activities, largely because of failure operations of growth driven sectors, since last year to date owing to increased taxes levied on direct foreign investments.
And the unimaginable almighty double digits inflation with high foreign exchange rates is contributing factors of the present economic situation.These among other factors have urged so many multi-national companies in almost areas of growth sectors out of businesses as if Sierra Leone is just emerging from another crisis situation, according to widespread local media reports.
The mining industry did extremely well in boosting the economy in 2013-2014 through exports of diamonds and Rutile, but the deadly Ebola Virus Disease outbreak in 2014 reversed gains coupled with the slimming down in global prices of mineral commodities affected all sectors together halting economic moves in Sierra Leone.
The country rebound back in 2017 with increased exports of iron ore as well as other mineral commodities along steady efforts by the last administration to diversify growth sources.
But the narratives have however changed drastically just a year ago with the coming in of President Bio, from 4th April 2018 till God knows when things will get better under the hegemony of the villainous New Direction.
Nowadays trade, business and investment in Sierra Leone are very much more associated with levying of high taxes on foreign investors and local businesses companies, which has seemingly urged so many foreign and local investors out of businesses, with massive exodus to neighbouring countries for a safe investment haven to start anew, since there is not much conducive investment atmosphere in Sierra Leone; a situation now purely characterized by constraints ranging from the unavoidable imposition of high taxes on companies snail pace doing business procedures, consequently affecting the national economic growth.
It could be vividly recalled that President Bio, during his political presidential campaigns all these years, promised greater economic reforms with accountability and transparency in all sectors if given the mandate, but over a year on the situation remains much challenging due to economic suffering hitting everywhere across the country. The campaign promises are yet to be met as we piece this article together but the people are patiently waiting for the Bio’s much expected reforms.
In a recent state opening address to the nation President Bio gain made another promise this time a single digit inflation figure as he couldn’t deviate from the fact that he inherited a steady revenue base from his predecessor, former President Koroma, even though he keeps blaming the past regime of leaving a weak economy. But it is under the so-called ‘weak’ economy that President Bio has made more than 35 overseas trips and is at the same time busy employing thousands of pro-Bio SLPP supporters, loyalists mostly from the Diaspora, friends and family members who are all being paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.
Pundits however observe that such wastages are one of the major reasons responsible for the current economic struggle in Sierra Leone, because those from UK, US and other places do send back their moneys to their siblings and families to those countries of permanent settlements instead of making savings in Sierra Leone to add their bits to the national economy.
Add to the continuing problems are massive jobs lost from local citizens to those coming from the Diaspora, through indiscriminate sacking of former All People’s Congress government officials by the incumbent administration, on the grounds of their alleged active involvement of political activities.
What is actually unimaginable in present day Sierra Leone is the issue of the failure of Diaspora remittance back home from overseas, but now government official remits moneys from poor Sierra Leone to their families in the Diaspora, which is also another contributing factor to the existing economic adversity, considering the roles remittances used to place in national economy in recent past, in infrastructure, trade, commerce and investments, education, imports and exports, which is now the exact opposite of what obtains in other African countries.
And these have not in any way stopped the leakages in the last one year or so as promised by President Bio during his political campaigns, and much is still expected with high hopes from the SLPP government.
Almost on the eve of the March 2018 presidential elections, President Bio in November 2017 again promised to revamp the national economy through efficient fiscal management, which does not seem to be well in place as expected. Instead, the president has created more avenues for wastage expenditures at the expense of the Consolidated Revenue Fund amidst a national cliché; ‘we inherited a weak economy with empty coffers’ from the past government, which appears very much unbelievable to many people who have been religiously following the economic trajectory in recent past.
However, the much talked about proposed economic reforms promised by President Bio is yet to be actualized by the slow administration as there are early warning signs of economic meltdown in the nearest future if the country remained closed to businesses and direct foreign investments.
But the SLPP led government of President Bio continue to capitalize on what they described as economic failures of the past APC regime, leaving the problems unfixed, forgetting that the people cannot continue to live on empty excuses.
Moreover, the ensuing economic situation has placed serious condemnations against President Bio and the ruling SLPP government as stock markets and slow growth keep affecting economies in not only Sierra Leone but also Ethiopia, Tanzania, Rwanda all battling theirs’ at little below 7-8% in 2019, as well as recent January 10th 2019 global slowdown that put the whole world on alert due to the drop in the prices of mining, among other export products.
As a result Sierra Leone’s GDP per capita income has dropped extremely, projecting nothing to show for the past one year of the new government.
Another related issue that compounded the growing economic hardship as mentioned earlier, is the placement of so many lucrative jobs to people, relatives and siblings of the powers that be especially Diasporans, paying them in foreign currencies at the expenses of the state, leaving the suffering masses dying of starvation and lack of basic social amenities – water, health care delivery, electricity to name just the few.
Overseas traveling by top government officials at the expense of the state also has its share of negative impacts on the degrading national economy, considering the quantum of income being spent on overseas traveling by President Bio, who actually spends huge chunk of moneys on hotel bills, jet hires, air tickets and daily substance allowances whenever they travel out of the country.
Presidential and state visits are normally funded by the visiting state, with financial support from the Consolidated Revenue Fund back home. And there is no two ways about it, for all we know and have seen at home and elsewhere, visiting state dignitaries, including the presidency of any nation, actually fund their trips with funds from government coffers and not the host countries as it Is being presented to the public and perceived by a lesser informed section of public.
And President Bio and his delegation, whenever they are out, they don’t lodge in substandard hotels but in high profile five stars hotels that cost the state huge amount of money worth millions of leones, as against what we were actually promised by the president to stop public financial wastages.
Sadly enough for Sierra Leoneans the presidency now spends more on luxuries than ever before with little or no efforts being made towards cutting down on public expenditures that cause loss from state coffers under the incumbent leadership. And President Bio is spending more on himself and immediate relatives than any other leader.
Sierra Leone has ever produced, especially on his presidential trips and job offers to friends, relatives and party loyalists that are recommended by his press secretary, Yusuf Kenetoma Sandi, and Fatima Bio, largely creating internal divisions within the ruling SLPP elites who are less satisfied with President Bio’s preferential treatments to pro-Bio SLPP Diaspora chapters loyalists than home base SLPP members and supporters among millions of suffering Sierra Leoneans who are doing whatever odd livelihood activities they could just to survive under the wicked new direction power.
Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund in its recent assessments of Sierra Leone’s economic performances under the government of President Bio in the past one year, head of mission, Dr Karen Ogley, notes that they are impressed by the strides taken by the new administration even though such is hardly reflected in the prices of essential commodities, including food stuffs.
The Mission, in a release issued in Washington, commended the last administration for the increase in revenue mobilization by over 30% from December 2017 to December 2018, urged government to scale up domestic revenue mobilization and intensify the judicious management of public finances.
So, with the current economic situation plaguing Sierra Leoneans, we keep asking President Bio and his bunch of dealer wheelers, where are they really taking this country to? We are patiently waiting for the much expected change and economic reforms my foot.
By Yusuf Moiguah