By Allieu S. Tunkara
Continued hikes in prices of basic commodities signal economic hardship in the country.
Inflation according to the Consumer Price Index of 2019 is still double digit, and fears rise that it will worsen if measures are not taken to control it.
Investigation mounted by this press shows that a price of 50kg now stands at over Le300, 000 (three hundred thousand Leones) making it difficult for the ‘Haves-not.’
The dishonesty of traders in the conduct of local trade also adds its own problems to the economic hardship.
Prices of personal wearings and other items also rise every passing day, and traders have blamed it on the Guinea blockade.
Abass Kamara sells ready-made jeans and clothes at Garrison Street in Freetown. Kamara sells at close to Le100, 000 (Hundred Thousand Leones) Jean trousers previously sold at Le 50,000(fifty thousand Leones).
During recent interviews conducted by this press, traders have always blamed the situation on the acute shortage of the US dollars.
Osman Kargbo is one of the dollar dealers along Siaka Stevens Street in Freetown.
He told this press that there are more dollars in the black market than they are in the actual market.
He attributed the shortage of dollars in the market to the order issued by the country’s Bank Governor Professor Kallon.
The Bank Governor’s order was to see dollar dealers off the streets of Freetown. The order requires that anyone who wants to embark on dollar exchange go through the central bank.
Prof. Kallon’s move does not seem to have been well received by the community of dollar dealers who have been in the trade from time immemorial.
Most dollar dealers did not go to register, and same time went underground.
Now, evidence suggests that there are more dollars in the dark world than they are in the real market.
Such evidence showcased itself at the Lungi International Airport where a Lebanese national was arrested with huge quantity of dollars.
He was on the move to take the foreign currency out of Sierra Leone owing to what he referred to as unfavourable taxes imposed by government.
Most foreign traders have left Sierra Leone for other countries where they say trade is easier than here. Hardship is always expected in a situation in which many Leones chase few dollars. The export of minerals on which the country depends for her foreign reserve is now at a low key.
The export of Iron Ore which used to bring in large foreign currency is no more as Mining companies have shut down owing to a government order. The stand-off between mining companies and government still continues in the face of an ultimatum issued by the government.
United Nations peace keeping which used to bring in foreign currency into Sierra Leone has lost momentum. The UN mission has been replaced by the African Union peace-Keeping mission which allows spaces for a limited number of personnel.
The dollar brought home by Sierra Leone peace keepers is not enough compared to the amount that used to be brought in previously. The Guinea blockade in the face of Covid-19 also creates special problems for the traders in Sierra Leone.
Currently, borders between Guinea and Sierra Leone remain closed creating a difficult situation for traders in Sierra Leone.
Guinean authorities shut down their borders with Sierra Leone owing to allegations against Sierra Leone’s Vice President of intending to bring in mercenaries into Guinea to aid Cellou Dalen Jallo; the presidential challenger to President Alpha Conde Guinea’s just concluded elections.
The closure of borders has badly affected trade and commerce in Sierra Leone adding to a worsening of the country’s economic hardship. Sierra Leone traders for now cannot cross into Guinea to buy goods as usual.
Few lucky traders could be allowed into Guinea to bring in few goods at higher prices, and such could hardly be bought by an average Sierra Leonean. Isatta Koroma is one of the few lucky traders that was allowed into Guinea quite recently. Madam Koroma told this press that she was aided by security operatives on the Sierra Leone side and also by the Guinean security personnel.
However, the few goods brought home by the few lucky traders cannot meet the demands of an ever-increasing population. Whenever borders are shut down between Sierra Leone and Guinea, Sierra Leone is always on the losing end owing to its high taxes compared to Guinea.
The blockade still continues as government authorities in Sierra Leone are yet to meet their counterparts in Guinea to strike a compromise. Borders on the Liberian side also remains closed owing to the existence of Covid-19 although simulation exercises are on-going for a reopening.
As borders between the two countries flanking Sierra Leone remain closed, compounded by Covid-19, talk of prosperity and economic boom in Sierra Leone remains far-fetched.
As the blockade continues, Suffering in Sierra Leone lingers especially among men in the street. The New Direction Government took over a post-Ebola economy from the former government of President Ernst Bai Koroma. It is no gainsaying that the country lost a huge chunk of its resources during the Ebola Period between 2014 and 2016. Sierra Leone’s economy was projected at 20% growth in 2013 making it one of the fastest growing in the world. But, the fall in the Iron Ore price at the world market and the outbreak of Ebola Virus reversed such enviable gains.
At the time Ebola broke out in Sierra Leone, the country’s economy was 11.1% according to the former Director of Economic Statistics at Statistics Sierra Leone, Abu Bakarr Koroma. As Ebola raged on, the economy contracted to about 5% and later 3% with signs of further contracting to zero says Mr Koroma said measures were not taken to stop the spread of the virus.
It was in the midst of such an economic disaster that the New Direction Government of President Julius Maada Bio appeared on the political stage. But, promises of creating a fundamental turning point in the economy were commonplace.
In the 2018 Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) Manifesto known as the ‘People’s Manifesto’ transformation of the economy was central. The SLPP Manifesto analysed the economic situation showing that real growth of the economy reached its zenith of 20.7% in 2013 largely as a result of the boom in Iron Ore exports.
It says non-Iron Ore growth in 2013 was only 5.5% compared to 7.3% in 2005. Owing to the ill-preparedness of the former APC Government, it went on, to effectively manage the boom and the dramatic drop in commodity prices coupled with the sudden emergence of the Ebola scourge, the economy collapsed by 21% in 2015.
The manifesto also says following the end of Ebola and the return of normal activities in the real sectors, the economy rebound to 6% by 2017. It also notes that the economy receded by 5.6% owing to a slowdown in economic activity.
The New Direction vows to change the state of affairs by pursuing strategies for economic reformation. The manifesto says human and infrastructure development as well as strengthening governance structures requires resources.
“Improving the economy through sound economic policies and management is not an end, but a means of developing the human capital, public infrastructure and governance structure,” Page-9 of the People’s Manifesto reads in part.
But, this promise many Sierra Leoneans say is yet to materialise as the ‘Gron Dry’ phenomenon is still rampant. To many, if the SLPP fails to deliver the economy from its present state, it would be worse in coming years.
The future of Sierra Leone is bleak as millions Sierra Leoneans still live on hand-to-mouth survival.