Just before Christmas, as Sierra Leoneans celebrated the successful staging of the landmark Presidential, Legislative and Local Council Elections, good news came that Sierra Leone has won the United States Gvernment’s Millennium Challenge Corporation ( MCC ) Compact Award by dint of the splendid achievements of the Government led by President Ernest Bai Koroma during the past years.
The “THIS IS SIERRA LEONE” Website put in very clear perspective how this award is won by countries. : “In March 2002, in the fight to reduce global poverty, President Bush announced an increase of five billion dollars per year over current bilateral assistance levels to be vouchsafed to poor countries. In a fastidious mood, the president enunciated clearly that this assistance will be channeled through the creation of an independent agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC). Based on set criteria, the MCC is empowered to give money only to honest governments pursuing sound economic policies that influence it with a proposal of their own choice: governing justly, promote basic education and reduce corruption.
This week, COCOORIOKO decided to conduct an exclusive interview with Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the United States , H.E. Mr. Bockarie Kortu Stevens , on the implications of the award and what Sierra Leone stands to benefit from it.
H.E. AMBASSADOR BOCKARIE STEVENS
COCORIOKO : Good morning, Mr. Ambassador , Cocorioko has just learnt that the Millennium Challenge Corporation has selected Sierra Leone as one of the countries to benefit from the Millennium Challenge funding .What is the implication of this ? What do we hope to benefit from this achievement?
AMBASSADOR STEVENS : This is a momentous day for Sierra Leone. For more than five years Sierra Leone has been competing in this programme. In 2010 our score card rating was five out of twenty. This was not because we were failing or not doing the right thing but mainly because the statistics required to generate pass marks were not forthcoming from the various government departments. Therefore in 2011 the president set up a special unit at State House to collate the required statistics. This has paid off. In 2012 we scored more than enough to qualify for the compact. Let me explain further that there are two tiers of entry into the MCC i.e. Threshold and Compact. For some countries they had to qualify for the Threshold and then the Compact. Sierra Leone had double promotion to be selected straight into the compact; a testament to the good work done.
The implication of been selected to the compact is that we are now eligible to receive grants for approved projects. Grants under this scheme can range from anything between 300 to 700 million dollars depending on the in-country programme or projects developed by Sierra Leone. Let me further add that this programme as it is called Millennium Challenge is a competitive programme with very robust means testing. Going through it straight to the compact stage assigns you as a credible country and as a result a lot of doors will now be open to Sierra Leone. The beauty of this programme is that the projects to be chosen for implementation are not dictated by the donor i.e. USA. The projects are conceived and directed by Sierra Leone; all that is needed is that it must be poverty alleviation driven. By any standards this is a huge amount of money which will excite the budgetary commitments of the President’s Agenda for prosperity. Also you are aware that in the last couple of years we as an embassy have been engaged in the rebranding process of our country. Many Americans link Sierra Leone with Blood diamonds, and a barbaric civil war. A program like this fits into our re-branding efforts. At the announcements press conference we felt very proud. For Sierra Leone this was a fitting moment to sell our country to the entire United States. It is indeed a very proud moment. Every patriotic Sierra Leonean must be proud of this achievement. These positive signals and vibes are good for investment and development.
COCORIOKO : What is the implication of this achievement in terms of the performance of the reigning All People’s Congress ( APC ) Government , headed by President Ernest Koroma ?
AMBASSADOR STEVENS : Beneficiary countries need to work hard and really hard to meet the robust criteria set by the MCC. Selectivity deals with core fundamentals that demonstrate commitment to a development agenda, creation of policies through reforms, good governance and anti corruption are key. Sierra Leone was selected for the gigantic strides made in areas like access to maternal and child health care, educating girl child, anti corruption, freedom of information and human rights amongst other indicators. The government will now need to put in place a team of experts to design the projects aimed at poverty alleviation and minimizing the constraints to economic growth. The Good thing about the MCC is that the countries design their own projects for which the funding is to be used. We have to satisfy the MCC how coherent the projects are and once decided upon by both parties the amount is allocated. It is a very busy process and already the president says he will personally supervise the implementation and planning of this MCC project. This programme has very rigid performance criteria to justify the use of America’s tax payers money. In fact some candidate countries contracted lobbying groups in the USA to assist. We never did that we relied on the performance of the government which has yielded this huge dividend.
Love or hate the APC government this is no mean an achievement. The government sailed through with the agenda for change and now with the agenda for prosperity there could be no better a New Year’s present for the leader of the APC party, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
Apart from the monetary value there are other accolades ranging from boosting the Image of Sierra Leone in the corridors of power in the USA. Been accepted into the MCC recognizes that the country is doing the right thing. The funding arising thereof will to a large extend support the programme especially those associated with addressing the problems of Youth employment in Sierra Leone. This is a blessing that recognizes the achievements of the APC government especially with regards to the Agenda for prosperity. By all imaginable standards these are the programmes that President Koroma and the populist APC party had evolved over the years for the people of Sierra Leone. The MCC award is the dividend paid for these development strides .
COCORIOKO : That is indeed very good news for our nation. Ambassador, in the interest of our wider readership, can you tell us the efforts that went into this?
AMBASSADOR STEVENS : Lots of hard work on both sides of the Atlantic. Staff at the embassy, State House, strategic government departments, individual Sierra Leoneans both in Sierra Leone and the USA, U.S legislators and other functionaries and many more
Most important were those responsible for collecting the relevant statistics on which the score cards are based. It was a multi faceted task.
As an embassy we got engaged in this process almost five years ago. No stone was left unturned as it was done without a lobbying organization. Some successful countries took on lobbying organizations in Washington but we lacked that luxury and money to do it. We went out alone and succeeded mainly relying on our record of achievement.
COCORIOKO : With such an achievement, what is the way forward for Sierra Leone?
The good thing about the MCC award is that it is not a loan. It is an outright grant. Early in the new year the MCC will be sending a technical team to start working on the processes and project development immediately. The President has identified the corner stone of his Agenda for Prosperity on youth. This a wonderful opportunity to fund this initiative and get it off the ground. Sierra Leone will now need to design its project for poverty alleviation, good policy performance and human development to promote economic development and prosperity. This will be done in tandem with the MCC technical committee. The President has indicated to me that he will take personal charge of this implementation stage of the MCC account. Sierra Leoneans should now put politicking aside and support a development oriented President to attain prosperity for our people. Sierra Leoneans need to give their full support to the programme as we must keep up with improving on the criteria to move ahead. Having passed at this stage is not the end. We need to maintain the momentum to enhance guaranteed funding.
COCORIOKO : What have you got to tell our Sierra Leonean people who will be really excited to hear this news?
Sierra Leoneans must celebrate this epoch making event. This was no guess game the results achieved were as a result of the well-crafted and successful programmes undertaken by the government of President Koroma. If we continue on the right track the sky is the limit for Sierra Leone. The massive mandate given to the President will catapult this country to even higher heights and achieve salvation for our young people under the guide of the Agenda for prosperity.
Perhaps I should take this opportunity to advice our Sierra Leonean compatriots in the Diaspora who sometimes for political aggrandizement will use every opportunity to besmear their motherland. Some of them using the social media have incessantly agitated for mayhem and chaos just because the party of their choice lost the just concluded elections. Some even go to the extent of inciting violence in Sierra Leone from the comfort of their luxurious surroundings in the USA and elsewhere. Let us respect the mandate of the people and support the government to deliver on its agenda. We are earning respectability from the international community; let us play our part. If we have not learnt anything from the western world the least to comprehend and absorb is political tolerance and country first.
This is a poignant warning by President John F Kennedy. “Those who want to gain power by riding on the back of a tiger will eventually end up inside”.
COCORIOKO : Thank you very much, Mr. Ambassador for granting us this interview . We are sure it will leave Sierra Leoneans rejoicing.
AMBASSADOR STEVENS : Thank you too for the great work your paper is doing in the rebranding of Sierra Leone. Keep it up.
COCORIOKO : Thank you, Mr. Ambassador.