Sierra Leone’s Poverty Reduction Pillars are Crumpling

by Karamoh Kabba

Sierra Leone’s progress report received a passing grade by the World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA) and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) recently. The report stated, “Sierra Leone has made sufficient progress to reach the completion point under the Enhanced Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative.” Amidst hiccups and waved unsatisfied criterion, “Sierra Leone becomes the 21st country to reach the completion point under the Initiative.” In 2005, the Executive Board of the IMF wrote; “The Board agreed to waive the nonobservance of a performance criterion on the accumulation of new external arrears under the previous PRGF arrangement that expired in June 2005 that resulted in a noncomplying disbursement under that arrangement.” On December 18, 2006, the Executive Board wrote:

To reach the completion point, Sierra Leone met the following conditions: (i) preparation of a full PRSP and implementation for at least one year, as evidenced by the joint staff assessment of the PRSP and the country’s annual progress report; (ii) maintenance of macroeconomic stability as evidenced by satisfactory implementation of the PRGF-supported program; (iii) completion of structural measures in the areas of governance and decentralization, private sector development, education and health; and (iv) an increase in spending on designated poverty reducing expenditure priorities that was proportionate to HIPC relief.
And, it qualified Sierra Leone for the necessary debt relief according to IMF and World Bank officials. But it does not go without the fact that meeting the HIPC Initiative objectives have also coincided with the SLPP-led government’s double paddling efforts in the last two years in preparation for parliamentary and presidential reelections. Before that, the banks and donor nations, including UN officials, had nothing but warning for Sierra Leone against bad behaviors – bad governance, youth neglect, pervasive corruption in government and the unwillingness to comply with the World Bank, IMF and African Development Bank (AfDB) Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF) guidelines, which had delayed the upgrading of its Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP) since 2002.
It will be unfair to state blatantly that progress that led to the passing mark this time was more for the SLPP to be reelected than for compliance with HIPC Initiative objectives. Nonetheless, we must examine and admonish the banks and donors to continue to be steadfast in their admonishment of the leaders of Sierra Leone against bad behaviors. Political parties in Sierra Leone are doing their part in highlighting SLPP shortfalls in good governance through the media both in Sierra Leone and abroad. The leaders of Sierra Leone are most certainly responding to something – it is not clear whether they are responding to international pressure or reelection bid. We do not know what is responsible for the quantum change from their bad behavior position of the past to the present double paddling efforts. Most important, Sierra Leone’s progress report received a passing grade, which is understood that prevailing multi-party activities could underpin a positive development in an underdeveloped country. But the Executive Board progress report for Sierra Leone did not go without the following statement: “Debt relief at completion point under the enhanced HIPC Initiative and MDRI is an important milestone for Sierra Leone toward debt sustainability while providing more resources for poverty reduction and the attainment of the Millennium Development Goals.” How will Sierra Leone accomplish such demands owing to its prevailing custom of lethargy in leadership?
The three pillars of the government of Sierra Leone’s Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) are Good Governance, Job Creation and Food Security. It is understood that the government of Sierra Leone, at least in theory, indeed zeroed in on the causes of the decade-long civil war. It is written in the government of Sierra Leone’s PRSP that : “The source of political instability has lain less in ethnic or religious rivalry, than in the history of extremely poor governance, widespread corruption, and the marginalization of rural communities, through overpowering, inefficient central government. These were compounded by the early collapse of local government, and worsening terms of trade for limited exports.”
A paper written by John Mannah, PhD, who is an SLPP official based in the United States, shared credit equally amongst the donors, the creditors, the government of Sierra Leone, the people of Sierra Leone and the ruling SLPP leaders, President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah and Vice Presidential Solomon Berewa, for the accomplishment of what IMF and the World Bank officials referred to as a milestone in economic recovery for Sierra Leone. But it was not without Mr. Mannah’s simplistic postulation on how Sierra Leone’s public external debt reached at US$1.6 billion by the end of 2003. Although Sierra Leone qualified for the consideration as a Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC) earlier in the mid 90s when the program began, it met the conditions of the HIPC initiative objectives in 2002 and since accumulated more debts that are new since President Tejan Kabbah took office in 1996. Nonetheless, the 2003 cut off point makes much sense to be fair with President Tejan Kabbah’s SLPP-led government because in 2003, the country was about a year old into its post-war era when the official declaration of the end of the decade-long rebel war was announced in 2002.

Mr. Mannah, whose PhD is in economics stated:  
The political economy of over borrowing is easy to understand for economists at least. In the case of Sierra Leone, the APC government that ruled Sierra Leone for twenty seven years over borrowed to benefit its cronies, and now the SLPP government has had to deal with the consequences.  There was a strong incentive to borrow because there were kickbacks in the loans and the projects that they financed, like the OAU conference that was hosted in 1980. It was easy for that corrupt government to be influenced by Western businessmen and financiers. They wined and dined those responsible for borrowing as they sold their loan packages, and told them why it was good time to borrow, why their particular package was attractive, why that was the right time to restructure debt.

First, in an overzealous effort to pass blame on the former All People’s Congress (APC) government, Mr. Mannah could not count how long the APC had ruled in his own country. He stated that the APC ruled for twenty-seven years when the APC actually ruled for twenty-four years. Creating additional three years from the figment of his imagination undermines the trusted surrogacy he bestows upon himself as the bearer of such important information. Why should we trust Mr. Mannah’s surrogacy when he could not go back to verify how long the APC ruled when the answer was just a click away if he did not know? Yet, he claims to be a civic competent man who also masquerades as a trusted surrogate. He only succeeds in showing that he is a trustworthy surrogate to President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah, Vice President Berewa and the SLPP. To say that the leaders of Sierra Leone accumulated $1.6 billion in debt over food and wine is an absurdity that deserves no attention especially when it came from someone who doubles as a party’s communications director and an economist. Thus, he should not have limited his erroneous postulation to the APC government alone owing to the SLPP-led government’s borrowing activities since 1996.

For the most part, the economy of Sierra Leone is growing: Growth has been above the 7 per cent benchmark set by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). The largest GDP was reported in 2002 at 27.5 per cent. The reason behind the unusual growth rate in 2002 was donor activities and adding of new loans into an economy that was at a stand still before then. We saw 9.3 per cent growth in 2003, 7.4 per cent in 2004, 7.3 per cent in 2005, a 7.4 per cent projection for 2006, and a 6.1 per cent projection for 2007.

Now, where does Mr. Mannah derive his 7.5 per cent growth rate or the MDGs benchmark figure he sets at 7.5 per cent he provided us in his published work on Awareness Times newspaper in Sierra Leone, on December 25, 2006, entitled “The Significance of Debt Cancellation to the Socio – Economic Development of Sierra Leone”? ( Even though Mr. Mannah did not specify the growth year for the 7.5 per cent growth rate figure he gave us, the average growth rate from 2002 to 2006 is not 7.5 per cent. Although we may credit the present SLPP administration for its effort in stabilizing the fragile peace, the growth rates over the past four years and the projections for 2006 and 2007 all have little correlation to ‘robust’ domestic economic activities as the government claims. The awkward growth rate pattern supports the position that there was no economic activity before 2002 and therefore, the GDP will respond in a quantum upward thrust to minute positive economic activities. The awkward growth pattern of 27.5 per cent in 2002 to a 6.5 per cent projection for 2007 is a clear manifestation of the fact that the Sierra Leone economy is more donor-driven than domestic economic activity driven. Clearly, the GDP diminishes with diminishing donor activities. Unfortunately, there is little or no ‘robust’ domestic economic activity to fill the gap created by the diminishing donor activities that is compounded by rising expenditures. The lesser the outpour of loans and donor funds into the economy, the lesser the growth as the growth pattern indicates. Sierra Leone is yet to see a real GDP that is reflective of robust domestic economic activities.
Now that we have demonstrated sufficiently that Mr. Mannah is not a credible source of information about the economic, social and political activities of Sierra Leone, let us examine the three pillars of the Sierra Leone’s PRSP.
Good Governance:

A major accomplishment of the SLPP-led government is its lukewarm willingness to conduct elections. Let us bear in mind that conducting elections alone is not the beginning or the end to a democratic process. This time, we are hoping that the SLPP will have the nerve to repeat the good record of Sir Albert Margai of Africa who conceded to an extremely controversial APC victory in 1967 elections in Sierra Leone to become one of the few African incumbent leaders to be defeated in a democratic process. We are hoping that the SLPP of today will uphold such a good democratic principle by not only repeating that good record but also making it better by peacefully allowing free and fair elections and giving way to another party for the leadership when that need arise.

There is much at stake here as we approach 2007 elections. It is a sad story to learn that under the Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program the country actually disarmed over 6000 childsoldiers, but could not account for an equal or at least close to an equal number of childsoldiers under its Reconstruction, Resettlement and Rehabilitation program that followed. It is only logical that the government and the NGOs that were concerned with these two phases of reconstruction had a good tally of youths that needed help when they disarmed them under the first phase of Disarmament, Demobilisation and Reintegration program. But once their trigger-happy fingers were uncoiled from the triggers of their AK-47s, they became meaningless.

Recently, the outgoing UN Secretary General, Kofi Annan, raised concerns that the youth problem persists in Sierra Leone. The SLPP-led Parliament is fond of making good laws and good policies, at least, in Parliament and on papers. In fact, the SLPP majority Parliament is known to have made the most laws, since 1996 to present, than the APC’s 24-year rule and the military regimes of the past. The SLPP-led government’s PRSP, which is tailored to the IMF, World Bank and the AfDB’s Poverty Reduction Growth Facility (PRGF) guidelines, is an outstanding document, at least, in theory. The Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (IPRSP) that was formulated in 2002 addressed the same problems as the PRSP that has just been approved only that nothing happened until now.

The SLPP government definitely is good at seeing the problems, but lacks the will power and the ability to address them through action. Nicely written papers have fooled the donors once more. While we commend the government for thoughtful law making and the writing of grade-making poverty reduction papers, we must be conscious that we need not just pen pushers in Sierra Leone under these challenging demands. It is time for the SLPP to give way to a government that will work in the interest of the people not just one that masters the art of writing donor confidence winning papers for the benefit of a selected few. The SLPP has failed miserably in entrenching the first pillar of the PRSP– it is very week and the structure is crumpling on the people of Sierra Leone.
Food Security 

For a country that has vast fallow land mass, the SLPP could only point to NGO sponsored youth subsistence-farming program in the Pujehun district and yam-faming project in Waterloo. Sierra Leone, after five years, is still unable to feed itself. Since 2002, Sierra Leone can no more blame its lack of massive rice farms to feed itself on the war. Rice can be cultivated two times a year in Sierra Leone to be modest based on the climate. Yet, there is no large-scale mechanized farming project going on; the country still dwells on donor money for the purchase of imported grains. The president had committed himself to food security by the end of the year 2007, which is yet to be accomplished and only has months left now on his presidential calendar. He had promised to revisit the land tenure of Sierra Leone, which is certainly an impediment to large-scale mechanized farming – that is yet to be done. How does he plan to achieve food security at the tail end of his second term when the land tenure has become impossible to touch because of ensuring election victory for the SLPP and Vice President Berewa? Agriculture at about 30 per cent of GDP is not an impressive figure for an agriculture-based economy as Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone’s economy has the potential to be more agriculturally driven at about 50 per cent of GDP. The country needs to attract investors to spend only half of the investment that is now being spent on the mining sector in Agriculture to yield a return that would be more than 30 per cent of GDP.
Job Creation
Joblessness is a pervasive problem in Sierra Leone. Because of joblessness, 70 per cent of the people in the country live on less than $1 a day. In 2005, the country was at the bottom of the UN-Human Development Index (HDI). It moved up to second to last position in 2006. Upon examining the country that is now last on the HDI, we will be disappointed that the shift was by default not through any ‘robust’ domestic economic activity. In its PRSP, the government claims that the largest growing sector is utility—water and electricity: yet, not too long ago there was an absolute water shortage in the city. The country has been in darkness until few months to elections after which it will probably return once more into darkness. The SLPP government wants to be seen to be working when it gives streetlights in the city and ignores electricity in the households.
There exists no comprehensive policy in the mining sector, at least in practice; it is all spelt-out in the PRSP. Small to large mining companies still use the labor of the local people in the mining industry in inhuman and illegal ways. There are no government regulations in that sector to protect the rights of mineworkers. The work is backbreaking, but the return for the mineworkers is frugal, yet the wealthy benefits from the miners’ labor without providing the mineworkers with job security or health benefits. Until the mining industry is regulated, especially based on the capital one must declare to ensure that miners are provided with the right types of equipment, their health care is taken care of and their taxes are collected and paid to the central or local government before engagement in mining activities or employment of a certain set of miners, the industry would remain a none-meaningful source of employment. It is only under such regulated and organized mining activities that government will be able to absorb more people into the work force and collect income taxes from them. But the government has no innovation when it comes to creating jobs for its people and collecting taxes from them to improve their living standards and provide social welfare for the needy.n its PRSP, the government of Sierra Leone acknowledges it shortfall in capacity building for effective devolution process. It is clear now that the large sums of money Vice President Solomon Berewa distributed amongst the chiefs in the provinces several months ago in the name of decentralization were probably intended for campaign purpose in the absence of institutional capacity to ensure the funds were used rightfully for community projects.

This brings us to the conclusion that the donors, the World Bank and the IMF have much monitoring to do to ensure a proper use of donor funds. A nicely written paper cannot get up from the shelves and do the work. For the people of Sierra Leone, you have the greatest weapon that has been provided to you through the SLPP’s lukewarm willingness to conduct elections for you to determine who must deliver these expectations to improve your lives. Before we leave, let us not forget to commend the SLPP government for its willingness so far to conduct elections. There are many countries in Africa in dire need of such multi-party democratic process.
But the fact remains that, Mr. Mannah’s suggestion that the SLPP-led government is transparent is pure propaganda. The hidden propaganda is disgusting more than the open disgrace. Which would the people and the nation rather hear – the concocted propaganda of Mr. Mannah painting a surrealist picture of the nation, or this true analysis of the state of our nation? Why cover or decorate the blemishes as if they do not exist. Democracy will only prevail if the politicians and the government accept their weaknesses, discuss their merits and demerits, and take prompt action to correct them. It is only through continuous exposure and disciplinary action that corruption can be reduced. Mr. Mannah must accept the fact that the SLPP-led government of Sierra Leone is not transparent, notwithstanding its passing progress report from the world organizations.


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