Friday, January 25, 2019 3:15 pm
The mantra of President Julius Maada Bio’s government is ‘‘The New Direction’’, for his focus in Human Capital Development, including Free Quality Education, Free School Feeding and others.
ABUBAKAR HASHIM/Sierra Leone
Eight months after he became President of Sierra Leone, Rt Gen Julius Maada Bio has imminently succeeded in stabilizing his governance style.The political atmosphere is now relatively stable. He has been reaching out and winning the support and acquiescence of his people, irrespective of the political divide.
After the recently-concluded March elections, the country was polarized along political and tribal dimensions. The political climate then was overheated. Parliament was in turmoil. Today,he has succeeded in unifying the country, with a recent peace tour nationwide. This will snowball into the formation of a Commission of Peace and National Cohesion. This move is rated, by political pundits and even some members of the opposition, as a gesture of his military acumen and prowess as a fighter for national unity for all Sierra Leoneans, reminiscent of his days in the military, particularly during the epic days of the civil war. This has cascaded into the current peace that prevails in the country, rated today, as the most peaceful country in Africa and the 3rd in the world.
On the economic front, the Bio – led government is gradually repositioning the economy on a stabilized trajectory. Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, recently presented the 2019 budget, labelled “Fiscal Consolidation for Human Capital Development” to the House of Parliament.
The budget, 7.03 Trillion Leones, about $814 Million, constitutes Domestic Revenue of 5.6 Trillion Leones, Domestic Revenue Financing of 958 Billion Leones and Budget support of 406 Billion Leones.
Human Capital Development remains the center point of the 2019 budget as it gulps 21 percent, about 1.14 Trillion Leones of the budget. Free quality education program has commenced nationwide, with parents and guardians hearing a sight of relief. Under an education project tagged “Leh Wi Lan”, meaning ‘‘Lets learn,’’ Government will receive 90 container load of text books, entailing teachers’ guides and pupils’ handbooks, supported by the UK Department of Foreign International Development DFID, Government will procure 50 new buses to cushion the transportation hardship for school kids. It has paid tuition fees subsidies and subventions for 2018 to universities and tertiary institutions totaling 45 Billion Leones. This fourth disbursement is in addition to the cumulative transfer of subventions and subsidies for the first, second and third quarters of 2018, amounted to 132 Billion Leones. The universities that benefitted from this windfall include Fourahbay College, IPAM, COMAHS, Milton Margai, Njala, Ernest Bai Koroma Universities in Makeni, Port Loko and Magburaka, Eastern Polytechnic, Freetown Teachers’ College and Bonthe Technical Training College. The government will also increase salaries by 10 percent for workers on grades 1 to 6. Those on grades 7 to 14 will get 5 percent. It will also employ 5,000 teachers, 3,000 health workers and 1,000 police officers, with Le 250,000 minimum pension payment per month. To project this plan, a wages and salaries commission will be established in 2019. These initiatives demonstrate the cardinal focus of Human Capital Development by the Bio-led government as the epicenter of budgetary allocations.
A Directorate for Science, Technology and Innovation DSTI, 2018 to 2023, has also been launched with 4 strategic pillars: A data center for decision making, a data system and technology, an eco-system gathering and a cross section planning for service delivery, all tailored along achieving human capital growth, with David Sengeh as the chief coordinator
The government’s drive of securing 80 percent of revenue mobilization from domestic sources put at 5.6 Trillion Leones, from the country’s total 2019 budget of 7.03 Trillion Leones, has been achieved. This is unprecedented and commendable, as it has minimized dependency on foreign donors, which has long been the practice. This is the first time a sitting government in the country is inward-looking for resources, without recourse to dependence on external burrowing, particularly from the World Bank, through the International Monetary Fund, IMF.
The Nation’s Revenue Mobilizer, National Revenue Authority, NRA, with a new management, under the leadership of a renowned economist, Dr Samuel Jibao, has, for the first time in the country’s history, collected over 400 Billion Leones for September 2018, with the overall aim of meeting a target of 20 percent of the country’s GDP in 2023, as tasked by the President.
The IMF has recently approved $171Million for budgetarysupport,with $21Million to be disbursed to safeguard macro-economic stability. The fund suspended its last program in December 2017, few months to the March 2018 elections. The suspension was as a result of the previous government of former President Koroma not meeting all the benchmarks of the fund for budgetary support. This approval by the IMF was as a result of visible economic strides and sincerity of goverance, particularly on education, by the Bio-led government.
This recent approval by the IMF gives a green light for global capital for the Bio-led government, particularly in the provision of credit ratings to institutional private sector players to invest in the country, as the IMF is, today, the global economic umpire.
The World Bank has also ratified $10 million for agro-businesses, with another $ 5 million grant from Saudi fund for Bore Hole and Elevated Tanks for the Water Resources Ministry, all geared toward diversifying the economy away from extractive mining sector toward agriculture and eco-tourism.
The country’s current debt profile is depressing, put at 68 percent to GDP by the IMF in its recent classifications of Sub Saharan African Economies. Its Resident Representative in Sierra Leone, Iyabo Masha, recently revealed that this huge debt was accumulated during the past 10 years. A lot of resources will be set aside to pay this debt and its interests. More worrisome is the domestic debt, as its interest is now double-digit, more than the foreign debt.
The IMF Representative was categorical, stating that for the government of President Bio to succeed, the country’s huge debt profile, consisting of both domestic and external debts, must be seriously addressed. The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa responded with an affirmation that the only way the country will get out of this debt distress is by being a responsible borrower on terms that are favorable, based on Public Private Partnership PPP model or Build Operate Transfer, BOT, model, to minimize further risk exposures of government.
The Bio-led government is aware of these inherited challenges as it has minimized embarking on new loans, only on economically viable ones, with minimal risks. It places premium, about 80 percent, on domestic mobilization of revenue to finance state projects and programs.This move has received encomiums and commendations from the people, as well as the international development partners.
The country is rich in diamond resources but the people have not been the beneficiaries of its resources for decades, as the vast majority of the people still eke out a living. For the people to benefit from these resources, diamonds are to be cut and polished in Sierra Leone. A visit to Antwerp World Diamond Center AWDC in Belgium by President Bio early November has resulted into a new relationship with the AWDC group. A new Diamond Infrastructure Plan in Sierra Leone, that seeks investments to add value, transfer technology and generates employment opportunities, particularly for the youths, was mooted by the President during this visit to Brussels in November. The European Union, EU, is the largest donor, particularly on roads construction in the country. The Brussels visit by the President brought yields to the country as the EU is supportive of the people-centered policies of the government, particularly the free quality education program of the government.
0n the fight against corruption, the country is steadily on a progressive trail. The Anti-Corruption Cimmission, ACC has recovered over Le 10Billion, about 1.2 Million Dollars,from June to October this year, according to the commission’s Boss, Francis Kelfala. This recovery is the highest in the commission’s fight since the ACC’s 8-year existence. This has rebranded the country’s profile, reduced the cost of corruption with a recent pass mark of 71 percent in the Control of Corruption COC indices,compiled by the US- based Millennium Challenge Corporation MCC.
The fight against corruption gained momentum when the leader of the Government Transition Team GTT and Chief Minister, Professor David Francis, officially submitted the GTT report to the President on July 4 at State House. The GTT was inaugurated upon assumption of office by the President on April 6, to take stock of government affairs and recommend solutions accordingly.
The contents of the 130-page GTT report were scathing and damming. The key findings have to do with corruption and maladministration of the former regime of President Koroma. The report is in consonance with the recently – held AU Summit in Mauritania, with the theme “Attacking Corruption in Africa”.
At this summit, President Buhari delivered the key note address while President Bio chaired the Committee of I0 (C10) on reform in the security council, to include African membership. President Bio also chaired the Peace and Security council of the AU. The outcome of the AU meeting also called for the setting up of the Africa Forum for Assets Recovery, AFAR, to fast-track recovery of stolen wealth that is currently estimated by United Nations Economic Commission for Africa UNECA to be around $ 50 Billion, stashed annually to the Western World by African Countries. Each Anti-Corruption body in Africa will coordinate the AFAR strategy of assets recovery to pave way for synergy. Sierra Leone has scored high (71 percent), according to the US- based MCC recently-released report, in the fight against corruption, since the introduction of the MCC score card in 2004. Fiscal discipline and reduction in government wastages are among other parameters in the MCC assessment.
The major recommendation of the GTT report is the formation of a Commission of Inquiry, an administrative panel, with the status of a High Court. A Nigerian Judge, Justice Biobelle Georgewill, will lead the commission that will soon commence sittings in Freetown.
On the international scene, President Bio visited China for the Forum for China and Africa Cooperation FOCAC meeting, on the invitation of the Chinese Minister for Africa,when they met during the AU summit in Mauritania. The FOCAC meeting was splendidly successful, as strings of bilateral agreements were signed. The meeting was also anchored on a state visit, where multi-lateral benefits from China were achieved, resulting in 122 institutional investors jetting into the country within 3 weeks after the FOCAC meeting in China.
This was followed by the United Nations General Assembly UNGA meeting in New York in September. The UNGA meetings in New York were as fruitful as the FOCAC meetings in China. After his address to the UNGA gathering in New York, he met with a galaxy of institutional investors like Bill Gates, George Soros and others on the side lines and later travelled to other states.
In all these international engagements, President Bio had scored relatively high due to his sterling qualities and the ongoing actualization of his domestic policies into action for the benefit of the people.
Relations with Nigeria, Africa and the World
Since President Bio’s official 2-day visit to Nigeria on May 30 to 31 this year, relations between the two countries have grown stronger and waxing to higher heights.The Nigeria/Sierra Leone Joint Commission, the veritable platform to promote bilateral relations, was discussed during this meeting, particularly on education, the flagship program of President Bio. The Nigerian Government is supportive of the Bio-led government initiatives, particularly on quality free education and the upgrade of health facilities in the country. An ongoing initiative on these two key sectors for construction of educational and health centers nationwide in Sierra Leone was achieved.
The Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone, Ambassador Habiss Ugbada remains upbeat about the current cordial relations. He has reconstituted the moribund Nigeria/Sierra Leone Chamber of Commerce to promote a viable and successful business atmosphere for Nigeria’s business interests in Sierra Leone. This is in line with the current Foreign Economic Diplomacy Drive FEDD of the Buhari government. The next Joint Commission meeting will be held in Nigeria and all major challenges affecting the two countries, particularly on the economic fronts, will be addressed.
The country’s relations with Africa and the world have reached an incredible height, due to the serious and forward-looking policies of the Bio administration.
The AU, ECOWAS, EU, UN and strings of multilateral institutions are now receptive to the people-centered policies of the Bio administration. President Bio has now secured the political leverage needed to successfully interface with global institutions for the benefit of the people and his sterling qualities are now universally admired as a once tested and trusted leader. He is on a rescue mission of decades of maladministration and misplacement of priorities of state governance.
His information Minister, Mohamed Rahman Swarray, who recently received the “Best Minister” award for 2018 by the Nigerian Business Awards Organization in Freetown, remains optimistic that his boss is on the right track and possesses what it takes to surmount and overcome the teething challenges he inherited, as the gains, within these first 8 months of governance, are gradually becoming visible to the people.