It’s been a year and half since President Julius Maada Bio assumed office on April 4 2018. In this third and final series of his economic recovery program, the journey has been tortuous, filled with twists and turns. It takes a strong leadership style of Bio’s statue to embark on such difficult journey that is, today, slowly yielding signs of recovery. A cabinet reshuffle was done two weeks ago. As in other African countries like Nigeria experiencing similar economic challenges, the journey is painful, but the light to prosperity is imminently visible
ABUBAKAR HASHIM/Sierra Leone
The current economic agenda for most African countries, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana inclusive, is broadening the economic landscape for Foreign Direct Investment (FDI). Since he assumed office a year and half ago, President Bio has been criss- crossing different countries, attending strings of investment fora, from the Forum on China /Africa Conference (FOCAC) to Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD) and quite recently, the Russia/Africa summit.
In all these fora, President Bio, along other African Presidents in attendance, have uncovered avenues for potential economic development, particularly in agriculture, tourism, manufacturing, healthcare, education and mining. It is estimated by a recent World Bank survey that Sierra Leone needs over $500 million investment in key economic sectors to create jobs for its teeming youthful population, tackle chronic poverty and accelerate economic growth. According to the survey, 60% of the country’s active population are long-term unemployed, 40%are underemployed or partially employed, while even those on permanent employment are on non-living-wage salaries. Added to these burning challenges, latest survey conducted by statistics Sierra Leone, in 1.2 million households in the country revealed 56.8% live in poor households and 12.9% in extreme poverty.
These teething and burning economic challenges require a hard- thought- implementation strategy. President Bio, a once tested and trusted Head of State during the military era and now a civilian President, is desperately yearning for success. He is seeking partnerships, particularly private sector players, to help achieve his $2 Billion infrastructure program in the next 3 years.
Key among this infrastructure program is the proposed bridge across the River Rokel estuary from the sprawling town of Lungi to the capital city of Freetown. The project will create 5000 jobs, leading to a new financial capital in Lungi. Other components of the project include a rapid development of the agricultural sector where over 60% of Sierra Leoneans are employed directly or indirectly.
This $2 Billion infrastructure program for the next 3 years is headed by Dr. John Tambi, an internationally- renowned multi- sectoral guru who, once headed NEPAD of the AU, coordinating 10 projects, championed by 9 Presidents in Africa, including the Trans-Saharan Gas Pipeline in Nigeria.
Tambi, an indigene from Southern Province where Bio hails from, spoke to TheNEWS. He remarked that……” President Bio will turn around the economy in all sectors”. Speaking further, he remarked that “there is an upcoming new financial capital at Lungi where the international airport is located, leading to a massive economic growth for the country”.
But how will President Bio generate this $2 Billion to turn around the infrastructural outlook of the country? Tambi revealed the strategy: The source of this fund will be multi-sectoral, mainly international, anchored on various models including public private partnership (PPP) or Build Operate and Transfer (BOT).
On the international front as source of revenue, the country has been given a pass mark by the IMF, ADB and other international financial institutions of massive financial support due to Bio’s sterling domestic economic performances, including huge revenue generation and cuts in public expenditures.
On the local fronts, the National Revenue Authority (NRA), under the leadership of Dr Samuel Jibao, has beefed up revenue mobilization and now targets Le 6.5 Trillion in 2020 fiscal year.
Sierra Leone, under the leadership of President Bio has also fulfilled the US-based Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) score-card this year. The country scaled through 11 out of 20 criteria set by MCC, thereby eligible for a $600 Million grant to fast track infrastructural development programs in energy, water, education and other critical development sectors.
The country is now been regarded as a credible partner towards development programs anchored on the political will by the government.
The country, however, fell short in fiscal, access to credit, land rights including costs and time to register property.
The MCC eligibility score-mark by the Bio-led government is a positive economic indicator towards the recovery process.
The country’s economy is now on the digital trajectory. President Bio recently launched the National Innovation and Digital Strategy (NIDS) on 1 November at the Bintumani International Conference Center, geared towards attaining the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the UN. The Directorate of Science, Technology and Innovation (DSTI) at the Presidency put together the report that is aimed at meeting the global 4th Industrial Revolution. The DSTI report will further reduce corruption and boost productivity of an economy that had been severely battered by past administrations.
The current economic agenda of the Bio-led government is a sweeping departure from over reliance on mining activities as done in past. A recent report, dated October 15, co-authored by the World Bank and a consortium of CSOs, revealed that “revenue contribution from the mining industry to GDP has dropped significantly to 0.07%, while the revenue to total government revenue generated also deteorated to 5% in 2018. The mining sector boomed in 2013, contributed 14% to GDP and in 2014, contributed 12% to GDP.
This new focus on other sources of revenue away from the traditional mining sector is fundamentally the hallmark and the focal point of the current economic agenda of President Bio.
His economic management team, including Finance Minister, JJ Saffa, infrastructure CEO, John Tambi, Central Bank Governor, Kelfala Kallon a few others are unrepentantly optimistic of a turnaround of these 18 months’ journey of economic recovery that was triggered by decades of mismanagement by past governments.
There is now a relative peaceful political atmosphere in the country with the meeting by President Bio with his predecessor former President Koroma on September 12 at State House, leading to signing of a joint communique.
The signed communique focused on diversed, national issues including peace, good governance, national cohesion, rule of law, human rights, the economy and state security.
The Communique has finally put to rest the tensed political atmosphere generated since President Bio assumed power 18 months ago. It has doused the climate of political tension, brouhaha and melancholy that characterized the period leading to the peace conference tagged Bintumani 3 last April. It has now paved way for rapid economic development the country desperately needs at the moment.
President Bio’s economic agenda to reposition the country’s decrepit economic landscape is now on a take off stage for a turnaround leading to growth and poverty reduction. His economic strategies are similar to other African Presidents like Buhari, Kagami and others, who inherited decrepit economies due to bad governance and maladministration
His ultimate success depends inevitably on the collective will of the people for a rebirth of the psyche and entrepreneurial ways of economic engagements. Sierra Leoneans should take control of ownership of the economic destiny of the country if the country is to develop like Singapore or Malaysia
On the eve of presentation of government’s budget 2020 by finance minister to parliament for the financial year, a major cabinet reshuffle was effected by President Bio. 3 new ministries- Defense, Environment, Gender and Children’s Affairs have been created, while 4 new Deputies-Health, Finance, Environment, Agriculture have also been established, leading to an increase in numbers of ministries from 26 to 28 and Deputy Ministries from 26 to 30.
ECONOMIC RELATIONS WITH NIGERIA, AFRICA AND THE WORLD
Nigeria’s economic and investment profile in Sierra Leone have been visibly on the increase, spanning in the banking, manufacturing, construction, pharmaceuticals and services sectors. Out of 13 commercial banks that are currently operating in the country, 7 are Nigerian- owned. Though these banks are headquartered in Nigeria, they are Sierra Leonean banks as they are registered in the country, paying taxes and providing employment opportunities for the citizens, thereby promoting economic growth and development.
Dangote Cement and Vitafoam are visibly operating in the country, providing high grade and quality products for the populace.
Emzor pharmaceuticals have become a household name in the health sector, with preferential consumption of its products by the locals, particularly Panadol and allied products.
As a way to strengthen the economic relations of the two countries, the Nigerian High Commissioner to Sierra Leone and Dean, Diplomatic Corps, Ambassador Habiss Ugbada has revamped the Nigerian Chamber of Commerce, Industry and Agriculture in Sierra Leone to become a veritable platform to protect Nigerian businesses in Sierra Leone and businesses with Nigerian interests in order to enhance a cordial relationship with his host country.
Operations of the chamber have been receptive and held in high esteem by President Bio and the authorities, who, now see Nigeria as “an indispensable economic partner in Sierra Leone”. This position was recently echoed by the country’s Central Bank Governor, Professor Kelfala Kallon in an interview, that “Nigeria is a key player in all ramifications in the Sierra Leone economy today’.
The country’s relations with other African countries and the world have been cordial, starting with the Mano River Union MRU, ECOWAS and AU countries. President Bio’s external economic relations with European, Asian, American and the Arabian countries have been beneficial and fruitful. The country, under his stewardship, is now a respectable economic player and a credible entity in global economic undertakings. His anti-corruption crusade, anchored on sound people-centered policies, particularly on education and youth empowerment have received global encomiums, making the country the new cynosure of all eyes in the international comity of nations.