Despite the different challenges posed by Covid-19, Government of Sierra Leone comes up with strategies to mitigate its impact. It is called Quick Action Economic Response Programme, QAERP
Even before the first index case on 31 March, the Sierra Leone Government had initiated steps, nationwide, to protect importation of COVID-19 from neighboring Guinea and Liberia, where it first struck and to address its expected impacts on the people.
The Bio-led government had been resilient in the fight to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the nation by embarking on a two – pronged approach: A Quick Action Economic Response Program (QAERP) and A Health Response Sector Program (HRSP), that are, today, yielding dividends as the country maintains a relative economic stability and an impressive COVID-19 recovery record among West African Countries.
The Quick Action Economic Response Programme (QAERP)
The Ministry of Finance, in collaboration with key economic players in the management space like Bank of Sierra Leone (BSL) and the National Revenue Authority(NRA), have taken the lead to alleviate the impact of covid-19 on the Sierra Leone economy, by preparing and rolling out the Quick Action Economic Response Programme (QAERP). The main objective of QAERP is to maintain macro-economic and financial stability and mitigate the impact of covid-19 shock on businesses and households.
WORKING DETAILS OF THE QAERP
An elaborate strategic master plan for the execution of QAERP was developed by the Ministry of Finance, in collaboration with key stakeholders in the Sierra Leone economic landscape. A governance structure consisting of a high level coordinating group and technical working group for all pillars of the program was established. The Ministry of Finance hosts the Secretariat co-chairs these coordinating platforms, with the UK Department for International Development (DFID).
A monitoring and evaluation framework of Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) with implementation milestones was also developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders to monitor the implementation of QAERP to ensure accountability in the use of resources. The KPIs and implementation milestones are constantly tracked and monitored via a real- time, online dashboard, updated weekly, by the pillar working groups and validated by the QAERP secretariat.
Government is implementing the QAERP program on 5 key strategic pillars
Pillar 1: Building and maintaining an adequate stock level of essential commodities at stable prices
To this end, the Bank of Sierra Leone provided a Special Credit Facility of Le500 billion (US$50 million) at a single digit concessionary interest rate to facilitate the production, importation and distribution of essential commodities to ensure steady supplies of these items in the local markets at stable and affordable prices. As at August 2020, a total of Le 323 billion (US$32.3 million) has been accessed by importers and manufacturers.
The NRA has also been deferring taxes due for importation and manufacturing of essential commodities by allowing importers of essential commodities to utilize the customs warehouse suspense regime. The normal herculean requirement of a commercial bank performance bond was relaxed to facilitate importers to use easier- accessed bonds issued by insurance companies. The NRA also waved the normal application fees, with income tax relief for initial three months to the hospitality and aviation sectors that are hardest hit. This intervention has ensured the uninterruped availability of essential commodities, especially rice, fuel and other basic items in the country.
Pillar 2: Providing support to businesses (SMEs), to enable continuity in operations, including provision of loan facility at concessional interest rates
Key activities include, among others,the development of a National Micro Credit Scheme. Government is at an advanced stage in designing the National micro finance program or Munafa Fund, with an initial capital of Le 50 billion provided in the 2020 Supplementary Budget to be provided to SMEs at concessionary interest rate to complement the Special Credit Facility of the Central Bank of Sierra Leone.
Pillar 3: Providing Safety Nets to vulnerable Groups, including expand on existing cash transfer programme implemented by National Commission for Social Action NaSCA and provide food assistance to vulnerable groups
. With support from development partners, Government is providing funding to NaCSA to expand the coverage of its Cash Transfer programme in order to cushion the adverse impact of COVID-19 on vulnerable groups. Certainly, receiving cash during emergency has given Sierra Leoneans especially extremely poor people the autonomy to manage their own expenses, start up a business and smoothen consumption. The recent Covid-19 Emergency Cash Transfer has proven to be an effective and efficient means of minimising the impact of the global pandemic especially on vulnerable groups like poor persons with disabilities and other extremely poor citizens whose survival depend on their daily routine.
Upon the declaration of State of Public Health Emergency by His Excellency, President Julius Maada Bio, and following the two partial lockdowns, the Government of Sierra Leone through the Ministry of Finance made available Le 4 billion to the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) to provide cash and in-kind support to more than 11, 000 persons with disabilities.
With support from the World Bank, Government has expanded the existing Cash Transfer programme implemented by NaCSA from 35,000 to 70,000 beneficiaries including people with disabilities.Included in the World Bank additional financing of USD30 million, was a contingency fund of US$4 million which was utilized to develop an Emergency Cash Transfer Scheme (ECT) targeting households with vulnerable informal sector workers including those working in micro and small enterprises and low paid workers in service sector in the capital of Freetown and the regional headquarter towns of Bo, Makeni, Portloko and Kenema.From June to July 2020, NaCSA reached out to 29,000 beneficiaries.
Government provided bail-out packages to the Sierra Leone Airport Authority, the Sierra Leone Civil Aviation Authority, Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation and Sierra Leone Postal Services whose operations were disrupted by COVID-19..Given that tourism is the hardest hit sector of the economy and most of the workers have not been working on a fulltime basis, Government provided 3-month salary compensation for workers in the hotel industry to cushion the effects of COVID-19on their livelihoods.
With support from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and as part of the Relief and Resettlement Programmes, NaCSA targeted 194 households of Refugees and Persons of Concerns. These efforts are visible in Kono District where 680 beneficiaries who are engaged in garbage collection and disposal received cash transfers.
Positive Impacts of NaCSACash Transfers during COVID-19
A simple calculation of the total number of the beneficiaries multiplied by the benefits size, indicates that just for one intervention, the sum of Le37,961 billion has been injected into the local economy.
A total of two million Sierra Leoneans (directly and indirectly) benefited from the Covid-19 Cash Transfers. There are stories of businesses being resuscitated, lives transformed, livelihoods enhanced, through access to cash provided to beneficiaries. There are evidences to show that the cash transfers are an effective means of addressing shocks and emergency in Sierra Leone.
A 35-year-old beneficiary, Ahmed Kallon, tells his story below
“I lost my parents during the civil war. In my presence; they were slaughtered by the Rambo squad in Daru, Kenema, Eastern Sierra Leone. That sad incident was the beginning of my suffering and as a child, schooling was not my primary agenda but means of surviving on daily basis. I had to move from Daru to Kenema where I joined a friend who sells cassava leaves and grind it using manual grinder. For more than ten years in this business, I have never received a cent from any individual or government but recently, I received a sum of SLL 1,309,000from the Government of Sierra Leone through NaCSA. This money has transformed my life as I have completed the payment of my grinders and part of the money was used to strengthen and roof the broken wooden shop where I do my business. Honestly, my daily earnings have been increased because the burden of paying ‘master money’ has been cut off.’’
Pillar 4: Supporting Labour – intensive road works
The Sierra Leone Roads Authority SLRA is among the lead sectors in the employment of youths, through labor-intensive road projects across the country during the Covid -19 pandemic. SLRA has instituted a pack-load of road projects, ongoing, mainly funded by the Government of Sierra Leone with assistance from foreign donors.
During Covid-19 period, SLRA is rehabilitating 1,200 kilometers of unpaved trunk and feeder roads and carrying out minor repairs of 200 km of Township roads, due to contraction of business activities and loss of jobs by youths. These labour – intensive road works will not only provide jobs for up to 5,000 youths but will link farmers to markets.
Pillar 4: Labour- Intensive Public Works
The 2020 Supplementary Budget allocated Le460 billion (US$46 million) for the completion of critical road projects including the Hill Side-Bye Pass Road, Lumley-Tokeh Road and spot improvement on the Kabala-Krubunla road in the north of Sierra Leone as well as township streets in the East and West of Freetown, Bo, kenema, and Bonthe. The objective is to create jobs especially for youths in the rural areas while at the same time improving basic infrastructure to support private investment activities.
- Planned donor funded road projects include:
- Kailahun – Koindu – Guinea – Liberia Border Roads –
- This is the last segment of a regional road connecting Guinea and Liberia at the tri-axial border.
- The African Development Bank (AfDB) has committed 40 million Dollars funding for the construction of the road leading to the borders of both Liberia and Guinea and the bridge linking Guinea at Yenga.
- The project awaits the AfDB board approval.
- There is a funding gap
- Mattru Jong – Tikonko Junction Road –
- Funding for this road has been committed by BADEA.
- BADEA has concluded an appraisal mission.
- The first segment will involve the Mattru Jong – Kpetema (42.5 km)
- The GoSL has requested for an advance procurement of both the civil and supervision contracts.
- The execution of the project is awaiting the BADEA approval.
- Construction of Bridges at Hand-Pulled Ferry Crossings –
- A programme to construct bridges over thirteen (13) hand-pulled ferry crossings across the country.
- Project will be partly funded by the World Bank through SCaADeP and the EU.
- Project preparation and the Procurement of consultants had commenced but all processes have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19.
Additional roads have been identified for feasibility studies include:
- Western Area – 23.6 km
- Eastern / Southern Region – 416 km
- Northern Province – 195 km
- Pedestrian Overpasses and Flyovers at Strategic locations in Freetown Municipality
- Assessment of completed road facilities in Western Area to ascertain the possibility of tolling system
This pillar of the QAERP seeks to provide support to the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry MAF, for the local production of food items, including provision of farm inputs such as agricultural tools, chemicals and seedlings to farmers; support farmers’ access to tractors and other farms machineries as well as provision of extension services to farmers. The COVID-19 Response plan by MAF to boost local food production focuses on large scale mechanical cultivation of rice and other food crops to boost local production. The full details of the Agriculture Response Plan as part of the QAERP implementation are explained by the Hon. Minister of Agriculture in his interview with Abu Bakar Hashim (In subsequent pages)
In addition to these 5 pillars on QAERP, Government also established a Macro- fiscal Working Pillar to monitor and advice on the micro- economic impact of covid-19, which is a supporting tool on the external resource mobilization. A private sector coordination platform has been constituted to facilitate a tripartite dialogue between government, private sectors and development partners to streamline QAERP actions to meet up private sector expectations.