|Despite the challenges, Sierra Leoneans are paying attention|
By Jarrah Kawusu-Konte and Team
Despite the current socio-economic challenges facing the country, majority of Sierra Leoneans are paying attention to the efforts of the government to turn things around for the betterment of everyone. Even in times of trails and difficulties, our people have shown the capacity to keep their eyes on the ball; they had shown resilience during the Ebola epidemic that almost brought the country to its knees.
At a recent emergency pre-cabinet meeting, His Excellency the President, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma said that if we were able to fight and defeat Ebola, we should be able to put up a fight that will turn around the economic fortunes of the country. I cannot agree more with the president. Sierra Leoneans have shown resilience time without number. Our recovery after the war in the 1990s to early 2000s is a case in point in support of our capacity to fight back and come out strong which eventually endeared the country to many multi-lateral organizations like the UN, IMF and World Bank. Sierra Leone was affectionately singled out as an example of a post-war country that recovered in record time.
There’s no gainsaying that the Ebola outbreak disrupted every aspect of life, and economic growth particularly, was hit like a thunderbolt. Considering the deadly nature of the virus and the horrific narrative accompanying it, it wasn’t easy to break the back of the disease. But with perseverance, determination and resilience, Sierra Leoneans, led by their result-oriented leader, embarked on a massive social mobilization campaign for community ownership and responsibility of the fight against Ebola, which ultimately led to victory against the stubborn virus.
Similarly, if this engendered spirit of ownership and responsibility were replicated in the current economic conditions, it would not only bring an end to the economic crisis, but will accelerate growth in almost all sectors. It would be logical therefore to draw an inference that effective engagement of people would create effective and practical ways of proffering solutions, hence, reiterating the president’s call to look at practical ways to minimize the challenges facing the country.
The recent policy measures adopted by government have been a topical debate in almost every quarter of the population. These comprehensive measures have captured a significant proportion of public imagination concerning government spending and have led some sections of the public to liken President Koroma to the Tanzanian President, John Mogufuli, fondly called the “Bulldozer”. Like Mogufuli, Koroma is determined to cut unnecessary expenditure, shrink the number of overseas travels and put stringent measures in place to turn around what many knew was one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Such public display of prudence is bound to be a lasting legacy of President Koroma's leadership to restore equitable and sustainable economic growth in this country.
Unfortunately, the main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), in a press release issued on Thursday October 6, 2016, blamed the current economic slowdown on what they described as “lack of vision...and mismanagement of our economy” by the government. Apart from the fact that the APC assumed the mantle of office on the eve of the global financial crisis, with high commodity and oil prices, affecting almost every country on earth, the Ebola epidemic and a slump in iron ore prices have had their own devastating impact on the country’s economy as the SLPP itself admits.
Recently, the IMF, in an end-of mission press statement, described the economic reforms undertaken by the Government of Sierra Leone as largely on track and largely successful. “The economy proved resilient in the face of two major exogenous shocks: the Ebola epidemic and collapse of iron ore prices and associated loss of production in 2014 – 2015,” the fund said in its press release issued on September 27, 2016. What does the SLPP mean by “...it is deceitful for this government to wilfully blame our economic woes on the EVD...”? So is the IMF also “deceitful” for praising the economic reforms undertaken by the Government of Sierra Leone?
The World Economic Outlook (WEO) published a few days ago by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) presents IMF economists' analyses of global economic developments, issues affecting advanced, emerging, and developing economies like ours. The global economy is expected to slow to 3.1 percent in 2016 before recovering to 3.4 percent in 2017. However, risks to the outlook remain and include uncertainty regarding the impact of the UK Vote in favour of leaving the European Union (Brexit), weakness in aggregate demand and investment and low commodity prices.
Big and small nations all stand to be affected by this but the IMF has already recommended that countries need to rely on all policy levers—monetary, fiscal and structural—to lift growth prospects. Just yesterday the British Pound tumbled to lowest level against the dollar since 1985. This year, the US dollar index also hit a five month low.
According to the World Economic Outlook, “Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest economies continue to struggle with lower commodity revenues, weighing on growth in the region. Nigeria’s economy is forecast to shrink 1.7 percent in 2016, and South Africa’s will barely expand. By contrast, several of the region’s non-commodity exporters, including Côte d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Senegal, are expected to continue to grow at a robust pace of more than 5 percent this year.” The Monetary Policy Statement issued by the Bank of Sierra Leone following their Q3 2016 Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) meeting on September 28, notes that, in spite of the weak global economic environment, especially low commodity prices, real GDP growth is projected at 4.9 per cent in 2016, up from an earlier projection of 4.3 per cent. The MPC concluded that there is potential to further diversify the economy from ongoing investments in the agricultural sector, as domestic output was still below its potential.
But in all of this, one thing that gives some of us comfort is the fact that Sierra Leoneans are paying attention. They understand and appreciate the developmental and transformative efforts of this government since 2007. They know that the roads today are far better than 9 years ago; they know that electricity generation and distribution is far better than 9 years ago; Sierra Leoneans know that there has been considerable improvement in agricultural production and value addition. We all know that marine and fisheries sector is making tremendous contribution to the GDP more than ever before. A lot has happened on the legal landscape insofar as access to justice is concerned and the ordinary man and woman are paying rapt attention to the work of the Legal Aid Board.
In addition, it is good that the SLPP has found time to “rub some tongue” (a Mende saying) on the current economic challenges facing our country. It’s a good thing to find time to weigh in on our country’s socio-economic melancholy, especially when they are only well known over a decade now for infighting and political bickering. But then the people are paying attention to all this and many still believe the SLPP is unfit to serve as an alternative for now. They still don’t have a clue as to how to run their party let alone a whole country in a world plagued by recession.
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