Opinion

Holding our Government Accountable

6 May 2009 at 22:22 | 710 views

By Mohamed C. Bah - Ex-President Sierra Leone Community, Atlanta, GA.

The government Budget and Statement of Economic/Financial policies for the financial year 2009 delivered by the former Minister of Finance and Economic Development,Mr. David O. Carew last November in the chamber of parliament offers a grim reminder of our nation’s troubling economy,poor financial infrastructures,under-performing ministries,some public institutions and the inadequate fiscal/budgetary remedies to make them corruption-free,transparent and financially viable. I do, however, agree that the global rise in food and fuel prices undermined government’s effort in preserving macroeconomic stability,controlling higher inflationary rates and building a strong foreign reserves for the country.

Impressively, it was refreshing to note that the Executive Board of the IMF gave Sierra Leone a favorable ratings in terms of its overall performance in implementing some prudent fiscal and monetary policies

towards the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF). This review means, government is showing some good intention to enhance the growth prospect of the economy and improve the socio-economic well-being of our people. Even so, the need for broader and consistent reforms in budgetary planning,public procurements system,public accounting and expenditure tracking,internal and external audit systems with a strong anti-corruption actions remains to be seen on an implementationary level.

REGIONAL INTEGRATION

I found it very ironic that Sierra Leone is moving forward with the commitment to integrate with the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) and the 2005 Banjul action plan for the introduction of a common currency by December 1, 2009.As ambitious such regional efforts are, we need first of all to rebuild our weak economy, focus on adequately delivering public services,industrialize our work force to create jobs and grow a market oriented economy. Then, we can sit on these “regionalization conferences” and take an active role. Like the African Union (AU) and other African Regional groups, the failures of its member nations to pay their dues have always rendered these institutions bankrupt only to rely on international funding. Thus,a regional integrated market, free tariff system and new trade policies among West African nations, should be the “baby steps” approach to the realization of a common currency.

DOMESTIC REVENUES

On the other hand, according to the budgetary report by the Minister of finance,Mr. David O. Carew,Sierra Leone’s national revenue including grants for the financial year 2009 is projected at Le 1.2 trillion. Conversely,total expenditures and net lending is projected at Le 1.49 trillion (21.9% of GDP).It is numerically clear, from an economic standard,that Sierra Leone is spending more money than it can generate. The most disturbing components of the expenditure units are: the cost of financing domestic borrowing (Le 127.6 billion),interest payments on international loans (Le12.9 billion),Ministries and Developmental Agencies (MDA)’s procurement expenditures (not specified), non-salary and capital expenditures(Le 460.2 billion). These huge expenditures significantly shrinks the national revenue, while cost cutting strategies are never applied to save money on national priorities like energy,mining, infrastructures and Fisheries. Additionally,the national budget deficit, including grants is projected at Le 236.8 billion(3.5% GDP).

Unfortunately,Sierra Leone’s budget deficit would not be reduced or eliminated by trimming wasteful spending or borrowing from our national savings or foreign reserves,it would be finance largely by foreign loans and grants amounting to Le 150 billion(2.2% GDP).Indeed,our nation is heavily burden an dependent on donor money instead of maximizing on our revenue generating sectors like mining.agriculture,fisheries and forestry. Like income taxes,customs and excises,road user chargers and other new tax system,we can increase our revenue potentials without “robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

UNDER-PERFORMING INSTITUTIONS

Indeed,most Sierra Leoneans will find it mind-troubling to believe that mining revenues last year, was Le 8.9 billion, MDA’s was Le 7.6 billion, income taxes was Le7.5 billion,Custom and excise taxes was Le 13.6 billions and just to name a few. Let me briefly profile some of the few public enterprises responsible for the delivery of public utility services including electricity, water,transportation and port services that are under-performing agencies. At the end of August 2008,total revenue collected by National Power Authority (NPA) amounted to Le 87.6 billion while total expenditure was Le 90.7 billion resulting in a net operating loss of Le3.1 billion. The Sierra Leone Port Authority (SLPA) made a loss of Le1.14 billion in 2007 but subsequently made an operating profit of Le 2.1 billion in the first half of 2008.The Sierra Leone State Lottery made a loss of Le136.9 million while the Sierra Leone Postal Services incurred a loss of Le 34.1 million and Sierra Leone Airport Authority had a shortfall of Le3.6 billion in 2008.

PROMISING AGENCIES

However, Guma Valley made a projected profit of Le 1.4 billion in 2008,National Insurance Trust increased it gains to Le 780 million,Sierra Leone Road Transport Corporation(SLRTC) estimated profit was Le 604.9 million. Rokel Commercial Bank (RCB) made a profit of Le 4.4 billions while Sierra Leone Commercial Bank earned a profit of Le7.1 billion with a 21% growth in customer deposits.

Despite the good news in some of these public institutions,the biggest challenges affecting our national revenues and budgetary implementation is the culture of CORRUPTION. Many government ministries are not following the basic guidelines of the procurement system by engaging in contractual obligations without the Ministry of Finance’s approvals. There are problems of budgetary planning and monitoring,inexperience accounting practices,poor financial management system,lack of public expenditure tracking,no accounting and reporting,no internal and external audit to obtain data explanations with an analysis of activities or transactions.

For example,when the auditor General was directed to audit, Ministries, and Developmental Agencies of the large sums of claims owed to private contractors from 2005 to 2007 in the amount of Le 85.4 billion, her submitted report concluded that only Le 53 billion was deem eligible for payment. A discrepancy of

Le 32.4 was calculated as money that could not be verified or accounted for by every accounting

principles and standards.

BUDGET ALLOCATION

I was deeply worried about government budget allocation to priority sectors such as education,health and agriculture which did not receive an increase funding level as top categories. Energy and Water Supply, Infrastructure and Transportation are necessary priorities, but the budget funding are inadequate and did not meet the scale of their public demands nor the cost of operational services. Inevitably, these agencies are liable to under perform and becomes a hallmarks of another “ failed government institutions”.

If the key objectives of the 2009 budget of Sierra Leone are to pursue a prudent fiscal and proactive monetary policies,to accelerate economic growth by investing in agriculture and infrastructures and improve the delivery of basic public services,then government needs to know how to better manage it finances without living from paycheck to paycheck from the international multi-donors. The welfare of Sierra Leoneans would not improve by carbon copy policies and programs that are never seriously implemented with measurable results. Poverty can be reduced by sound fiscal policies,transparent financial institutions that keep tracking of its activities, a government that build a national savings account or foreign reserves more than the $211.4 million it has in 2008 and the “love-for-country mentality” by public servants,who understands that the people’s money is not a personal checking account.

CONCLUSION

Until,our national leaders accept the responsibility that: we the people “must hold them accountable”to making Sierra Leone as good as its promises. That everyday,no Sierra Leonean should have to go to bed hungry or live in a nation where their potentials may never be realize or an unborn child who may never walk on the face of this earth because of a deficient maternal delivery system or a struggling family who may never hold their grand children because of a low life expectancy rate and a promising people who unwillingly do not belief in the greatness of its nation, because of the acute shortages of legacy-builders. Until,those who are privilege to dictating the future of our nation knows that history would not be kind to them if they do nothing to improve the socio-economic well-being of the people,Sierra Leone will continue to grow a balloon deficit that will affect the functioning of public institutions and the government as a whole .

If our goal as citizens of Sierra Leone is to help our government by becoming “conscious objectors” and leading the way by telling the truth-Sierra Leone must reinvent itself from what President Barak Obama called a “ change from top to bottom”.Only when we become true to how we spend the people’s money,true to how we share their struggles,true to how we stand to change their lives and true to why we choose to serve them, we may be -those that occupies the throne of power- committing a grave mistake of depriving a nation and its citizens into enjoying what one of the architect of the American Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson philosophically described as mankind’s gift from God that we are endowed: “ with certain inalienable rights,that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

What do you think about this article? Go to my blog: http://newsierraleone.blogspot.com.

Blog on other articles: Is Sierra Leone an ethno centric nation? Is Sierra Leone winning or losing the war on corruption?What legacy are we building for the new generation, Sierra Leone needs trade not aid......etc E-mail:mcbah4440@yahoo.com.

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