Salone News

Speech by outgoing IMF Representative

22 August 2019 at 18:09 | 1694 views

Speech delivered at a farewell cocktail for Dr. Iyabo Masha, IMF Representative 2015-2019, Radisson Blu Hotel, Freetown, August 20, 2019.

I hold the belief that the best place to talk about someone is behind their back. But tonight, I have had the honor of listening to tributes from Minister of Finance Jacob J. Saffa; Head of the European Union Delegation Ambassador Tom Vens; Bank of Sierra Leone Deputy Governor Dr. Ibrahim Stevens and the Resident Advisor Dr. Gani Gerguri; UN Resident Coordinator (a.i.), Dr. Kim Dickson, World Bank Country Manager Dr. Gayle Martin; and Executive Director of Native Consortium Civil Society Organization Edmund Abu. The very warm sentiments expressed are very much appreciated, but that does not reduce my sadness to be leaving Sierra Leone.
Therefore, I want to use this as an opportunity to talk about the country that I am leaving as it is important to remind all of you of why I am standing before you tonight in the first place. What follows are snippets of my experience working as IMF Resident Representative under two Presidents, three ministers of finance, two Financial Secretaries, four Governors, one Deputy Governor of BSL; and a larger group of senior officials. I want to thank all of them for the opportunity, their professionalism and collegiality.

When I arrived Freetown, I could never have imagined what was in store for me. Four years down the line, I am thankful for the opportunity to work on an extraordinary array of matters and issues, including witnessing first hand a very engaging political transition in 2018. During the period, more than $294 million was disbursed under three different IMF lending programs. The past four years have also witnessed a huge expansion in IMF capacity building and technical assistance delivery. As some of you may know, one of IMF’s contributions to its member countries is assisting to develop the capacity of nationals to build institutions that improve economic outcomes. Identify where the gaps are is an essential part of the work of a Resident Representative, and so since 2016, every year, more than 20 technical and capacity development missions, including training of government officials and the press abroad, has been undertaken.

The coverage of our technical assistance program is quite wide, and some of the results are already evident in the economic management sphere. Fiscal management process and legislative technical assistance focused on transparent use of public finance, operation of treasury single account, tax reforms, public expenditure management, procurement reforms, extractive industry fiscal regime, assessment and management of macro fiscal risks, public sector wage and public debt management. On central banking policy and financial sector development, apart from an array of technical assistance missions, IMF Resident Advisors worked collaboratively with their Bank of Sierra Leone counterparts, and assisted with the introduction of risk-based supervision as well as full scale implementation of BSL’s Financial Stability mandate. A strong engagement with Parliament facilitated the passage of changes to existing laws that strengthen the ability of Bank of Sierra Leone to deliver on its price stability mandate, preserve its independence and improve its organizational set up. Together with reforms of the banking system, these will facilitate a financial system that is safer and sounder and in a better position to meet the needs of the economy.

The people I cross paths with have been truly remarkable, in terms of their dedication to the job as well as the respect and honor they brought to our interactions. They were committed to getting it right - and to doing the right thing. I cannot mention all but permit me to recognize staff of Bank of Sierra Leone and Ministry of Finance that are the focal point of IMF program discussion and interactions. Having worked as IMF Economist on many countries across Africa and Asia, I believe Sierra Leone has every right to be proud of the quality of its officials and their dedication to the common good. I should also not forget to mention the former and current Clerk of Parliament, Ibrahim Sesay and Paran Tarawali for their support in seeing through some of the more difficult legislations that underpinned the reforms.

Development partners play a crucial role in Sierra Leone, and I appreciate the cooperation that I received from my colleagues in the development community, including the United Nations system, bilateral and multilateral development partners. Working together with them, I have come to appreciate how much of a difference development aid makes in countries like Sierra Leone. While I understand some of the concerns of government about development aid, I would say that I am leaving Sierra Leone as a stronger supporter of development aid than I was when I assumed this assignment.

The Civil Society Organization space in Sierra Leone is one of the most active I have come across. They cover a wide range of issues and advocate for the less privileged. It is heartwarming to see how engaged they are on issues of the day, and how much they keep government on its toes. This is what makes for a society in which both the ruler and the ruled are aware of their obligations not only to their supporters but to the generality of the population. My experience in Sierra Leone has taught me that by their advocacy, civil societies organizations are an essential check, and they assist the government to get to where citizens want it to be.

Some of the more memorable experience of my stay is the time I spent traveling around the country, getting to understand the economic conditions and the lives that people actually live, not the one we learnt in economics textbooks. My travels have been truly revealing. In the middle of nowhere I see that signboard on a DFiD, EU or USAID sponsored program in a remote community with little or no government presence. As I walk through the mines, industries and agriculture projects, I hear investors talking about their opportunities and challenges, and I recognize the ramifications of policies that development practitioners – and I use this to include government officials - pursue or do not pursue!

I have made a lot of friends that are not directly connected with my work. This should not be surprising, since the people of Sierra Leone are hospitable, friendly and open. Perhaps matters were helped by the fact that a good chunk of the Sierra Leoneans are of Yoruba ancestry like me! I appreciate the social cohesion and religious tolerance in the country, and if this were a deliberately crafted social policy, things could not have worked better.

As I close this statement, I want to thank you all for the opportunity to interact with you, and for making this a very professionally and personally rewarding experience for me. As development practitioners, I believe that for a good number of those present here tonight, our paths will cross in the not too distant future. I am optimistic that I will continue to see my MoF and BSL counterparts at the margins of the Spring and Annual Meetings of IMF-World Bank. As for others, in today’s interconnected world, everyone is a click away.

Finally, I want us to remember that as development practitioners, human beings are the ultimate beneficiaries or casualties of our policies. We owe it to ourselves and future generations to craft a society that is inclusive, spreads prosperity to the generality of its population, creates jobs, invests heavily in human and physical capital, and protects the environment. The Sierra Leone government has already embarked on a journey in this direction through the medium-term National Development Plan (NDP). I thank the Ministry of Economic Planning and Development very much for the opportunity to contribute to the development of the plan through the Technical Steering Committee. The road may sometimes be rough, and the goals sometimes seem out of reach. But with policy discipline, cooperation of development partners, continuous respect for property rights of both local and foreign investors, I see a huge flood light at the end of the tunnel. The opportunities should not be missed.

Let me leave you with how British preacher John Wesley captured the essence of my thoughts three hundred years ago: Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, in all the places you can, at all the times you can, to all the people you can, as long as ever you can”.
Thank you, and so long!