Where does S/Leone Stand in Achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015?

17 October 2009 at 00:44 | 1084 views

By John Mannnah, Maryland, USA.

A lot of talk has been coming out of S/Leone of late about the chronic hardships that permeates the length and breadth of the country and their effects on citizens, with the exception of the few political and business elites.

A cursory investigation into the socio-economic situation on the ground will inform readers that the concerns people have been raising are not just out of their imaginations, political ideology or social biases.

There is enough evidence to justify people’s worries about the deteriorating economic situation in S/Leone. Economic growth which was estimated at 7 percent just two years ago has been revised to 4 percent. The exchange rate has deteriorated precipitously, from Le 2800.00 to US$1.00 two years ago to Le 4000.00 to US$1.00. Inflation is at double digits, and the country’s foreign exchange reserve that was built up by the outgone government has been depleted to worrying levels.

The question then becomes what happened to a country that just two years ago was on course to achieving some of the targets of the Millennium Development Goals of at a minimum, the Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015?

The answer to that question lies in the lack of political will and processes that allow broad participation in governance, build in checks on executive authority, and enable citizens to hold the current administration in Freetown accountable.

The Millennium declaration signed by 189 countries in September 2000 at the United Nations Millennium Summit represents a partnership of countries determined “to create an environment-at the national and global levels alike- which is conducive to development and the elimination of poverty.” This declaration led to the adoption of the MDGs, which outlined a specific agenda for reducing global poverty.

The goals as outlined in the maiden document are as follows: 1. Eradication of extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. 2. Achieve universal primary education. 3. Promote gender equality and empower women. 4. Reduce child mortality. 5. Improve maternal health. 6. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases. 7. Ensure environmental sustainability. and 8. Develop a global partnership for development.

The goals as outlined above, represents an unprecedented level of consensus on what is needed to reduce poverty over the short, and the long term. As a consequence, the MDGs are uniting the efforts of virtually all organizations working in development to meet these goals.

This piece will, against this backdrop, look into the strides that the governments of S/Leone, past and present, and the international community together with its multilateral and bilateral members have made/not made to eradicate chronic poverty and hunger as we know them in S/Leone.

At the center of the strategy to achieve the MDGs and related development outcomes must be the promotion of stronger economic growth. Growth directly reduces income poverty and expands resources for use toward reaching the nonincome goals. Thus, the first call of business for S/Leone is economic growth, and it needs to be stronger than the recently revised 4% growth per annum. S/Leone needs to double its average growth rate to about 8 percent continuous growth until 2015.

S/Leone will achieve this level of growth with accelerated policy and governance reform to improve the enabling climate for growth. Macroeconomic stability and openness, creates a good regulatory and institutional environment for private sector activity, adequate physical and financial infrastructure, and better public sector governance.

Can these goals be achieved, given the constraints faced by a country that is emerging from an eleven years rebel imbroglio? Absolutely, it can be done with the right leadership and political will.

The road to economic growth and poverty reduction for S/Leone according to the World Bank started with its Poverty Reduction Strategic Paper (PRSP) in 2005. The Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSP) describes a country’s macroeconomic, structural, social policies and programs to promote economic growth and reduce poverty, as well as associated external financing needs. S/Leone’s PRSP was prepared by the out gone government through a participatory process that involved civil society and development partners, including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This document provides the basis for World Bank and IMF assistance as well as debt relief under the HIPC (Heavily Indebted Poor Countries) Initiative. S/Leone’s PRSP was country driven, comprehensive, partnership-oriented and participatory. It provided a good basis for transition towards sustained long-term development beyond post-conflict requirements of the war that ended in January 2002. The PRSP was robust and provided an adequate framework for reducing poverty in S/Leone. The main strengths of the PRSP included: ( i) its documentation of the conclusion of the post conflict phase of life in contemporary S/Leone; (ii) the provision of a poverty diagnosis; and (iii) the articulation of a strategy backing a wide range of policies, aimed at reducing poverty, unemployment and food security, all goals that converge towards the Millennium Development Goals.

The Sierra Leone government managed by the former S/Leone Peoples Party adopted the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) in 2005. The government achieved this feat by a nationwide consultative process, ensuring the inclusion of all stakeholders in the form of Participatory Poverty Assessments (PPAs) and Focus Group Discussions (FGDs). The results were formidable and impressive as it reflected the views and aspirations of the people in policy design as well as their experiences in dealing with poverty related issues.

At the completion of the PRSP document, the then government and its development partners held a Consultative Group (CG) meeting in London to deepen the partnership between the government and its Development partners around the SL-PRSP, focusing on monitoring results and improving aid modalities.

The outcome of the Consultative Group (CG) meeting in London was the pledge by development partners to provide an estimated US$864 million to support implementation of the programs as articulated in the Active Matrix and Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) for the period 2005-2007.

The SL-PRSP is constructed around three pillars: Good Governance, Peace and Security; Food Security Job Creation and Growth; and Human Development. In turn, these pillars incorporate the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MGDs) as part of the goals of its development policy. Thus the indicators identified for monitoring the PRS are also closely linked to the MDGs.

The comprehensive nature of the SL-PRSP and the reforms embarked upon by the then SLPP government allowed her to reach the so-called “completion point” under the enhanced HIPC Initiative on 15th December 2006. This meant that the Freetown government had complied with all economic reform prescriptions given by the World Bank and the IMF, thus declared a “healthy” economy, dedicated to fight poverty, and as such, a country worthwhile giving debt relief. The total benefit that S/Leone enjoyed under the HIPC initiative was in the amount of $675.2 million dollars in the year 2000 net present value (NPV) terms.

Such a huge resource should have created the economic space and residual revenue for our socio-economic development by well-informed leaders with the necessary political will.

Unfortunately, this has not been the situation in S/Leone. What then went wrong, a concerned and worried citizen will want to know?

The answer to that question lies in the immaturity of the present government and leaders in charge of governance in Freetown. The Koroma government has succumbed to what I call institutional illusion, as one does not know whether to call them a disconnected group of people, people in denial about the reality of life on the ground, or self-defeating. This is because the governance course they are presently on is unsustainable.

Any serious government, especially in a country that is just emerging from a protracted eleven years brutal rebel war that is not serious about implementing actions and policies that will engender national healing, cohesion and unification, but resort to and adopt blatant tribalism and regionalism does not mean well for the country. The cardinal rule for any well-informed and serious minded leader of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural democracy is the creation of a well-balanced government. All regions and ethnic groups should be well represented in the government with an aim of equitable distribution of the national wealth of the country. This has been the case with all former governments that have been in power in S/Leone with the exception of the present government of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma (Honorary).

Empirical evidence suggests that upon assuming the presidency of the republic of S/Leone, Dr. Koroma(Honorary) wasted no time to eliminate the people he perceived as either SLPP, the legitimate opposition party, or people from the Southeastern parts of the country. He has replaced the people he fires from these positions with mostly northerners. As a consequence of this policy, 70 percent of the country’s population is excluded from governance. The president has persistently argued bitterly in support of this policy and writes people off who point this out to him as detractors.

No country on the face of the earth will therefore succeed in fighting poverty, not to talk about meeting the targets of the millennium development goals with the policy of isolating this much percentage of their population. The road to reducing poverty lies in the hands of citizens that are motivated, with very high morals, ready to work for success. Once a large number of the people feel a sense of belonging to a system, with a sense of “we are in this together”; they will work very hard for the success of such a system. On the contrary, a demoralized people feel a sense of foreboding, insecurity, marginalization and exploitation. This is recipe for disaster, which is where S/Leone is at the moment, and I have no idea why the government in Freetown is digging their heels deeper into this malady.

Perhaps the greatest damage the present government is doing to the S/Leonean economy is the destructive policy it has adopted in the mining sector of the economy since it came to power. S/Leone’s economy enjoyed a recovery in 2001 through 2006 due to a boom in diamond exports. GDP growth through those years improved continuously from 2.5 percent to 7.4 percent. The countries diamond export performance reached $140million in 2005. These gains in both mining export and other minerals have been reversed due to the incompetence of the current leadership in Freetown.

Another area that has led to the present economic malaise in Freetown is the inherent lack of private sector jobs that will bring in discretionary spending for citizens and thus see a multiplier effect on the economy. The out gone SLPP government developed institutions that provided community based support services for the benefits of the citizens: The Demobilization and Reintegration Secretariat/NaCSA, the National Social Insurance Trust (NASSIT), a social safety net that provides support for the most vulnerable members of the S/Leonean community, the S/Leone Stock Exchange, to provide credit for small and medium size businesses, and the National Revenue Authority (NRA), just to name a few. These institutions were all developed towards uplifting the livelihood of the people.

One would have imagined that the current government would build upon these gains by introducing policies that will help with the privatization of the 24 public enterprises that are currently under the purview of the privatization commission. Viable enterprises like the SL Ports Authority, SL Produce Marketing Board, the National Development Bank and the SL Airways etc, that used to provide private sector employment for citizens are now moribund.

Instead of the government establishing a venture capital company that will handle the sale and management of these enterprises, they have instead been politicized. All we hear is a childish and buffoonery organization by the name of Direct Expatriate Nationals Investment Initiative (DENI) as the nirvana that will eventually bring these companies to life again. What a joke and waste of human as well as natural resources.

The present government, instead of developing solid policies and strengthen the institutions that were established by the previous government, all we hear from them is empty talk, slogans and platitudes, like Open Government Initiative, Attitudinal Change, Office of the Diaspora, etc. These are all meant to politicize decision and patronize cronies of the government. Their contribution to the socio-economic agenda of the country is at best marginal and at worse vague and non-existent.
The government should be asking the World Bank and our multi-lateral partners to assist them with private-public partnerships across regions and countries that will help develop agro-based companies that will enable citizens with employment in jobs that will improve their earnings and welfare. The government instead writes proposals asking the United Nations agencies or the World Bank to sponsor the DENI protagonists, the Attitudinal Change Secretariat or Open Government Initiative Sessions. These white elephants are a means to nowhere and a waste of public funds.

Such policies and measures defeat the purpose of the Millennium Development Initiatives, as they increase the size of public sector expenditure, breed corruption, and crowed-out the private sector.

As a result of the above mentioned reasons, I am sorry to say that S/Leone’s march towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 was stopped cold in its tracks by the policies of the government that we have in Freetown headed by President Ernest Bai Koroma.