“It is bold, it is big, and it could define our nation’s destiny well into the lives of our grandchildren”. These are the powerful words of the president of Sierra Leone, as he launched the Tripartite Investment Programme which proposes three big developments: a bridge across the Sierra Leone River, a new city and a new airport in Lungi. The president has been in power for just about five years. When Dr Ernest Bai Koroma assumed the presidency, he challenged himself by setting ambitious targets and goals. These were all set out as priorities, enshrined in what was to become an Agenda for Change. At the very nucleus of this agenda, was to run Sierra Leone like a business entity. As a leader, it doesn’t matter what passion you have, or how enthusiastic you are about success, if you have no plan, the chances of success are going to be limited. The Agenda for Change has been the business plan the Head of state has started implementing across the country. This business plan has been crucial in Sierra Leone’s recent development progress. It has allowed the Koroma-led administration to experiment successfully with strategies before deciding which runs more effectively and efficiently. And this has paid dividends. Sierra Leone is slowly being transformed from a country dependent on foreign aid and assistance, to one that can feed itself and be self-sufficient.
A clear showcase of the efficiency with which the West African State is being run, is how the government of Sierra Leone has become more responsive to its people’s needs. Ensuring that basic commodities are accessible and affordable has been the number one priority of President Koroma’s government. Robust monitoring of inflation trends, and constant engagement with business stakeholders, has been key to stabilising prices. State House, the seat of government, has in recent times hosted meetings after meetings, as the president expresses concern to the business sector over the high cost of living facing his countrymen. Despite factors beyond the government’s control, that threatens the hike in prices of petrol and other essentials that have had a direct impact on the presidents desire to deliver on vital human services on time, there has been a relentless push to cushion the effects all these can have on the lives of the people.
Providing farmers and the agricultural sectors with the tools they need for enhancing self-sufficiency in staple foods and cash crops has yielded significant results and the country is well-positioned not only to be able to provide enough rice for its people, but to export to neighbouring countries soon. The president’s successes seems to have exceeded all expectations. Considering the time he has been in office; the fragmented economic circumstances he inherited; the global financial meltdown that has had a knockdown effect on developing countries; the infrastructural deficit that emanated from a 10 year civil-war, the prevalence of corruption and graft that plagued the previous government; the challenges of ethnic disunity and voter apathy that threatened the success of the last general elections, Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has managed to steer his country away from the turbulence of the past, to a determined and focused atmosphere of result-oriented administrative achievements, unprecedented in the country’s political history .
Motivation for Private Investment
The sudden influx of investors into the country is by no means coincidental. Attracting foreign investments by instituting laws to protect those who want to engage the country’s vast resources, and ensuring a fair deal for the people, has been the standard with which the Korma-led administration does business. The itinerary of the Head of State has primarily been suffocated by the constant beckon to meet with investors from around the world, all with a desire to venture into the untapped mineral and natural wealth the country has to offer. When you look at the recent amendment to the business laws the government has put through parliament, it will not be difficult to conclude that Sierra Leone is now the most favourable and secure place to do business in sub-Saharan Africa. Business security has been seriously addressed and red-tape cut. The recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government, Addax Bio-energy Sierra Leone and the Addax & Oryx Group that will see USD 400 million to be invested over the next few years in the country’s Agribusiness sector. This continues to create employment opportunities for the people, 4000 jobs will be created through direct employment, contracting and out-grower opportunities that will also raise the incomes of farming and rural communities.
As a matter of fact, this investment in the agribusiness sector of Sierra Leone, is in line with President’s Koroma’s commitment to an energy policy that will improve rural electrification and encourage independent power producers (IPPs) to participate in the country’s power sector. Addressing those present at the signing ceremony, the Head of State reminded his audience that Sierra Leone offers many benefits to an investor – Affordable land; rapidly improving road transport links per our infrastructure program; a large deep water port which will soon be privatized to improve efficiency; strategic geographic location that offers low cost access to lucrative markets in Europe and the America Duty free access to US and EU; reasonable priced labour with a skilled workforce; and a government that is very strongly private sector oriented and willing to work with business for development.
Wiping out Corruption
The strides taken by the government of President Koroma to wipe out corruption at the highest level and his unwavering commitment to get rid of corrupt officials in his government has been quite impressive. The Head of State’s determination to continue implementing the necessary economic and social reforms that the country needs has attracted more financial assistance. The recent endorsement by the World Bank when its president, Robert Zoelliock, visited the country, is a clear manifestation of how the World Bank now sees Sierra Leone as a country ready for change and yearning for development. The World Bank is collaborating closely with three other donors (DFID, EC and AfDB) in a joint donor budget support framework. The Bank is currently supporting nine active projects costing approximately $US160.5 million. The determination to discourage corruption at the highest level of government has been dramatic. From the police to the army, the civil service and local administrators, the president’s call for zero-tolerance has been followed by stiff penalties and sometimes imprisonment, as the recent anti-corruption legislation demands a swift response from the judiciary.
There has been a massive overhaul of how contracts are awarded. The demand for transparency has seen a sudden shift from reckless financial mismanagement to the biggest revenue collection the country has ever seen. Gone are the days when civil servants worked without giving proper accounts. Now every penny spent has to be accounted for. Those who take the risk with utter disregard of the law, have experienced the full force of the draconian measures instituted by the government to curb the endless graft that has plagued the machinery of government for too long. Stakeholders have been quite impressed. At the heart of government, there is a sudden realization that failing to abide by the rules, will not only get you out of office but the heavy likelihood of finding yourself within prison walls looms with an uncompromising threat. Doing business in Sierra Leone now faces less risks as the government of Ernest Bai Koroma has become the most investor friendly administration across Africa.
When the leadership of a country engages the needs of its people with a personal commitment to deliver on promises, it raises the level of expectation unseen in African politics. It takes a different dimension, when these promises are slowly being spurned into material development of infrastructures and the building blocks of a prosperous economy. The Sierra Leonean people have not been failed. There is a renewed hope that all is not lost, despite the pain of the past and the anguish of witnessing war being waged in a country that has only known peace for most part of its history, the resilience of the people can only be matched by the drive of the Head of State with a determined agenda for prosperity to ensure poverty really becomes history. Our country’s history will have to be rewritten, as one man’s journey to change the lives of his people has only just begun.
First published on Newstime Africa: 3rd June 2011
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