Five years in office as Head of State and a list of achievements that runs like the itinerary on a U.S. Senator’s desk must be the envy of most African leaders who assume power with the promise of delivering vital services to their people. But this feat can indeed be achieved, and a man whose vision and commitment to ensure that his countrymen no longer endure the pain of poverty, and the humiliation of having to always look to others for assistance, has shown leadership and courage, and has challenged his country’s difficulties by instituting an agenda for change that has made a significant difference to the lives of the people of Sierra Leone.
In the last five years, Sierra Leone has seen a shift in the direction it takes towards addressing its economic problems. Business is definitely not as usual. Despair has been replaced with hope, while investment has seen an unprecedented entrance into not only the mining sector but the agro-based industrial areas. The economy has come back to life as revenue generation has been at the heart of government policy to increase on the country’s potential as it drives through fiscal policies that will impact growth and reduce debt. The institutions that have been put in place by the Koroma administration have been vital in bringing the country out of its abysmal economic and social condition. A strategy that has indeed paid off as the country’s global economic index has taken a surge. An unprecedented line-up of investors has seen a scramble for the nation’s resources as the government ensures that it secures a profitable deal for its people by employing the right atmosphere to attract investment.
When you assume power in a country and inherit an economy that was not only shattered, but stagnated, and in five years turned it around and make it productive and sustainable, you can only be commended and saluted for such outstanding contribution in making a difference to the lives of your people. Success does not come without critics. And president Ernest Koroma has had his share of that, but such an impressive record of achievement cannot be ignored and go unnoticed. Africans are unfamiliar with such unwavering commitment from their leadership and you can understand why some Sierra Leoneans are still in denial. For most of them, all this would have been impossible when you take a look at what they have known all through the political life of their country. But hope has finally knocked on the country’s poverty doors and ushered in a new way of life, and at the helm is a dynamic president who seems to be unperturbed by all the noise around him as his sight is only focused on one thing: bringing an end to the poverty environment structure in his country.
The emphasis of change for the Sierra Leone president has been in key strategic areas: Agriculture, Energy, Infrastructure, and the social services: health and welfare. The government of president Koroma has shown remarkable interest in the common man and woman’s welfare by running the country as effectively as a business entity. It has shown that it is a government that is not only about intentions, but about actions. Within the country’s Agenda for Change, agriculture has become the most important priority. This sector has seen an increase in budgetary allocation from paltry 1.6% in 2007 to 7.7% in 2009 and now stands at close to 10%. The government has established the Small Holder Commercialization Programme which will support the Smallholder farmers to move from subsistence to commercial farming – “farm for business” Farmers in every District will be provided with improved planting materials, and machinery including power tillers, rice threshers and rice cutters, rice mills, drying floors, fertilizers, assorted livestock, drying floors, packaging, storage and input/output marketing outfits. There are also plans for the creation of 50 Agricultural Business Centres (ABCs) which will house the agro-processing facilities, 30 Rice Mills will be constructed. Two of the mills with a capacity to mill 20 bags an hour are being completed in Torma Bum and Makeni.
No country can develop without an efficient road network and this government has rehabilitated over 1,000 Km of feeder roads country-wide, but mostly in the South and the East of the country. And still on agriculture, 265 tractors and other agricultural machinery were acquired last year and deployed. The government also purchased a landing craft capable of moving 12 tractors along the coastline of Kambia, Port Loko, Moyamba, Bonthe and Pujehun, that will enhance the agricultural work life of farmers in the region. There has also been a rehabilitation and development of a total of 2,500 hectares of inland valley swamps. The government has also succeeded in convincing WFP to purchase 2,000Mt or 40,000 bags of locally milled rice. The total value of cocoa exports increased from US$2.2m in 2006, more than doubled in 2007 to US$4.5m and also more than doubled in 2008 to US$9.5m!
The international community has reaffirmed its support and commitment to the Koroma-led administration. The amount of assistance flowing into the country is a clear manifestation of the confidence stakeholders have on the President Ernest Bai Koroma and his government. The Global Agriculture and Food Security Fund approved on 21st June Government’s request for US$50m in support of the Smallholder Commercialization Programme. The Islamic Development Bank in collaboration with the Malaysian Government has, on 23rd June 2010 approved US$15mto support Government’s proposal for a second phase of the Oil Palm project in Mattru. The EU commission approved 16 million Euros for project to promote cocoa and coffee in Kenema, Kailahun and Kono with possible extension to Bo and Pujehun Kambia , Port Loko and Bombali will be targeted for cashew promotion. The Board of WFP, approved two projects submitted to it for Sierra Leone to the tune of a little over US$80m USD to support the social protection component of the Smallholder program.
There have been other significant areas of development since the APC government came to power. Expenditure on electricity projects increase from a meagre Le483 million in 2007 to Le80 billion in 2010. That is indeed remarkable. Soon after coming to power, President Koroma, as a short term emergency measure to provide electricity to the capital Freetown until the completion of Bumbuna, engaged the services of an Independent Power Provider. This was done within three Months. The Government also vigorously pursued the completion of Bumbuna Hydro Electric Project. The project that had been delayed for over two decades was completed and launched by His Excellency within two years. Bumbuna now generates 50 mg of electricity. The extension of Bumbuna electricity supply to other towns –Makeni, Lunsar and Bumbuna Town is ongoing. The government also installed a 16.5 thermal plant at Blackhall, to further increase the supply of electricity to Freetown. A program of electrification of provincial towns and cities has commenced. This project will cover Kabala, Bo, Makeni, Bonthe, Pujehun, Port Loko, Moyamba, Kambia, Lungi Kailahun, Magburuka, Koidu and Kenema.
There has also been a massive improvement in the country’s foreign reserves as serious emphasis is placed on revenue collection. The National Revenue Authority has been modernized to make it more effective and efficient. There has also been a reorientation of government expenditure in favour of Infrastructural development. At the Office of the Administrator and Registrar Generals the time for the registration of business has been shortened to the minimum one (1) day and maximum two (2) days. A One Stop Shop for the clearing of imported goods at the ports is also going to be set up at the National Revenue Authority. The Sierra Leone Investment and Export Promotion Agency (SLIEPA) has been established to assist investors in obtaining permits, licences, facilitation of registration of business enterprise etc.
Sierra Leone stands firmly prepared to move towards the direction of prosperity as its leadership engage the challenges the country faces. The relentless pursuit of economic development has been key in laying the foundation for growth. The prospect of self-sufficiency and less reliant in foreign aid becomes more of a reality when a government makes its peoples welfare the number one priority. Dismantling the cycle of poverty has become standard as President Ernest Bai Koroma implements his Agenda for Change in a country that has only known poverty for most of its recent history. There is no turning back as the building blocks of democracy, the respect for the rule of law, freedom of speech, and religious tolerance, have all now been enshrined into our way of life and has become an embodiment and the legacy of an outstanding leadership.
First published on Newstime Africa: 29th August 2012
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