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Random Musing: Candy Floss Economy Pt. 2

Random Musing: Candy Floss Economy Pt. 2

That President Ernest Bai Koroma has envisioned a dreamland destiny for Sierra Leone is not in any doubt.  Since his assumption of office, he has demonstrated a steady resolve to move the nation forward and in some areas, appreciable progress is visible.

One of the problems however, is that his government now appears to be forgetting today, until tomorrow. Some of his men also believe and often play politics with the lives and future of the people and the nation. They are unable to differentiate between when politics ought to stop for the business of governance and the delivery of development to take prime position.

This is why the President cuts a forlorn, lone figure in his battle for a new Sierra Leone. It is why his government is relatively slow. It is why development in real economic terms appears invincible. Though we have the ratio of size to population, the paucity of strategic thought, meaningful and timely intervention, transformative potential and administrative inertia, buoyed by political rascality have blighted the whole developmental process.

And when the cold eye of history gets to study his reputation against the backdrop of expectations and promises, it may conclude that his inability to seize the global economic meltdown as an avenue for recourse to pragmatic survival strategies peculiar to our nation; the utilisation of resources very differently from what we have been accustomed to; as well as a change of orientation of the populace, was and is a missed opportunity.

Thirty years ago, our taps flowed into our homes and the streets also had the luxury of having some of them. Just three decades ago, our lights never blinked. Just thirty years ago it was a smooth ride from town into Goderich via Wilkinson Road with its beautiful scenery. You could go to the markets and buy whatever you wanted while some families shopped mostly at well-stocked supermarkets. Not to talk of what came out of our lands into our markets.

Just a generation ago, we were still playing host to African students at a citadel of education called Fourah Bay College while Connaught Hospital and its nurses could compete with any, wherever and a drop-out or jobless youth was ashamed of himself. Our WAEC results were also decent and we had records of students topping the whole west coast result. You know what?  It’s heart-breaking to continue.

Today, these same infrastructures are virtually none existent and where they are being rehabilitated, we are made to see them as development that we should be extremely grateful for. Today, the past standards are in the realm of the imagination; today, money is scarce and the same can be said of the quality of what pervades our streets, markets, shops and offices.

To develop a nation is all about the people, for the people and by the people. If the people are ignored and the government concentrates on getting things to work only from the top and from a selective strata and perspective, hoping that it filters down to the people, then it may end up a mirage.

We are blessed on the surface of the ground, under the ground, in our waters, in the air (rainfall) and in our people. The question one should ask really is: what don’t we have in this Sierra Leone to make us self-sufficient? Everywhere one turns in this country, there is some God-given resource which with a little application of effort can be turned into a money-spinning venture.

In spite of this and our government bending over backwards, global investors outside of the mining sector appear not to have rated the nation as a major investment partner. Agro-allied industrialists who could find incredible sources of both raw material and labour here for the production of processed goods have not shown any real desire to develop their interests as fast as we would have liked.

And the reason is simple; the government that should set the parameters for such investments is seen as quite not attune to the principle of diversification and reform since its focus is on outside help to ginger such vision instead of self-help starters.

A leadership that thinks foreign policy is giving concessions to foreigners because of credit crunch and without deep and abiding negotiations is simply being visionless as it puts short term popularity and delivery above long term sustainability. This appears to be the fear of some of the genuine investors wanting to go the whole hog.

Personally, my take about the economic meltdown, particularly when it is cited as one excuse for the slow pace of our recovery efforts as promised, is that it is a convenient reason to explain away our ineptitude, our incompetence and the paucity of leadership in the management of our abundant human and natural resources to enhance the quality of life of our people.The truth is, we were already melted before the global economic meltdown and the advent of this administration.

But no matter how fast a man may run, he cannot run away from himself. It’s high time our exercise in self-delusion stopped. We need to come to grips with our situation and look inward so that if and when our so-called benefactors should turn off the taps, we would not be found wanting; as was the case with this year’s deficit budget.

Our greed, tribalism, political intolerance, bigotry; selfishness, deceit etc, has once led us to the depth of ruins. So why don’t we realise that we do not have the luxury of waiting endlessly for foreign induced prescriptions and medications alone, as a panacea for socio-economic rejuvenation.

It is true that capacity building in post-conflict countries remain a veritable challenge but today, a country like Rwanda is cited as a classic example of  successful post-war reconstruction, acclaimed recovery and sustained economic growth; simply by initiating and implementing major internal economic and governance reforms in the fiscal, monetary, budgetary and structural domains.

Its key component was establishing local systems to recruit, build and train the needed manpower that set the nation on the path to recovery. A major failure in our case.

The primary source of Sierra Leone’s progress is the country and its resources. We therefore need to build systems that would enable us to spend our own resources to get better results in critical areas such as governance, education, health and human development. But we need to do it in our own garb rather than that of borrowed robes. We need to dictate the pace and path.

We do not need any expert to tell us the adverse consequences of a large pool of vibrant, hardworking, educated and intelligent workforce, who wake up daily and have no idea of what to do or where to go.

I believe that the centre of our economic policy should be the creation of a middle class, as well as the creation of jobs; massive employment. Right now, it is either you are poor or you are rich. You have a job or you don’t.

Consequently, there is a need for a change in the structure of our economy to base it on revenue coming from taxation as a basis for increased internally generated revenue for vital projects.

In this regard, it is pointless if government is getting 100 percent corporate tax from just two companies while a cost benefit analysis shows that it is better if it gets 25 percent from them and they are able to create jobs with the right, enabling environment, which can help to get income tax from about 1,000 people.

With such a policy, government increases its revenue, but more importantly, more people would have been employed, thereby addressing challenges associated with social issues such as crime. Without security, I am sorry to state, no meaningful progress can be attained.

The manufacturing sector in any economy is reputed to be the engine and the ultimate pillar for sustainable growth and development. Historical evidences from the developed world show that the manufacturing sector played a critical role in their structural transformation from a primitive, low production and low income state to one that is dynamic, sustained and diverse.

The manufacturing sector has enormous potentials for employment generation, wealth creation, as well as poverty alleviation. But it has to be nurtured in our case and we can start with cottage industries. Raw materials remain raw materials and offer little value until transformed into finished or semi-finished products. It is manufacturing that will transform the output from agriculture and the extractive industry into usable finished or semi finished goods.

The multiplier effect here, results directly in employment creation while market creation is a strong catalyst for economic growth, development and poverty alleviation.
However, the impact of the reduction in easily accessible capital, whether for new investment or simply to maintain continuity in financial obligations by existing firms, has become all pervasive and the fundamental processes of economic restructuring is already impacting negatively on the local economy.

One must also not ignore the extraordinary rate of inflation that has characterised the consumer index since the beginning of this year.

In the absence of critical infrastructure and access to credit by small and medium-scale businesses as well as a bloated public service and a narrow economic base, the goal of diversification will remain a pipe dream as well as the envisaged vision and strategic framework.

Intuitively, I suspect that government is praying fervently for the discovery of oil to become a reality but while this will be a welcome development, we should learn from the experience of countries like Nigeria, where it turned into a curse as the government there simply turned away from other sources into complete dependence on oil because of its quick returns. It is also not the ultimate solution as the technology involved in the sector cannot employ Sierra Leoneans and if there is no employment, you cannot solve the country’s collective problem.

A large percentage of our country is arable land and yet it is not being cultivated. If you cannot cultivate, you cannot process and therefore we are going nowhere. Agriculture is so germane to economic development that no government can afford to toy with it. However it will also be detrimental to the country’s national development if agriculture is politicised; as it would lead to wastage of scarce finance.

Now, without solid education, all other indices of development will become inoperable. It is stating the obvious that education is the cornerstone of any advancement we want to make. If and when our investors flood the country what level of manpower would be at their disposal? Evidence already abound that most of our foreign owned and even locally championed organisations are staffed by either nationals of other countries or Sierra Leoneans from abroad.

The educational sector is in need of emergency attention as it lies prostrate in intensive care. The issue is not 6-3-3-4 or 6-4-4-2 or 4-4-3- like a football formation. It is more than that. There is the issue of teachers and their poor remuneration; the lack of facilities and books and even social factors like poverty, hunger etc. These have peculiarities that basically need home-grown remedies and we need to resolve these fast. If not we’ll end up with a fundamental societal problem.

Another major factor that is threatening to undermine Sierra Leone’s economic buoyancy and render the nation virtually impotent in the face of the global economic downturn is the inability of the public sector to diversify the basis of its Gross National Product and thus encourage the private sector to grow.

There is therefore the need to change strategy to ensure the sustainability of non-mining growth and the improvement of human development through better delivery of services as well as the strengthening of government established systems for effective public financial management and capacity development.

No doubt about it, the government needs to design and implement policies, programmes and strategies for an efficient, competitive and diversified private sector-led industrialisation process and promote trade and investment with special emphasis on production and export of non-mining products. This will lead to job creation, poverty alleviation and ensure enhanced service delivery while decreasing imports, especially of consumer goods.

The five-point agenda may actually set a basis for addressing the basic economic needs and requirements of the nation but the key is in its implementation, the sincerity of purpose and the level of involvement of the local stakeholders and the utilisation of the human capital and available resources.

Our leaders have listened too long to foreign voices for our recovery. The truth is that the blue prints and the steps they map out for us are based first on their own overall interests and this is why when they fail they often turn round and blame us for not following their instructions to the letters when it is crystal clear that a one cap fits all policy cannot be right for my big head and your small one.

The key to our breakthrough is to look under our feet; not foreign messianic intervention.

By: Raymond Dele Awoonor-Gordon

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