Sierra Leone Government confident of economic turn-around
Speaking at a press briefing last week in Freetown, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development, Dr. Keifala Marah, told journalists and members of civil society organizations that despite the visible challenges posed by the Ebola outbreak and the fall in the price of iron ore in the World Market, government was confident that the country would once again show an economic turn-around.
Dr. Marah further stated that even though Sierra Leone was a post war country, it was moving towards standing on its feet, before the plummeting of iron ore prices.
He added that the Ebola outbreak has caused further reversal – from one of the world’s fastest growing economies to one that will once again be faced with serious economic challenges.
But Dr. Marah noted that the government was doing all it could to get the economy back on a positive trajectory.
The mining sector has been the main source of government revenues and the key driver of the country’s economy.
Therefore the drastic decrease in the price of iron ore from about 140 to 70 United States Dollars per metric ton was bound to slow down revenue generation and economic growth.
“The mining companies are currently faced with challanges and we, as a government, are working with them on programs and modalities that will ensure that they get back on track as quickly as possible,” said Dr. Marah.
The minister explained that the effects of the ebola outbreak on agriculture- another major contributor to economic growth- has also taken its toll of up to 30% loss of government revenue.
He further asserted that this downward trend in agriculture resulted in a further 60% drop in manufacturing with 50% job loss in the private sector.
This problem has been compounded by a slowdown in cross-border trade which has also led to food poverty in rural areas.
“We are in a dire situation; this outbreak has had an impact on our youths, our women, children, the disabled as well as poor farmers,” Dr. Marah lamented.
The minister assured that government’s recovery plan will, in the immediate term, pay attention to addressing the social issues that are related to the outbreak by ensuring that farmers are supported so that they will return to their farms.
“The government will also embark on financial inclusion by providing access to credit for small and medium enterprises at affordable interests rate so that they will be able to recover from their losses,” continued Dr. Marah.
He further disclosed: “In several meetings, I have engaged the African Development Bank, the European Investment Bank and other international partners to support us in ensuring private sector led growth which is one of our only options to economic recovery.”
Speaking on the support from international partners, Dr. Marah said the International Monetary Fund (IMF), under a new budgetary support, has committed over 100 million United States dollars with over twenty nine million as debt relief.
“We are also lobbying other partners to do likewise in addition to these supports,” said Dr.Marah, adding that the new program with the IMF is a good sign that they still have believe in the system despite the numerous challenges.
The finance minister believed that the IMF support will boost confidence among other partners to support the country in its post Ebola economic recovery plans.
He said the main focus of government presently is to achieve zero new Ebola infection and stay on zero for the stipulated 42 days as they continue to work with development partners on a recovery program that will address the immediate challenges as well as consolidating the current opportunities that will strengthen the health sector.
“We have to take advantage of the opportunities we have now; the laboratories and ambulances we should utilize well with a well structured program that will strengthen our health sector,” he said.
On the Auditor General’s report, Dr. Marah said the situation is very much unprecedented in an emergency which is an indication of the commitment of President Ernest Bai Koroma in ensuring accountability and transparency and the strengthening of financial governance in the country.
He added that the second aspect of the transparency drive will be the report of international partners who are operating in the country and received monies to help to fight the Ebola virus disease so that government and the public will be well informed on how much was received and how it was spent.
“We appreciate the support from our international partners in the fight against Ebola and we must ensure that their tax payers’ monies are accounted for by the recipient organizations and to also see how we could learn from that as a country”, he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Keifala Marah assured members of the public that government is doing all it could to ensure that the country’s economy gets back on track amidst these challenges and it is their intention to share the recovery strategy with civil society organizations and the media who they consider as very important partners.By Amadu Lamrana Bah Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).
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