after 50 years experience
A Presidential initiative to mark the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone’s independence
After fifty years of chequered progress, Sierra Leone is now poised for unprecedented change made possible by sustained demand for the country’s natural resources, an invigorated private sector, massive infrastructural development and the early stages of a governance system that is conducive to growth and development.
No country in the last 100 years has achieved rapid development without a clear vision and strategy within which plans and programmes for the transformation are outlined. Sierra Leone’s Vision 2025 crafted ten years ago is a good start, and illustrates the country’s determination to surge forward. However, major changes in the global economy and in the opportunities now open to the country make a compelling case for taking take stock and charting new directions. President Ernest Bai Koroma’s Agenda for Change (PRSP II) has successfully laid a strong foundation for national transformation by developing infrastructure (roads, energy, construction and water projects); emboldening private sector development; introducing the Free Health Care Initiative which is a model on the African continent; and initiating the smallholder commercialisation programme which aims to create wealth among farmers in all chiefdoms in the country.
In many ways 2011 is reminiscent of the dawn of independence: commodities boom, abundance of natural resources, a healthy political landscape, an encouraging international environment, a determined leadership but beset with severe shortage of skills, low levels of social service delivery extremely vulnerable to the decisions of large investment capital, fluctuation of the business cycles of the global markets, and sub regional instability.
Tracing the evolution of socio economic indicators over the 50-year period since then reveals a picture of early growth (export-led) in the 60s and 70s, followed by stagnation accompanied by inflation (then referred to as stagflation) in the 80s, and eventually, decline in almost all sectors in the 90s. Nevertheless, that period is also a mine of experiences on what worked and what failed. As the country embarks on its next 50-year journey, these experiences will provide valuable lessons for the future.
President Koroma proposes to organise a major conference in Freetown to review our development and transformation strategies and present alternative approaches for the country, taking into account the overall goals set for 2025 in the context of current day realities. The conference will bring together Sierra Leonean specialists both within the country and in the Diaspora, complemented by internationally reputed development practitioners, and in consultation with a cross section of the population to rethink the development process and provide options for the country’s immediate, medium term and long term development needs. Thus while the outcome of the conference itself is forward looking, it will be grounded on solid analysis of what worked and what failed in the past, as well as the opportunities that now exist for the future.
Themes of the conference
In reviewing the various development challenges facing the country, five areas and themes emerge as instrumental in influencing the development process. These are: the management of natural resources, political and economic governance, the role of the Diaspora in national development, private sector and infrastructure, and, social service delivery. Recognizing that individually and collectively they have influenced and will continue to determine the levels and changes in socio-economic indicators, each area will be the object of exhaustive analysis in separate studies and focused group consultations that will in turn provide recommendations as inputs for the international conference to be held in November 2011.
It should be stressed however that focusing on these themes in no way ignores the interrelationship among them or the importance of other factors/sectors in the overall development process. To illustrate, the creation of employment, effective management of the environment, promoting gender equality, all constitute desirable objectives that cut across sectors and themes in the development debate, and should therefore permeate the entire discussions. Similarly, the framework of the macro economy that should facilitate the economic transformation envisaged must be carefully designed.
Below are some of the issues to be examined within the key themes identified.
1. Managing natural resources
The current global high demand for commodities has opened up tremendous opportunities for the country’s abundant natural resources in minerals, agriculture, land and marine resources and forestry. However the sceptre of the natural resource curse looms as the discovery of oil supplements the extensive mineral deposits being announced. To this should be added the major land deals for agricultural development. In the past, many African countries, experienced this apparent bonanza that later turned out to be a curse; while a few have managed the opportunity and have registered sustained growth. An introspective look at the management of the country’s natural resources in the past, combined with a careful examination of the opportunities now present, both internally and in the global economy, offers a chance to carve out a deliberate and sustainable strategy for wealth creation and equitable distribution of resources. In the past the country suffered from bad management of, and misguided policies for, its natural endowments. This time around there is determination to avoid such errors at all cost.
This theme will examine and generate options for the management of the country’s various natural resources, focusing on how best to create sustainable income flows with appropriate management of the environment.
Some of the questions to be reviewed include;
- Recognizing that the majority of the population rely on agriculture for their livelihoods, what programmes should be designed to complement the current Small Holders Commercialization Programme for the rapid transformation of the sector ?
- How can the exploitation of the country’s natural resources be organized and planned for more equitable distribution of gains, within the economy and between foreign investor and Sierra Leone?
- What were the measures, if any, to integrate the exploitation of natural resources into the rest of the economy, and why did they fail?
- How appropriate are the incentive packages to be offered to the mining companies to induce investment?
- How can the new measures now in place for negotiating agreements, encouraging local procurement of goods and services, and monitoring the operations of large-scale investors in natural resources be enhanced for greater effectiveness?
- What structures should we adopt for local skills development necessary for active participation in the mining and construction sectors?
- What strategy should be designed now for optimal gains from oil and gas extraction for short and long term development, especially in avoiding the development of an enclave?
- What competencies and capacities does the SL Environmental Protection Agency require to deal with environmental issues?
- The heightened interest in land for commercial agriculture brings to the fore the issue of land tenure. What is an appropriate land use policy in the current high global demand for land to use for bio-fuel production?
- How can sub-regional organisations play a more effective role in trans-boundary natural resource management?
- Are there special gains to be secured by closer or even joint exploitation with Liberia in certain fields? If so, what fields?
- How can the potential for livestock development be tapped?
- What short and medium term plans need to be designed now to protect territorial waters, and rational exploitation of the immense marine and aquatic resources?
- How best can the country’s abundant natural resources be developed and managed for tourism;
- What measures need to be adopted to ensure rapid affordable benefits from information and communications technology to train human resources to accelerate the pace of social, economic and industrial growth and development?
The one area that is unanimously identified as the main cause of the decade-long civil conflict is political governance. The marginalization of segments of the society, combined with the collapse of the economy that rendered the state incapable of performing its essential functions, were constituted the causes for, and the effects of the failure of political governance. The lessons of the past must be learnt in addition to the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with a view to avoiding their repetition in the future. The conference should boldly seek responses to questions such as:
- What changes are required, for example, in reviewing the 1991 Constitution, to deal more effectively with contemporary realities and those of the country?
- Can a case be made for a second chamber?
- What should be the role of chiefs in the rapidly evolving society?
- Can a case be made for electoral reforms?
- How best can gender and youth participation by ensured?
- The extent to which broad based growth accompanied by equity, civil society participation, transparency and accountability could be compromised by the practice of party politics;
- the implications of weak opposition and winner-takes-all politics; and
- deepening decentralization, etc
The recent near meltdown of the financial sector in the world’s advanced countries illustrate the vital role of financial institutions and the monetary and fiscal framework around which an economy functions. This is even more important for a post-conflict country where institutions are weak and mechanisms for regulation almost absent. Furthermore, a strategy that relies on the private sector to stimulate or promote growth must have very carefully crafted fiscal and monetary policies that are neither excessively free, nor overbearingly restrictive. These policies and the operation of financial institutions must be synchronised with industrialisation, emerging technologies and other policies to avoid the contradictions of the past.
The conference should map out such targets as the attainment of middle income and developed country status, including identifying the economic tools and indicators for measurement.
In addition a thorough analysis is required of the validity of many assumptions used as a basis for advancing some policies in the past. One such assumption is the widespread use of extensive fiscal and other concessions as incentives for foreign direct investments to avoid their migration to neighbouring countries. What empirical evidence supports this, and what is the practice in other countries? Another question is whether the three-year PRSP plans are appropriate at this stage in the country’s development?
Strategies to build on gains made in private sector development and trade facilitation through the Agenda for Change constitute sub themes under economic governance.
3. Improving the role of the Diaspora
The Sierra Leone Diaspora continues to be a major contributor to the economy through investment, direct remittances and the provision of technical expertise. President Koroma’s visionary leadership created the Office of the Diaspora Affairs (ODA) at State House, among others to deepen Diaspora ties to the mother land and to enhance investment and skills transfer in the public service. However, there is more that could be done to improve Diaspora participation in the private sector, and to play a more dynamic role in the country’s political and economic development.
The conference would largely rely on members of the Diaspora to discuss such issues as:
- The establishment of a Diaspora Trust Fund to be managed by an independent body under such arrangement as with development partners (for example the World bank) to enhance Diaspora participation in the economy through attractive saving schemes with interest rates higher than overseas, participation in the Sierra Leone Stock Exchange, and exploring shareholding opportunities, etc
- Other Diaspora ideas are welcome
- The prospect of right to vote overseas, etc
4. Delivery of Social Services
In a society that is largely rural and characterised by a high level of illiteracy, there is always the challenge of formulating and implementing public sector policies that reflect a proper balance between the responding to the needs of the rural masses and containing the pressures of the highly volatile urban populace where most of the elites are found. It is therefore not surprising that Sierra Leone has one of the highest scores of Gini coefficient in sub-Saharan Africa. The past fifty years have shown that not much has been achieved in the public sector’s delivery of social services, further exacerbating the economic marginalisation of the rural and urban poor. Limited progresses in maternal and child mortality, and in literacy rates confirm the meager achievements in this regard. Education, health, water supply and even electricity are services that are best provided by the public sector at this level of development. However both the nature and content of the services as well as the vehicle for bringing them to the population have proven inadequate so far.
In these circumstances, the role of civil society is crucial both for advancing grass roots demands, as well as for providing the checks and balances that a weakly resourced and compromised opposition fails to do. On the other hand these CSOs, for various reasons, have not always risen to the challenge, although very few governments have tolerated or given them the platform they require to play this role. Notwithstanding this, it can be said that the CSOs in Sierra Leone can point to a number of successes of importance to the stability and progress in the country. What lessons can be drawn from this experience as the country moves forward? Equally important are issues relating to:
- Adaptations to the education system required for alignment to the demands of the 21st century
- Decentralization and the provision of education services
- Relative roles of the private and public sector in defining the nature of education for the future
- The design of a comprehensive health care system
- Improving health service delivery
- Accelerating the drive towards achieving the “social” targets of the MGD.
- Converting the abundant rainfall to available water supply to all cities.
5. Private Sector and Infrastructure
The low level of development of the country’s institutions and infrastructure constrain the private sector in playing the role of engine for economic growth. Yet numerous efforts have been made in the past to promote small businesses, attract foreign investments, develop infrastructure, and set up appropriate institutions. Indeed the President’s programme for the reform of the private sector has generated some positive results in eliminating bottlenecks hindering private sector performance. The conference should generate proposals for accelerating expansion in communications, financial services, energy, etc.
Issues to be discussed and questions answered include:
- Are there opportunities offered by the new global economic patterns of production that Sierra Leone can profit from?
- As a primary producer in the short term, how can the private sector be insulated from the vicissitudes of the global business cycles?
- How should the country exploit the opportunities for sub regional collaboration to participate in the value chain of natural resources development?
- In the past, issues relating to road transport have dominated the transport sector; what medium term plans for river and rail can be fashioned now?
- There are huge requirements for energy by the mining and hopefully, the manufacturing sectors. So far the emphasis has been to meet the basic needs of the population while individual investors make their own plans for energy supply. What national programmes can be developed that could produce lower cost sustainable energy sources for all?
- The introduction of fibre-optics offer significant possibilities for low-cost access of the entire population to the benefits of the World Wide Web. How can this be done most efficiently?
- What alternative options need to be considered now for tourism development?
The underlying objective in this theme is to set the stage for an efficient, low cost and competitive industrial sector.
A series of “focus group” meetings will be organized in all regions of the country before the conference, designed to obtain stakeholders views on the areas to be discussed. These meetings will extend the reach of consultations with the general public, on specific subjects, and the results will feed into the deliberations of the conference.
In the week preceding the conference, there will be technical meetings on the key themes and subthemes for more in-depth analysis of the issues and production of actionable recommendations.
The Conference will pull together the work of the previous meetings dealing with macro-economic and socio-political issues and propose a way forward for taking the country to middle income status – well beyond merely meeting the MDGs. It will examine the challenges of providing employment, delivering social services, adapting our political system to fit more appropriately to our realities, and build a capable and developmental state. All this, taking into account the challenges and opportunities presented by the global economy. The outcome will be in the form of a report with recommendations outlining options for action by the Government. It is recognized that there are various plans and programmes underway such as the successor to the Agenda for Change, and other immediate and medium term plans. However this conference will enable such programmes to be adjusted if necessary to respond better to the country’s future challenges. The conference results will therefore provide the framework for short, medium and long term plans of the country.
Every effort will be made to include all categories of stakeholders in planning the future of the country. These will include but not be limited to:
- Paramount chiefs
- Local authorities
- All political parties
- Representatives of students and youth
- Civil society
- Trade Unions
- Representatives of religious groups
- Chamber of mines
- Chamber of commerce
- Women groups
- Development partners
- The Diaspora
The overall guidance and direction for the conference will be provided by a Steering Committee chaired by the President and consisting of a cross section of the population as outlined in the list of participants above.
A conference secretariat will be set up comprised of independent technical staff appointed for their expertise and experience.
The conference will take place in the last week of November