Preparing a 20-year long term plan for Sierra Leone
Since independence, Sierra Leone has launched several national development plans with the usual duration of five years. However, none of them has benefitted from a mandatory longer term and structured framework to guide action. Past 5-year plans suffer from discontinuity when Administrations change and the incoming one prefers to launch their own, avoiding recognition of what may have been achieved in the past. Unlike cases where Administrations’ lifespans exceed 5 years, in Sierra Leone, 5-year plans tended to emphasize short-term projects rather than the longer term programmes needed for a country at the lower rungs of the development ladder: the big infrastructure projects, the institution-building projects, etc. Understandably politicians usually assign priority to projects that generate results during the duration of their mandates. Consequently economic development, when it did occur has been in fits and starts.
There is now a growing consensus that to extricate the country from the low level income equilibrium it finds itself, would require long term action beyond what the relatively short 5-year plans offer. In short the normal medium term plans must be anchored in a long-term development plan that successive Governments will be obliged to follow. Indeed many countries such as South Africa – 40 years, Indonesia – 20 years, Ghana – 40 year Plan, Kenya – 20 years, are now guided by long term plans out of which are carved medium term plans of 4 – 5 years duration.
Two previous attempts had been made to set a vision for the country’s future that would in turn determine its development path; the Vision 20/20 concluded in 2002, and the SL Conference on Development and Transformation concluded in 2012. The first provided three options for a future, while the latter provided specific socio-economic targets to be met by 2035. Neither was a long-term plan with clear descriptions and details of the requirements to achieve the goals set, or alternative targets where the basic assumptions did not hold. More importantly, the political commitment for its implementation fizzled out once the Agenda for Prosperity, supposed to be the first five years of the route to the goals set by the Conference, was adopted. While the expectations of the citizens were high in both cases, the political leadership quickly reverted to short-term programming. Sadly, there was no avenue for consolidating pressure for change from the citizenry, as the latter became more preoccupied with the politics of succession in the context of widespread allegations of corruption and abuse of power. Planning took the back seat and even the first cut of the Development and Transformation Strategy – the Agenda for Prosperity – was confined to the drawers to be waved about from time to time in order to maintain the illusion of the existence of a guiding programme.
The reasons for the difficulties in carrying out the Agenda for Prosperity (National Plan for 2013 – 2018) have been almost unanimously ascribed to the exogenous shocks of the dramatic fall in the prices of minerals (iron ore) and the Ebola epidemic.Recent reports by the World Bank, the IGC and others document deeper underlying fault lines that if left unaddressed will continue to leave the country vulnerable, and reinforce the old pattern of growth, where every sign of improved performance is erased by reversals due to external or internal shocks.
Since the Transformation conference in 2011/12, much have changed in both the internal and external environment within which the economy functions. The adoption of the SDGs, the adherence of African Countries to an African Free Trade Area, the growing implementation of an African Mining Vision, are all external factors that will impact the development pathways the country will follow. In the absence of a long-term plan to guide local action, the country will continue to be buffeted from pillar to post as new issues emerge internationally.
A striking observation is the low priority hitherto given to issues relating to regional collaboration, yet global trends make regional cooperation even more critical for African countries in the current turmoil of the global political economy. More so for a small country like Sierra Leone, whose vulnerability to external shocks will be reinforced in the absence of a guiding light for the final destination.
The internal pressure for an end to corruption, the increased demand for accountability, the extraordinary growth of the youth bulge, the increased income inequality and high levels of multidimensional poverty in the country, all require major changes in policies and programmes if the country is to embark on a path towards sustained growth and reduction in poverty. Such changes need to be grounded in a longer-term Plan that would guide both the short and long term solutions to ensure coherence, continuity and effective coordination.
Sierra Leone’s new Administration’s decision to separate a Planning Ministry from the Finance Ministry is a step in the right direction as it returns planning to the central point of socio-economic development in the country.
The Vision echoed by all policy documents so far is to attain middle-income status by 2035. The specific socio-economic targets outlined are largely the same across political party lines even though expressed in different language. Hence it should be relatively easy to adopt a long-term plan that all parties can embrace.
One of the most important challenges facing planning and the implementation of development programmes in the country now is capacity. Inability to formulate properly designed projects, and manage complex multi sector programmes result in inflated costs and low quality results, or even failed projects.
The Planning function in the country commenced its decline almost 20 years ago when the Ministry of Planning was merged with, or better still, subsumed under the Ministry of Finance to form a single Ministry. The decline accelerated in the past ten years as the leadership of the Planning function focused on matters other than the core function of planning. Even the last National Development Plan was led and coordinated by the Policy unit of the Finance branch of the Ministry. At the ministerial level, the Minister of Finance and Economic Planning naturally focussed on Finance and budget matters. This has meant that for over 10 years, even Planning officers in MDAs had little to do and rarely upgraded their skills. The new ones have limited experience applying the latest planning tools in the field. The result is a major capacity problem in MDAs, including even the resurrected Ministry of Plan. The use and application of modern tools for Monitoring and Evaluation, such as randomised control trials, or for project planning such as Theory of Change are rare. It is therefore imperative that extensive training and refresher courses involving staff both within the Ministry and other MDAs accompany the reintroduction of the planning function in Government.
The Government is about to launch the 5–year plan as part of a 20-year Plan. The preparations for the long-term plan would need a major political boost for advancing with success.
See the report of the outgoing President on the state of the nation 2018, numerous IMF and World Bank reports issued in 2016. (Detailed referencing to be inserted)