November 24, 2021
By Hassan Gbassay Koroma
Budget Advocacy Network (BAN), has stated that Sierra Leone government’s allocation of 11% to the health sector is still below the Abuja Declaration of 15% budgetary allocation to the health sector.
They call on government to increase spending on the health sector, including emergency situations such as the COVID-19, the Wellington PMB fire disaster and future emergencies require a country to be prepared to respond and be able to save lives of the citizens in time.
BAN is a Network of Civil Society Organisations in Sierra Leone committed to working on budgets and budget policies, to enhance policy making and implementation for sustainable and equitable development.
“Health spending despite government’s allocation of 11% to the health sector, Sierra Leone is still below the Abuja Declaration of 15% budgetary allocation to the health sector. We call on government to increase spending on the health sector. Emergency situations such as the COVID-19, the Wellington PMB fire disaster and future emergencies require a country to be prepared to respond and be able to save lives of the citizens in time,” BAN states.
The CSO further noted that the need to expand on the current health infrastructure cannot be overemphasized as a quick remedy to the current helpless situation when caught up with emergencies, is not defining a developing nation with ambition to advance in medical care and timely response to save much needed lives.
BAN emphasizes the need for the country to have lifesaving medical equipment and motivation for healthcare workers as justification for government to up her spending in the health sector.
“It has been long since Sierra Leone signed up to the Abuja Declaration on the 15% health spending and year in year out, we have been reminding the government to consider the aspect which has not yet been accomplished.”
In the area of domestic revenue, “we acknowledged the strides by the National Revenue Authority to increase the domestic revenue collection from 12.3% of GDP in 2018 to 13.3% of GDP in 2020. The NRA is on course to hit the 2021 revenue target by all indications based on BAN’s monthly revenue analysis of the Ministry of Finance Monthly Fiscal reports.”
“The increase is as a result of several policies and administrative reforms at the NRA which include the setting up of the Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS), the Electronic Cash Register (ECR), the Electronic Single Window (ESW) and the ASYCUDA World and the stricter enforcement of tax laws and rolling out of tax education.”
While the 2022 projections show an increase by 2.1% of GDP in 2021 to 1.8% of GDP in 2022 and despite the success by the NRA, they noted that achieving the 20% domestic revenue to GDP by 2023 remains a challenge.
“With the country having a projected overall deficit of Le 1.89 trillion (3.7% of GDP) inclusive of grants for the FY2022, the NRA needs to further improve on its domestic revenue collection drive going forward by broadening the tax base without creating extra burden on the citizen and continue with enforcement of the laws and improve on tax education.”
At the local level, the CSO raised concern that the government was still not doing much towards meeting their commitment to supporting Local Councils to deepen own-source revenue mobilization efforts.
Also on public expenditure, the CSO applauded the government’s continuous investment in the human capital development, especially in the area of free quality school education, an investment which is in line with the SDG 4-ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.
“The 22% of national budget allocated to the free quality education is slightly above the Global Partnership for Education commitment, as it requires member states to commit 20% of their national budgets to education.
The CSO cited that the Public Expenditure Review (PER) done by the World Bank reveal a weak link between amount of expenditure provided and the expected outcomes in health, education and agriculture, and that the level of government spending has not translated into the expected improved outcomes as key indicator still trail behind the country’s peers in the sub-region.
To improve on the above, they called on the government to intensify monitoring of those investments and evaluate to ascertain the levels at which the much-needed changes are implemented to impact the interventions or inform a change of strategy to the course.
BAN applauded the government for their continued effort with the Public Expenditure Tracking Survey (PETS), but were concerned that result of the 2020 PETS was not published and the 2022 Budget Speech made no mention of publishing the PETS report any time soon.
The recalled that the Minister of Finance, in 2020, made it clear that PETS will provide valuable insight to policy makers on impediments to improve financial governance and fostering greater transparency and hence be a source of accountability on government spending.
“We are saying that without the publication of the PETS report, transparency and accountability would be difficult to achieve,” they said.
On public debt, the CSO raised concern that public debt is on the increase and as stated in the 2022 budget, it is estimated at US$3.1 billion as at the end of 2021 compares to US$3billion in 2020.
While they acknowledged that government debt is a part of fiscal management, they were concerned about the sustainability of rising debt levels and the shift from moderate to high risk of debt distress.
They urged government to disclose the annual debt ceiling beyond which government cannot borrow to ensure that loans taken on behalf of the people of Sierra Leone are done in a transparent and accountable manner.
Additionally, they said the debt-servicing burden continue to make it difficult for adequate servicing of the social sectors for the poor and marginalized, noting that government needs to work with other African Union states and other partners to lobby for debt relief or cancellation.
In the area of social inclusion and women empowerment, they stated that the government’s response to the needs of the marginalized and persons with disabilities is a good move.
“This is the first time a budget line has been set aside to take care of the needs of these categories of citizens, especially the albinos, which goes a long way to define the social inclusion in line with the ‘leave no one behind’ slogan. This is evident in the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA) proposal to the delivery of cash transfers to 71,000 households in 2022 and the provision of micro-grants and productive skills for 500 persons with disabilities, including Albinos in communities nationwide and it continues to manifest in the empowerment of women in fisheries and establishment of the women empowerment fund.”