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Sunday, July 3, 2022

Bio: can the economy guarantee reelection?

By: Gabriel Benjamin

A wobbly economy is a red flag for an incumbent, but opportunities abound for a rebound.

When Sierra Leonean President Julius Maada Bio won the 2018 elections in a run-off that ended a decade-long presidency of the ruling All People’s Congress (APC), he set an unusual political record.

At 10:00 pm local time, the National Electoral Commission announced that Bio of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) had won 51.8% of a total of over 2.5 million ballots cast in the March 31 runoff election, beating APC candidate Samura Kamara who garnered 48.1%.

“To win a presidential election in Sierra Leone, a candidate must win the majority votes from at least three of the country’s four regions namely the Western region, the Eastern region, the Southern region and the Northern region” Samuel Hindolo, a political analyst, told Concord Times Newspaper.

Re-election bid

With his five-year term due to end in June next year, President Bio in Bo, on 29 December 2021, declared his intention to seek re-election, following his endorsement as the flagbearer for the SLPP ahead of the 2023 Presidential Elections. His nomination process went through without objections.

In his acceptance speech, the President said: “I hereby accept to be the flagbearer of the greatest party and the best thing that ever happened to this country—the Sierra Leone People’s Party. It is a great honour for me. You have made me your flagbearer for the third time…”

The SLPP Manifesto, the electoral platform on which the Bio administration was elected four years ago, used the theme of securing prosperity for all Sierra Leoneans to rally grassroots support. The party canvassed equal opportunity for all, strengthened by the pillars of unity, a strong economy and transparency.

Furthermore, the manifesto included several programs that cover the elimination of ethnic division, keeping the country safe, fighting corruption, reclaiming lost sporting glory, celebrating rich cultural heritage, promoting tourism, empowering youth and women, increasing social protection for citizens, building an enterprise economy, and leveraging ICT power to foster economic growth.

Uninterrupted power supply, safe and clean water for all, agriculture and food security, environmental protection, decent housing for all, and world-class transport and infrastructure were the other aspirations.

The Economy

Sierra Leone’s economic performance in the last four years has been a swing up and a swing down. The economy contracted by 2.7% in 2020 after growing by 5.4% in 2019, as the Covid-19 pandemic triggered a slowdown in many sectors, exacerbated by global supply chain disruptions and lockdown measures. The decline was also attributable to weak external demand for major exports, particularly diamonds, and declines in the mining, transport, trade, and tourism sectors.

While the GDP growth in Sierra Leone decreased to -2.70% in 2020 from 5.40% in 2019, the overall economic strength still represents less than 0.01% of the world economy.

Revenue performance remains weak; tax revenues have not aligned with government expectations, let alone policies aimed at encouraging savings and investment. Personal income taxes are growing at an alarming speed. For example, they grew from 27.22% in 2004 to an all-time high of 35% in 2021,

However, Sierra Leone’s population is currently growing at 2.1% per annum, accompanied by an ongoing demographic shift. The proportion of the population that is youthful, relatively skilled, urbanizing and underemployed or unemployed is growing quickly. The shift compounds the calculus for inclusive sustainable development.

There are other externalities that may disrupt Sierra Leone’s development trajectory.

The 2022 outlook published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global economic growth is expected to moderate from 5.9% in 2021 to 4.4% in 2022.  The IMF also downgraded global growth projections, expecting global GDP to weaken from 5.9% in 2022 to 4.9%.

For Sierra Leone, these developments have potentially adverse implications for remittances from overseas, the demand for exports, development assistance and FDI flows.

The lack of adequate power supply could strangle the economy. According to Sustainable Energy for All, approximately 26% in urban centers and 6% in rural areas have access to electricity. Electricity rate in Sierra Leone is one of the world’s lowest.

What next?

Despite a tight fiscal resource environment, in the coming year, the Bio administration will need to carefully calibrate priorities if it desires to facilitate a quantum leap in the economy.

It needs to swiftly address corruption and show that it is doing so. It needs to remove mandate overlaps to foster better service delivery.

It needs to take robust steps to not only generate more resources but also utilise such resources efficiently. It will need to ensure that public procurement creates first-round investment jobs and provides resources for re-investment in the economy.

It must ensure that public agencies are able to respond and adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, as well as improve their efficiency and effectiveness. This will require more focused performance management, and rationalization of processes and procedures to remove unnecessary red tape.

It should be about building functional, cost-effective and efficient governance that will ensure a smooth and speedy implementation of policies and programs necessary for economic growth and development.

Implementation of these priorities will allow the administration to leverage resources to build a solid foundation for robust economic growth.

Going forward, the keywords to guide the Bio administration should be: inclusiveness, prosperity and accountability.

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