Politics of Development: Understanding Sierra Leone?s Human Development Index Crisis
“For the second consecutive year Sierra Leone has come last in the UN Development Program ranking of human development indicators of 179 countries, which according to Engilbert Gudmundsson, World Bank Sierra Leone country director, “should be a call to action for everyone who is interested in the well-being of ordinary people in Sierra Leone”. Sierra Leone’s maternal mortality indicators – the highest in the world – continue to drag the country down, according to UNDP-Sierra Leone deputy country director Samuel Harbor. Of every 100,000 live births, 1,800 women die according to the UNDP figures, while one in four children die before they reach age five.
While Sierra Leone emerged from conflict almost a decade ago, progress in rehabilitating the economy and building up basic health and education services has been slow, says West Africa regional World Bank country director, Ishac Diwan. Just half of Sierra Leone’s primary schools are functioning, many of them in inadequate conditions, and secondary school attendance is still only at 44 percent, according to the UN. But the government is cash-strapped. “Sierra Leone is very poor, so simply put, the ability of the government to put in place development measures is very limited,” said Richard Moncrieff, West Africa regional director of think-tank the International Crisis Group (Thomson Reuters Foundation, 2008).
For ordinary Sierra Leoneans, the true anguish of the slow development pace is taking its toll on them. If government intervention remains sloppy and erratic, the consequences will be grim both ethically and politically.
Politicians and policymakers do in fact have it in their power to change the trend of the human development index for Sierra Leone if only they are genuinely interested in fighting corruption vis-à-vis development, peace and human security. But so far, President Ernest Koroma’s All People’s Congress (A.P.C.) administration does not seem to have all the answers to the numerous problems facing the poor and exploited masses nor does his political program seem to differ with that of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (S.L.P.P.) it replaced. The people of Sierra Leone remain isolated from their own resources deprived of even the basic social services (energy, tap water and housing) required for growth and development. This has had the immaculately dysfunctional consequence of further worsening the living conditions in the country with still a low life expectancy, high infant mortality rates, a declining economy and a vastly hungry population which were the hallmarks of Tejan Kabbah’s policies and eleven years in office. Instead, the new political elite have, unsurprisingly, turned their rise to power into an opportunity.
[Absurdly,] law makers in Sierra Leone are not only asking for four thousand dollars (US$ 4,000 or Le 12 million) per month but are also requesting a soft loan of USD$ 45,000 as car loan. They are asking for a 30 percent (%) payment of the cost over a three year period. These MPs want 70 percent (%) of the car loans absorbed by the budget, paid for by the tax payers. We are even told the initial recommendation was in a threshold of six thousand dollars (US$ 6,000) monthly, advocated for by the president, referring to it as reasonable payment. Granted the MPs current take home pay of US$ 768 (Le 2,288,745) per month is one of the smallest in the sub-region, but conservatively the said amount is the envy of many civil servants, who sadly do not even make US$ 20 per month.
Where were the MPs when they got bulldozed in the passage of some US$ 300,000 for a mere presidential inauguration or other travel expenses to the Gambia and other places, or the setting up of a commission of inquiry when there is an already established Anti-corruption Commission unit? Had the MPs being truthful in taken up tough issues, there is no way the so-called WANZA pay out running into billions can even be accommodated, or the Income electric electrification deal currently costing the nation unprecedented bill to service. The MPs can justify their request by holding an investigation into the process to make some savings in this bizarre operations condemned by the ACC but fell short to offer punitive measures (Concord Times, 2008).
Interestingly, Abdul Serry-Kamal, the country’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, took it as a chance to engage in acts which did not properly serve the interest of the people of Sierra Leone when wrapped up in that deal that gave the Lebanese merchant Mohamed Wanza ,000,000.00 for spurious claims against the people of Sierra Leone. The local tabloid has portrayed the Wanza deal as demonstrating the failure of responsible governance (with “people with ancillary interests (rumored to include the Attorney General himself in receiving various unspecified shares of the settlement) would have received their cuts” to make the deal work for Wanza) (The New People Newspaper, 2008).
The real challenge is not the technical difficulty of nation building but the political difficulty of confronting the lobbying interests and illusions on which current policies rest. Ending corruption in Sierra Leone will involve three politically challenging steps. First, contrary to the romantics, the country needs severe punishment for corruption crimes, not less. The Singaporean model of crime and punishment, for instance,has some good lessons Sierra Leoneans can learn from.
“Singapore’s legal system might seem unusually severe. Although Singapore does not hand out the death penalty randomly, Amnesty International states that Singapore has one of the world’s highest rates of execution relative to its population for drug trafficking and crimes of corruption. Even minor civic violations such as spitting, littering, or dropping cigarette butts on the street are dealt with heavy fines. [Singapore’s severe legal system thus seems to be working because Singapore is considered] one of the cleanest, greenest cities in the world, and a popular tourist destination, receiving over eight million visitors a year. At just 700 square kilometers, Singapore has an annual GDP that competes with leading nations of Europe. This gives it the world’s fourth most competitive economy, placing it ahead of the United States. The city-state also boasts a high standard of living, low unemployment, and a literacy rate of 98 percent. Singapore has 12 times the population of Vancouver but just half the crime rate” (Pacific Rim Magazine, 2008).
Typically, in contemplating on a solution to a problem, people look to its causes—or, yet more absurdly, to its “root” cause. But there need be no rational correlation between the cause of a problem and fitting or even just realistic solutions to it. Such is the case with the development crisis in Sierra Leone. The root cause of the development problems Sierra Leone faces is the illusion and greed that sustains its systemic corruption. Corruption in government accounts for the failure of successive leaderships in addressing the country’s sluggish economic development and improving its human development index score.
Despite its potential, Sierra Leone remains among the poorest nations in the world with dependency on a ward of foreign donors because it does not have the economic resources to develop its economy. The country will still need a large base of sustained foreign support to significantly lift the standard of living of its people. Most of the foreign investment however will be in the mining sector, even though the sector creates relatively few jobs, though generates significant profits. The country’s basic infrastructure meanwhile remains inadequate, particularly faced with issues of insufficient electric supply, a marked lack of health infrastructure and the inadequate delivery of basic services. There is also a dearth of skilled manpower available to meet the demands of a constructive national development strategy and the country’s unreasonable transport structure also needs upgraded. Clearly, Sierra Leone still has a lot of ground to make up from many years of political instability and the horrors and devastation caused by the Civil War of the 1990s.
The IMF Country Staff Report No. 08/249, a Second Review under the Three-Year Arrangement under the Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility has shown performance to be mixed under the Fund-Supported Program with an output growth of 6.8 percent and broad-based, but missed key fiscal revenue and spending objectives clouded by slow progress on the structural reform front.Also, the output growth has been matched with significant revenue shortfalls in the second half of 2006 (0.7 percent of GDP) and 2007 (2.4 percent of GDP) derailed the PRGF arrangement. These shortfalls have only become more common with the leadership volatility that accompanies governing Sierra Leone. Accordingly, against a backdrop of relentlessly corrupt players in government, stable development has fluctuated more sharply as well.
The unambiguous losers when it comes to the relentless corruption in government are the poor people of Sierra Leone. The majority of the population of Sierra Leone barely makes ends meet day by day. Being poor, they are inevitably squeezed by bad management of the natural resources of the country, and by cruel implications of the illusions and greed that define the Sierra Leone society, the poor people of Sierra Leone does not seem to have any chance. The hungry youth that constitute a huge percentage of the marginalized poor are the unlikely victims who have not accepted their fate quietly. For decades, hunger among the youth has provoked the same response: riots – the classic political base for populist politics.
Also, at the end of the corruption chain, comes the real crunch: as poverty deepens among the rural-urban poor, those most likely to go hungry are children. Growth stunting is common among malnourished young children who remain in these poor rural-urban environments. Stunted growth is not merely a physical condition; it affects the complete physical, mental and social well-being of these young children. It is an irreversible condition that lasts a lifetime, and indeed, some studies find that it is passed down through generations. And so although the persistence of poverty in Sierra Leone is today’s news, if it is not decisively dealt with all seriousness at this time, its consequences will seal the fate of Sierra Leone which is already at the precipice of self-annihilation because of the political stakeholders’ inability to change their behaviors.
In short, national corruption must be dealt with, and it must be dealt with seriously, because the adverse consequences of corruption are so persistent and are the conditions responsible for the poor human development index rating for Sierra Leone. The question is how. The flaw is not in the people. The solution must come from the political leadership. That kind of leadership that could address the endemic corruption in the society has been talked about for decades, but it now must be taken more seriously.
Fortunately, policymakers have the power to do all of this: by changing anti-corruption regulation they can make laws more draconian and effective; by encouraging organizational changes within the Anti Corruption Commission (A.C.C.), they can make the A.C.C. more relevant and a force for good; and by encouraging innovations in technology and its integration in all government departments, they can regulate better the workings of government. When corruption is effectively contained the key parameters in advancing development, which are to (i) mobilize more domestic revenue; (ii) reorient public spending to infrastructure projects and poverty-reducing programs; (iii) prevent rapid accumulation of public debt; and (iv) accelerate implementation of structural reforms, can be better coordinated. Such structural reform agenda has to be revitalized to sustain growth in order to progress toward the Millennium Development Goals (M.D.G.s).
The key medium-term objectives of the PRGF-supported program which have been revised by the current administration in Sierra Leone projected a real GDP growth to be slightly lower but still strong at 6 percent, and double-digit inflation is expected to linger beyond 2010, assuming lagged spillovers from higher food and energy prices. With the policy objectives for 2008 to consolidate macroeconomic stabilization and prepare for sustained high growth over the medium term, the macroeconomic framework for 2008 at a real GDP growth of 6 percent has acquired a strange allure. Macroeconomics based on further expansion of agricultural, manufacturing, construction and service activities is prized as constructive in both its literal and its metaphoric sense. (The Breton Woods institutions are its leading apostles). In its literal sense, macroeconomic development is now a premium strategy, a development brand through which improvements in education and infrastructure and lower inflation levels would lead to both growth and progressive distributional change. In its metaphoric sense, it represents the antithesis of large government, hierarchical, pressured institutions in which government is made to work leading to faster growth. The Breton Woods institutions have suggested a model framework necessary to preserve institutions in Sierra Leone as efficiently functioning intuitions.
But distressingly, Sierra Leone institutions show little inclination to preserve themselves as functioning institutions. Given the chance, politicians come to these institutions and all they do is to embezzle and misappropriate government resources rendering institutions unproductive. This is because Sierra Leoneans believe the sure way of becoming fiscally adequate is by having access to government resources. The political life forces many educated Sierra Leoneans into the role of political activism, a role for which most take on with the ulterior motive of enriching themselves at the expense of national development programs. In successful market economies, political activism is a minority pursuit; most people opt for entrepreneurship so that others can have the worry and grind of running a government.
In modern political practice, selfless patriotism is helpful. In modern governance, corruption is an abomination, technology is essentially relevant to effective governance, and rigid regulatory standards are the holy grail of anti corruption measures. Far from being the answer to national lack of development, the political rhetoric about anti corruption measures does not have the force of law in a country that has not made any real effort to develop itself after independence.
Successful societies are better suited to cope with less draconian anti corruption laws and regulation. Yet since it got her independence from Britain, Sierra Leone has not been serious about making development work, basing political strategies instead on rhetoric and lies. This neglect is all the more striking given the persistence of corruption and poverty driven by the illusion and greed of the political elite.
The critical challenges for Sierra Leone remain to enhance recovery; sustain democratic governance, peace, justice and security; protect the human rights of vulnerable groups; create employment, particularly for youth; increase capacities for managing development and tackling income poverty; broaden political participation, especially amongst marginalized groups such as women and youth; accelerate the pace of social advancement; and reduce the heavy dependence on Official Development Assistance (O.D.A.). These key priorities are articulated in the conclusions of the Consultative Group Meeting in December 2006, the Peace Consolidation Strategy agreed with the Peacebuilding Commission and other economic development planning documents.
The five reforms – judicial reform, civil society and media, reform in the health services system, reform in tax, customs, and police administration, reform in the center for combating economic crime and corruption – fit together economically and politically. Measures have to be constructive measures to support reforms to reduce corruption and improve transparency and accountability. Good governance fundamentally underpins effective poverty reduction and sustained economic growth through government that is competent, transparent, non-corrupt, and responsive to the needs of its people. Reliable players in legislating laws and ensuring an equal playing field are essential in promoting lasting development, as is a reliable judicial system that adjudicates fairly. Only a practice of genuine democracy in Sierra Leone can harness the talents of all its citizens and allow them opportunities to realize that potential in the open marketplace of goods and ideas—a brand of development strategy echoed in the 2002 Monterrey Consensus, which states that: “Good governance is essential for sustainable development. Sound economic policies, solid democratic institutions responsive to the needs of the people and improved infrastructure are the basis for sustained economic growth, poverty eradication and employment creation” (U.S. Department of State, 2007).
It is time for Sierra Leone’s political elite to make conscious, determined efforts to pursue democracy and to rule justly, sometimes in challenging contexts. Politicians should now be seen to take substantive steps that increase transparency and good governance, both to expand freedom and democracy and because those policies have the greatest chance of reducing poverty and benefiting the lives of ordinary citizens. Such policies have the potential to attract growth-oriented foreign development assistance and investment (such as meeting the qualifying criteria for the Threshold Program of millions of dollars of assistance from the Millennium Challenge Account (M.C.A.) managed by the Millennium Challenged Corporation (M.C.C.), a US-based corporation) that can have powerful multiplier effects, both economically and in terms of democratic governance.
The defining principle of a Koroma administration National Development Strategy is reform that needs to be supported by messages of equal potency. The Koroma administration cannot expect to eliminate national development risks by being lenient with corruption in government. Government in Sierra Leone should understand how to set priorities and consider inescapable tradeoffs and opportunity costs. A responsible strategy should strive for reform to control corruption and providing material and technical assistance in five distinct component areas:
Component One: Judicial reform, with commitment to:
o Reduce opportunities for corruption in the judiciary through increased transparency and accountability.
o Automate the organizational management and functioning of the courts.
o Improve Court procedures.
o Clarify the roles of court personnel.
o Providing training, court infrastructure improvements, and better management and IT systems.
o Refocus priorities which recognize the priority to provide “primary justice” – in other words justice at the community level with a formal legal system.
o Making sure that alternative systems for delivering justice (including through chiefdoms) are functioning properly and fairly.
o Dealing with the backlogs and delays that continue to beset the formal justice system – civil, criminal and juvenile.
o Putting in place new institutional arrangements to enhance cooperation, coordination and communication between the many actors involved in the justice sector.
Component Two:Civil society and mass-media reform, with commitment to:
o Support NGO monitoring of all components and initiatives.
o Build the capacity of Sierra Leonean NGOs and mass media.
o Implement reforms and new Government policies that can enable civil society and mass media organizations to effectively play their roles as monitors of government policy and performance.
o Educate the public.
o Build effective models of NGO/government partnership.
Component Three:Reform in the health services system, with commitment to:
o Complement its ongoing efforts to make quality health care more accessible and transparent to all patients.
o Reduce opportunities for corruption in the health care delivery system by limiting the discretionary powers of health care providers, budget managers, and procurement agents.
o Establishment of norms and standards and by increasing accountability through increased oversight.
Component Four: Reform in tax, customs, and police administration, with commitment to:
o Improve capacities and transparency in tax collection and customs administration
o Improve institutional and human resource capacities in police administration
o Improve Ethics Code implementation systems.
Component Five:Reform in the Anti Corruption Commission (A.C.C.), with commitment to:
o Provide technical assistance to help the A.C.C. implement institutional reforms to decentralize the agency
o Improve institutional and human resource capacities in police administration.
o Help create an independent Civilian Board to monitor the activity of the A.C.C. and to advise the A.C.C. Commissioner.
o Improve institutional and human resource capacities.
o Enhance whistleblower protection mechanisms.
o Improve delivery of social services in terms of quality, quantity and process.
Sierra Leonean political heavy weights will definitely need to do some genuine rethinking. The people most attracted to containing corruption through assertive leadership are potentially the constituency that could save Sierra Leone from its ruinous governance policies. The players in power in Sierra Leone indeed need to be serious about eliminating their dependence on corruption and recognizing a comprehensive approach to the process of reform with a national development strategy becoming an integral part of the overall process rather than a stand alone instrument for combating corruption. Sierra Leonean politicians are quite simply too profligate when it comes to their use of government resources as they do sustain a high-income lifestyle. The Sierra Leone Anti Corruption system needs to be shifted from burdening work to discouraging crimes of corruption with all entities constituting the pillars of integrity demonstrating zero-tolerance to corruption in all its forms and the supremacy of the law prevailing.
The mark of a good politician is the ability to guide citizens away from corrupt practices. Unless countered, corruption will continue to block the policies needed to address the human development index crisis in Sierra Leone. Properly informed, many citizens will rethink their priorities, but politicians will need to deliver these messages and forge new alliances. If corruption and poverty conditions are not dealt with decisively, the youth and rural-urban children will remain hungry and disoriented, and there is no hope for Sierra Leone. Setting a few examples by experimenting with the Singaporean legal system of justice against crimes of corruption is a small price to pay.
Kenday S. Kamara is a freelance development consultant in administration, policy development and capacity building. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.