The recently released Ernest Koroma “Self-Assessment Performance Report” also known as the “Handing-Over Notes” seems to have brought much joy to the former president’s followers. According to these followers, the “Handing-Over Notes” vindicate the former president of the serious charge that he had left behind a bankrupt economy. But whereas this document is rich on politics and propaganda, it is poor and thin on the economy. There is very little detail on the state of the economy that Koroma had managed for the last ten years.
“It’s the economy, stupid.” This was a famous remark made by United States Democratic Party Strategist, James Carville, in 1992. What Carville meant was that presidential ratings should ignore personalities, scandals, wars, etc., and focus on the economy. In other words, the only political issue worth discussing during times of general elections or times of political transitions is the economy. Yes, the economy, the economy, the economy.
Not surprisingly, Koroma’s 36-page document has no convincing arguments relative to why under his stewardship Sierra Leone’s economy continuously stagnated or why the country’s socio-economic indices continued to lag many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Additionally, if Koroma had left a buoyant economy, as his supporters may want Sierra Leoneans to believe, then why is Sierra Leone still characterized by a low real per capita income, a low life expectancy, a high illiteracy rate, a high infant and maternal mortality rate and a low rate of growth in average real per capita income? Further, why is a high proportion of Sierra Leone’s labor force still in agriculture and other primary activities such as mineral extraction?
As a preamble to the release of the Koroma document, Tolongbo media outlets had informed a gullible public that Koroma had left $ 507 million for the incoming administration in the country’s Consolidated Fund. Yet there is no mention about this purported sum of money in Koroma’s handing-over notes. Have Tolongbo economists and journalists quickly learned that there is a big difference between a nation’s Consolidated Fund and its central bank reserves?
And talking about the central bank, one wonders what has been the direction of the Bank of Sierra Leone’s monetary policy in the last ten years during which time we have had a consistent hyperinflation and an overly high youth unemployment rate?
Nor has there been a sound fiscal policy in the face of excessive government expenditures. Koroma had ran amok with big spending over the last ten years during which time there were frequent overseas trips with bloated entourages that were paid per diems while idling away in expensive hotels. Tellingly, given the circumstances in which Koroma operated, it would be a stretch to expect that the former president was ever able to balance the national budget. With tax revenues allegedly finding their way into the pockets of unscrupulous Tolongbo grandees, there was no way Koroma could have matched government spending with tax revenues to close a perennially gaping deficit.
Instructively, the goals of macroeconomic policy are the same for any group of countries. And if the scope and methodology of economics revolve around the truism that resources are scarce and that resources have alternative uses, then it makes sense for all economists to agree on a certain benchmark as far as what the goals of macroeconomic policy should be.
In other words, there must not be a divergence between the goals of macroeconomic policy say between Sierra Leone and Liberia or between Sierra Leone and Guinea. Accordingly, all economists agree that macroeconomic policy makers strive to maintain the employment of human resources at relatively high levels.
Economists also agree that policy makers strive to maintain stable price levels, and to achieve high rates of economic growth. Economists refer to the rate of unemployment, the rate of inflation and the growth rate of the economy as the fundamentals of the economy. That Koroma glossed over these fundamental benchmarks in his document means that he deliberately avoided embarrassing himself. The former president and his followers know that the fundamentals of the economy that they left behind are not good. Sierra Leone’s youth unemployment rate is 80%, its rate of inflation is 17% and the growth rate of the economy is a measly 2%.
To be fair, the economy did grow better during the pre-Ebola years. But the gains of growth never trickled down to the citizenry in the form of improved living standards since massive corruption both in the political and the public spheres, prevailed like a pestilence. For a citizenry of an ultra-corrupt nation to realize the gains of economic growth, there must be a massive institutional reform. Unfortunately, reform in any form has been lacking in Sierra Leone for quite some time.
Interestingly, notwithstanding Sierra Leone’s negativities, the country and Rwanda have identical per capital incomes – below $1000.00. But Rwanda is a better place to live than Sierra Leone because Rwanda’s public policy initiatives are superior to Sierra Leone’s. For example, Rwanda invests more in education, infrastructure and trade hence growth rates between the two countries would not be the same. Thus, the challenge facing Sierra Leone’s new president is herculean. President Julius Maada Bio must work hard to transform a failed state left behind by former president Koroma into a productive modern state that can compete internationally.