After all, if every economic issue is framed as a struggle between a hard-working white middle class and undeserving minorities, then workers of all shades will be left fighting for scraps while the wealthy withdraw further into their private enclaves - Barack Obama

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FRANK TOK Some Economic Concerns

We are still nowhere, economically. We thrive on plans, strategies, meetings, workshops, hopes, promises and dreams.

Mr. Ibrahim Sorie, the longest-serving MP in Sierra Leone at present, told us in his report on the Budget Speech that infrastructural development featured strongly among our economic priorities. It included a bridge across the river from Freetown to Targrin. To the average Sierra Leonean, this is still the wildest of dreams even if we are not hearing it for the first time.

President Kabbah also counted this illusion among his achievable projects.

I ask you! How unimaginative and insensitive to reality can a country be? Would it not be more realistic to think in terms of a national railway to ease the lives of ordinary people every day throughout the country in the foreseeable future? It would also provide for produce to reach Freetown regularly so that our export targets can be achieved. Such a plan was envisaged a few years ago and I believe an approach to Japan was mentioned.

It would seem to make more sense than the extraordinary notion of a bridge spanning miles of water and costing trillions of Leones.

A railway would cater for access and utility inland while we improve the ferry service to and from Targrin. How about acquiring 4 new-NEW-ferries, not the 2nd hand apologies involving shifty arrangements that have
embarrassed our government recently. We could then have a reliable half-hourly shuttle service for those lucky enough to travel abroad. A first class airport, Freetown terminal and a smart bus service for the City would make for greater comfort and efficiency. Please, let us forget about the bridge for now and leave it for the long term when we will have done so well economically that we can pay for it ourselves.

Another political luminary affirmed that many business deals were being struck especially as Sierra Leone now ranks 4th among the countries in the region most attractive to investors. Mining and other companies are starting operations. This is good news. It is also good to hear that Civil Service salaries will be increased- and about time too! This will go some way to solving the corruption problem.

With more money in their pockets, workers should find it easier to resist the lure of bribes, begging and stealing. I never cease to wonder how our airport staff still regularly expects tips from passengers. The girl who stamps your passport, with painted nails, lipstick and eyeshadow, slips in a ‘what are you leaving for your grand children?’ I stare at her and can only manage a limp ‘I’ve no grandchildren here’, giving her nothing. But isn’t it sad, shameful compared with what happens in other airports!

We listen to Energy officials revelling in thoughts of the Orugu dam which apparently is going to be built soon and will provide millions of gallons of water for the whole of Freetown. What joy in anticipation! In the meantime, Guma VWC is touched by the pleas of residents at Sorie Town and elsewhere in places where new homes have mushroomed over the last 10 years, some on stolen land, government or otherwise. Poor recent dwellers! All their joy is owning a house in Freetown is tainted by lack of water even at the beginning of the dry season.

What would their life be like by next March? No wonder Guma is dripping with sympathy for their plight. Not so in the case of those seen as the landed gentry living 20-30 yards from the pipe line that takes water to the far reaches of the city.

Not for them the floods of tears with which Guma prepares to build contingency reservoirs etc. for those who have deforested our hillsides and altered our climate so that November is as hot as May or worse! No!

Residents from Smart Farm to Aberdeen Rd and beyond on the hill side of Wilkinson Rd are supposed to rig up water tanks and buy water from Guma at prohibitive prices to fill them. In addition they should pay their water rates even if no water has reached their houses for 10 years. And this is not for want of pleas and protests and complaints.

Their bills are mounting even though the only water they get comes from stand pipes half a mile away, in containers on wheelbarrows for which a fee per trip has to be paid.

The thinking at Guma VWC is really weird! Do all the people who collect water from standpipes pay rates? So we the original, long-standing residents of Freetown should accept the fact that we cannot be supplied with water and pay Guma VWC so that it can provide water for the hordes that have swamped the city! Incomprehensible!

So much of what we inherited as our birthright in this country has been desecrated and destroyed through lack of foresight, dishonesty, nonchalance and a new breed of ignorance. Now we hear that rice, our staple food is being grown again in Sierra Leone, which will enhance the economy.
But we have yet to see bags of good quality, brown home-grown rice in the shops.

A lady farmer on ‘Wetin de bi’ commented that the government had generously provided lovely new tractors for ploughing etc. She had ploughed and planted acres and acres of rice too vast for farm hands alone to harvest.
Now, she lamented, she had no mechanical equipment for harvesting and threshing, so most of the rice would probably rot.

Why hadn’t some agricultural adviser to Government thought of this? Stupidity and carelessness in high places have led to it.

Earlier, another official from Kailahun was praising the efforts of farmers to produce local rice: ‘Traders are going into the villages to buy rice by cup,’ he said (i.e. rice measured with a milk or margarine tin or plastic mug.) No one had obviously told the farmers and traders of this generation, about kettles and bushels.

The idiotic waste of time and effort is unimaginable. One is reminded of the French ballad about an eccentric old man who trimmed his lawn ‘a coups de ciseaux’ i.e. with scissors! How did their grandparents load husk rice on to good trains to be brought down to then the Rice Mill at Cline Town? -50 or more years ago! So much for the boom in rice production!

If economic growth is to result from infrastructural development together with ambitious energy and agricultural projects, then a great deal of re-thinking and re-learning of what we knew before has to happen. We want to be able to feel its effects in our pockets, see them on our plates, enjoy them in comfortable travelling and healthy living.

We hope those in charge will work towards this reality and talk less about their dreams.

By Lulu Wright
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