Freetown, SIERRA LEONE – The trajectory of a nation’s development is often shaped by an implicit agreement among influential elites, wielding power and influence. Stefan Dercon, Professor of Economic Policy at the Blavatnik School of Government and the Economics Department, and a Fellow of Jesus College at the University of Oxford, shared insights from his latest book, ‘Gambling on Development,’ during an interactive breakfast conversation at the Hub Hotel in Sierra Leone. The event, titled “How Ready is Sierra Leone for a Development Bargain,” took place on Thursday, 8th February 2024, and was organized by the International Growth Center (IGC).
Professor Dercon emphasized the critical role of trust, restraint, and accountability among Sierra Leone’s elites for successful development. His lecture focused on outlining what a ‘Development Bargain’ should encompass for the country, drawing from his extensive experience as a career civil servant and academic.
In Dercon’s view, for a development bargain to thrive, it must embody three key features: long-term stability, self-awareness, and accountability. He stressed that the political commitment to development should be genuine and credible, backed by concrete actions, rather than mere official statements. The state’s capabilities should be utilized judiciously, avoiding to do more than it can handle, and possessing the ability to learn from mistakes and adjust course.
Addressing the question of what motivates elite commitment, Dercon pinpointed “trust amongst the elites” as the overarching factor. He underscored the importance of restraint among elites, as everybody wants to be rich, whether a business person or a politician. He urged restraint especially in economic governance, where personal gain should not overshadow the country’s development trajectory.
Dercon acknowledged that corruption exists but views it as a symptom rather than the root cause. He highlighted the need for restraint in extreme behaviours, such as poorly implemented procurement contracts with massive costs or attempts to divert natural resource revenue for personal gain.
Managing your natural resource, think carefully about natural resource contract, don’t let your personal interest override other things. Secondly, if you work with natural resources, make sure the incentives are in place that the revenue actually is used for capital investment because that’s how you should use natural resources. Thirdly, on your other spending in the government system have certain restraints. The same with taxation, build up a more common fiscal contract, that actually business communities willing to pay. And similarly, that actually those collecting it actually tried to be sensible in the use of it.
Chukwu-Emeka Chikezie, Country Director of the International Growth Centre, explained that Professor Dercon’s visit aimed to engage with a diverse audience in Sierra Leone and explore ideas that resonate with them. Chikezie emphasized the importance of assessing state effectiveness and addressing recent challenges to navigate the path toward development successfully.
“In that context, the recent challenges we’ve been having in Sierra Leone are important signals that we should lean-in on and do more to think through how we navigate a potentially treacherous path and keep our eye on the development prize,” Chikezie stated. “If it works, it will lift many people out of poverty and frustration.” ZIJ/9/2/2024