One of the most compelling features of the post colonial economic history of Sierra Leone is the prevalence of bad governance leading to extreme poverty. Its intransigence is alarming given the fact that development has been the main item in the minds of the people since independence.
Many donor organizations and the UN have devoted millions of dollars to the country to reduce poverty and enhance development, but the more money they spent the poorer the people of Sierra Leone have become, why? Because some of the money is spent on the technical and international staffs, some goes to corrupt officials within the country and the rest is spent on the project that has no value to the country.
Many wealthy nations have government departments devoted to the development of the country, and the amount of cash and in-kind transfers these countries have disbursed over the years is substantial, but we are still the poorest due to bad governance over the years.
Since independence we have been receiving financial aid, the success within has been scattered and slow, especially given the optimism that was so prevalent before independence. An average Sierra Leonean cannot afford a dollar (Le3,000) for food a day. The monthly salary of the average Sierra Leone is about $50 or Le150,000. But with such ‘fish cake’(courtesy Emmerson) salary to the poor people, the members of parliament have the guts to ask for a whooping $4,000 or Le12 million monthly salary and a Le45 million 4 x 4 vehicle loan that they would never repay.
What accounts for the pattern of long term failure in my opinion was the emergence of the ‘Washington consensus’, that good economic policy was essential to growth that only democratic nations will be able to grow rapidly, but how did China become so successful without democracy and the Washington principle?
The term governance emerged in the development community in the 80s to refer to the overall institutional and governing architecture of a country like Sierra Leone. Shortcomings in the governance are the only explanation of the country’s failure to develop after 40 years of external assistance.
During the 1990s usage of the term was stretched to encompass more overt political factors such as democracy and human rights. Governance has become a convenient basket term for a mix of factors. These include a government’s management of public funds – accountability and corruption; the transparency with which it conducts its business – openness and accountability to parliament; it’s legal and judicial framework – effective and fair application of the law; the quality of its representative institutions – elections and public participation and the behavior of its enforcement agencies – human rights.
Sierra Leone is weak in all of these areas, because service delivery or provision of public services such as health and education are the main considerations of good governance. The aspects of governance can be quantified and measured, especially those relating directly to elections and public finance. Other aspects, relating to exclusion of social groups, are less quantified, but may be at least important.
The transparent use of State resources, including the absence of corruption in areas such as public works and procurement, are central issues in our governance. These areas have long been the concern of the donors in their assessments of fiscal and budgetary standards.
The concerns of the legal frame work of the constitution and law of Sierra Leone provides an adequate tool for the guarantee of individual and group rights that has indeed helped Sierra Leone to obtain more aid. There is no law discriminating against individuals or groups and we have some separation of powers. These are all conditions laid down by the donors before we can get the required assistance and attraction of better business investment.
We always expect our governments to comply with the laws. According to the constitution the president was wrong to appoint ministers who have contested and won seats in the parliament, but who cares. This is one possibility of making judgments of a good or bad governance policy especially when they control the parliament. They alter the law to suit their own political purposes.
Another point of good governance is whether in reality the principle of rights and freedoms are adequately observed by those acting in the name of the State and whether those who abuse human rights are adequately pursued and punished. The use of violence with impunity by the police is the main concern, directed against journalists, opposition members and the population in the country in general.
These are mostly politically motivated because it was the same police force that was operating under the SLPP and their excesses were controlled as the SLPP has never used violence to pursue their political goals. So when the APC won the last general elections, violence and the crime rate increased rapidly throughout the country.
Good governance consists of government representing and acting on behalf of the population as a whole. This includes formal democracy, which can partly be measured by analysis of the overall electoral processes, although observing elections only on the day often yields little insight. At least the Kailahun court Barry phenomenon has been laid to rest as we look forward to 2012.
Formal democracy has two important consequences: legitimacy and restraint. If a government’s electoral legitimacy is contested, rather than its policies or actions, the institutions of State are thereby contested, making both corruption and violent insurrection more likely. A government is restrained in its actions and may be held to account if it fears electoral approbation, and may be better motivated to provide public goods to the population as a whole.
While necessary, multiparty democracy is not an adequate guarantee of inclusion. As formal democratic processes have become the norm over the last ten years, informal exclusion is now arguably the biggest challenge to our governance. Parts of the country’s population may be excluded from the distribution of State resources, and from the actual decision making processes, especially in our case when the winner-takes-all.
This may be simply a question of distribution of State spending, or it may take on more serious political aspects, such as the use of xenophobia to legitimize the exclusion of a social group from the benefits of state power. The past government spent most of their resources in the north for political gains, but they ended up as losers in the north and the elections as a whole. Presently, I can’t tell where this government is concentrating its own effort, whether in their political stronghold of the north or the south and east. Politics in Sierra Leone is about contest between different social groups for the control of resources and social recognition. Although it does not allow for neat and easy measurement, the exclusion of groups from the political game has real and serious consequences, exacerbating the country’s poverty, and is a major threat to stability.
With such varied components it is inevitably difficult to come up with clear judgments on the overall quality of governance in the country and harder still to attempt comparative judgments. The country has a very poor standard of public financial management, only the lively free press that is keeping them on their toes. When the international community talks of governance, it often simply reflects issues of current concern as human rights and corruption. For the aid partnership, however, financial accountability is an over riding consideration, not least due to accountability to parliament for aid expenditure.
If donors make judgments on overly technical and inflexible criteria, the danger is that savvy politicians will learn how to tick the boxes by setting up the anti-corruption commission while business as usual continues behind the scenes.
The current president has been in the opposition for 10 years and I am expecting him to have vast knowledge of the problems within the country and he should not be telling us to give him 36 months before we can judge him. President Atta-Mills can’t tell the Ghanaians to wait for that long to judge him. It was the same mistake Kabbah made when he told the people of Sierra Leone that come 2007 no one will go to bed hungry, but more Sierra Leoneans became hungrier than before.
President Obama who was in the Senate for eight years knew America’s problem and immediately he took over the Oval office, he started putting his plans into action and Americans have already started judging him, they would not wait for two years to give their opinions. A leader of a state should have sufficient information and solutions to his or her country’s problems before contesting and winning an election.
The current state of affairs in the country shows that the country is not improving economically, socially or educationally. The responsibility of delivering better governance to the public by this government looks bleak and dim. How long are we going to be fed by the west when we have depoits of natural resources in abundance? Even if this government has a vision of extending our quay port to make it the biggest in the sub-region and then use it as transshipment point would be of immense economic and social gain to this small but ‘rich’ country.