“We have stopped eating breakfast altogether because the tea things involved, Milk, egg, cocoa, coffee, ovaltine are so expensive. And as for fruit, I can’t remember the last time I bought some,” sighed a housewife in lumley
A Local Construction Company told Awoko that they are running at a loss now “The prices of building materials and just climbing and have almost doubled the estimate we gave to our client who has already paid the bulk of the money. Now we cannot go back to him, we have to see how we can complete his work at our own expense”
Tejani is a night watchman at Kroo Town Road, “It is a miracle to live from day to day, there are days when we can’t afford to eat.”
A Prison Officer, who is being paid less than two hundred thousand Leones, and who is also a single mother with a household of eight said, “It is becoming unbearable to cope now. I am afraid to get up from my bed to meet the daily needs of my family”
The details may differ, but the story is the same countrywide. The cost of living is rising relentlessly. For many, bread and milk have become a luxury, and three meals a day a rarity.
Some alleviate the problem by working longer hours, but others find work difficult or even impossible to obtain. They are forced to devote each day to the unending and often fruitless task of searching for food. For them, it is not merely a question of coping with the cost of living but, rather, a matter of struggling to meet the cost of survival.
The villain is inflation, or rising prices.
A wedge has also been placed on the wheels of Wages and it continues to be static and they rarely keep pace with the rise in prices.
But particularly hard hit are those on fixed incomes, such as the pensioners or the unemployed. There has been a marked drop in the standard of living in recent years.
The rate of inflation
The price of rice the staple food of the country has skyrocketed from Le75,000 just before elections (August 2007) to between Le105,000 and Le110,000.
The price increases for a bag of sugar, onions, oil and provisions have been equally high and unbelievable.
Construction companies and house builders are also crying over the recent increases in building materials-iron rods, cement, iron sheets, paints and they say the increments were instantaneous because the prices were down six months ago.
Statistics Sierra Leone in grim statistics outplayed the figures of inflation for February and there are indications that for March and April inflation is still rising.
The statistics analysis holds that the “overall monthly CPI (2003=100) for February 2008 increased from 169.6 in January 2008 to 172.5 in February 2008.
The increase in the price of food especially bread and cereals (7.05 per cent) milk(1.58 per cent), fruits(3.4 per cent), vegetables(6.1 per cent) and oils(10.1 percent) continue to influence the increase in the CPI. Thus the food index increased by 3.4 per cent, which was reinforced by increases in the indices for Housing (1.38 percent), Furnishing and Household Maintenance (0.35 per cent), Restaurants and Hotels (1.58 per cent) and Health (1.05 per cent). The overall effect statistics concluded was an increase in the monthly rate of inflation by 2.12 per cent”
Who is to blame?
Some people have been blaming the All People’s Congress Party (government) for the increase in prices, pointing out that when the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) was in Power prices were not so high.
The Minister of Agriculture, Mr Sam Sesay during a press conference held at the Ministry of Information, said that the rising cost of living is out of government control.
He blamed the economic policies of other countries, explaining that there had been a demand for food grain in Asia to feed livestock and that most rice producing countries are using arable land for Bio-energy production and as a result the Global food reserve is the lowest ever.
Mr Sesay said that India which had been one of the highest exporters of rice and which Sierra Leone had been depending on has banned its rice exportation.
The Minister also pointed out that the price of metric tones of rice which had been about 400 dollars had doubled to over 800 dollars.
“In view of this state of affairs the price of rice definitely will go up” Mr Sam Sesay reasoned.
The Agriculture Minister also shifted the blame on the increase in the price of fuel.
The President of the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Aki Macauley told Awoko that as a Chamber they have accepted that the rise in prices has to do with “international connections which may be beyond the control of government”
He hastened to say “I am not defending the government but what is true is true, rice, fuel, and building materials are not manufactured locally and these have to be imported and you have to pay international prices.
The Chamber of Commerce President however blamed business people for hoarding goods.
“We are talking about change of attitude and this is where this attitudinal change comes in we want to alleviate the sufferings of others so if you have the goods then sell them why keep it for the price increase tomorrow.” Aki Macauley challenged.
Tackling the rise of prices
The Chamber of Commerce President recommended that Sierra Leone should embark on rice production; “if we are able to feed ourselves without importing we will save a lot and even save our foreign exchange” he said.
He pointed out that Sierra Leone used to be a rice exporting country, now if we can feed ourselves and export to earn foreign exchange; this will increase the standard of living of the average Sierra Leoneans.
The Chamber of Commerce, Mr Macauley pointed out has been asking for years now, that the duty is high on goods generally and should be reduced.
He said “government have been saying when you compare to other countries in the sub region the duties Sierra Leone is asking for are not out of line”
Mr Macauley said that if it is possible the importers of basic commodities like rice should pay the barest minimum in terms of duty as that will help.
He said that government should consider also a further reduction on the duties of basic necessities.
Some People have suggested that to nip the rise of prices in the bud, government should introduce price control and then there would be a solution.
The Chamber of Commerce President said that price control is not advisable in today’s world.
He said “We should leave the prices of goods to the forces of market -demand and supply”
The Chamber President added, price control has been experimented in the past but it had a negative effect on the economy and the coffers of the government “You hardly find it in a free market economy as it obtains in Sierra Leone”
The Agriculture Minister in terms of rice, assured that they have prepared a program for production of rice and the President Ernest Koroma, will announce a cut off date for importation after they have firmed up the program.
Economic analysts say there is really no short term measure the government will take to tackle the rate of inflation because it is a global trend.
They say USA is currently facing recession whilst some African countries the latest Ivory Coast have risen up against their government because of rising prices.
The hardship elastic of Sierra Leoneans is stretching beyond its limits waiting to notch.
Would an increase in wages help in the solution?