This is the question posed to me by a friend who was visiting home for the first time in about a decade. “Economically, things are tough” came my initial reply.
The introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST – 15%) combined with a more proactive approach to tax collection by the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and the scary presence of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has increased the cost of living in Sierra Leone. However, this is a very positive thing for Sierra Leone so it is a bitter pill we have to swallow. It is not perfect but we will learn to understand it and how it works. I do believe that 15% is on the high side, but the silver lining is that it should force us to ask where the money is going! This should be the natural - we pay tax and earn the right to demand accountability.
Add to this the fact that the entire global economy is still on a downer and it just makes things worse. The tourism industry where I am, has been seriously hit and there are no signs yet of things turning around. Sierra Leone of course, hardly has what you’d call a tourism industry anyway.
The promise of things to come…
However, I can categorically say that I am once more starting to get very optimistic about Sierra Leone’s future. There is just so much going on.
Free health for pregnant women and infants
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Sierra Leone has the world's highest death rate among pregnant women and children. Hopefully not for much longer! The government will launch free health care on April 27th 2010. There are many questions as to whether it will be sustainable and many criticisms that the systems are not in place. As long as the government is committed to making it happen I’m sure (well I hope) they will find a way. Regardless, this is an important development for Sierra Leone and I wish them the best of luck!
Improving road infrastructure
I am very impressed with how the government appears to have taken the challenge on infrastructure head on. Some of the ongoing road projects include the
- Peninsula Road (ongoing)
- Kambia-Port Loko (ongoing)
- Masiaka-Bo-Kenema(more or less complete)
- Kenema-Koindu Road Corridor (Kenema-Pendembu 1st phase, ongoing)
- Makeni - Matotoka (ongoing)
- Port Loko – Lungi (soon to award contract)
- Hill-Side road (soon to commence)
A couple of interesting ones are:
- Widening of Wilkinson Road (Madongo Town to Lumley
- Rehabilitation of City (Freetown) Roads
I say interesting because these are wholly funded by the Government… also taking into consideration the amount of property development in those areas, I can just imagine the chaos. It’s also scheduled to be complete in 2011. Nice!
So, not only is Bumbuna complete but another 10MW machine was just last week commissioned in Freetown. I also heard the Minister of energy and Power on the radio talking about other towns in the provinces where going to get Bumbuna power by the end of the year. Sierra Leone’s chronic energy problem is by no means solved but the political will appears to be there and sometimes that’s all it takes.
Internet Underwater cable
Now this is one that is another one that is close to my heart! Sierra Leone has confirmed its plan to connect to the Africa Coast to Europe (ACE) cable, a submarine fibre-optic system that would run along West Africa with connections to France and South Africa. The project is expected to go live in 2011. Not only should this significantly increase the bandwidth available to Sierra Leone but it should also be cheaper. I will be following this one closely.
Some interesting investments
It sounds like private money on a large scale is starting to trickle in. A lot of noise has been made about London Mining’s investment in the Marampa Iron Ore project and Addax Energy’s $400m investment in agribusiness. Both seem to hold promise – but both deals have come upon criticism from various circles. I haven’t read the small print but I hope Sierra Leone benefits from such investments. it is definitely worth following their development. According to MarketWatch, mines will see $3 Billion of Investment in Next Three Years.
Airport Ground handling
I complained about the airport in my recent blog post. I still think it’s badly run. There were two recent developments at the airport though. A firm has been awarded the contract to carry out a complete refurbishment of the airside infrastructure of Lungi Airport. In a separate development, a new company is now responsible for ground handling operations at the airport. The new ground handling company Sky Handling Partners (Sierra Leone) is a subsidiary of Groupe Europe Handling.
The new and improved Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation
I believe this we are only the second country in Africa to have a public broadcaster – after SABC. Definitely the first in West Africa.
The SLBC is the result of a merger between United Nations radio in Sierra Leone and the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service.
Septimus Kaikai a former Minister of Information in the SLPP administration is chairman of the board of trustees.
The new and improved SLBC TV (broadcasting about 12-18 hours a day) bears almost no resemblance to SLBS TV. I'm really impressed so far... and in a country where Satellite subscription is probably under 10,000 households (DSTV is under 5k), there seems to be a lot of scope for growth as I've been led to believe they also broadcast in other districts. The program scheduling needs some work but it’s a great start. As with all things sustainability and being able to generate enough revenue is key and I’m guessing advertising and external funding would help. However, while the do have some good reporters/programs they will need to downsize and go after new and dynamic individuals and talent to keep viewers interested. Well done SLBC, Good Luck!
Anti Corruption Commission
Regardless of what some might have you believe, the Anti-Corruption is a much more effective institution than ever before. For the first time we are seeing government officials at the Ministerial positions being called to task. The Minsters of Health and that of Marine Resources have both lost their jobs after being charged to court by the ACC. They follow the former head of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) and other people in office who have been prosecuted by the ACC. While corruption cannot be eradicated; the ACC under the leadership of Abdul Tejan-Cole is a fantastic ally in the fight against it.
This is not saying that all is well, there are still many challenges to overcome but there still many reasons to be optimistic about the future.
Oh, and Akon is coming to town for a concert!