Members of Parliament have on Friday unanimously approved the 2020 Financial Year Supplementary Budget and Statement of Economic and Financial Policies.
The Supplimentary bill 'Saving Lives and Livelihoods"was read and tabled in Parliament by the Minister of Finance.
Presenting the bill to MPs, Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, said the COVID-19 outbreak is threatening to reverse the government gains in stabilising the economy and hard-won economic recovery of the past twenty-four months, noting that like most countries across the world, the Government of Sierra Leone is trying to strike a delicate balance between saving lives and saving livelihoods.
He said building on the lessons from the Ebola health crisis, government took pre-emptive measures even before recording the index case on the 31st of March,2020, and that consistent with international best practices in fighting such pandemics, the government adopted several containment measures including suspension of international flights, closure of borders, partial lockdowns, and restrictions on inter-district movements, ban on public gatherings, night curfews, and social distancing.
He said the supplementary budget is to reprioritize some of the budgetary allocations in the original 2020 budget-to provide the fiscal space to fund critical activities necessary for building health sector resilience and keeping the economy stable.
Minister Saffa stated that while the COVID-19 containment measures were to save lives, their implementation had adverse consequences on economic activities particularly in the services sector, which is the second largest sector of our economy.
He further stated that the hardest hit sectors have been trading, tourism, and transportation, agriculture, fisheries, and manufacturing and that the uncertainty created by COVID-19 is also delaying the inflow of foreign direct investment into the economy.
"As expected of most countries, overall, the domestic output is projected to contract in 2020 with adverse consequences for domestic revenue mobilisation," he said.
He said the total expenditure and net lending is revised upwards by Le1.2 trillion to Le10.5 trillion in the Supplementary Budget from Le9.35 trillion in the original 2020 budget.
He said according to the supplementary budget, an amount of Le308.8 billion has been allocated to the health response interventions, including the government's contributions to the operations of NaCOVERC of Le200.0 billion, ambulance operations, Le26.6 billion, mortuary services for 20 hospitals, Le16.4 billion and laboratory and X-ray services, Le65.8 billion.
He said Le298.3 billion has also been allocated for the implementation of the Quick Action Economic Response Programme.
"These allocations includes support to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) through a dedicated Credit Facility and Micro Credit Scheme of Le50 billion, Social Safety Nets of Le50 billion comprising Cash Transfers and Food Assistance of Le20 billion and bailout to State-Owned Enterprises (SoEs) of Le15 billion and support to the tourism sector, Le20 billion, Labour intensive public works, Le102. 7 billion, and Agriculture, Le90.7 billion, of which, food production activities are allocated an amount of Le70.7 billion," he explained.
He explained that other allocations were aligned to local councils, and that grants to Tertiary Educational Institutions, Energy Subsidies; transfers to TSA agencies, and the Road Maintenance Fund will remain as budgeted in the original 2020 Budget.
"For the second half of 2020, an amount of Le460.5 billion is allocated for the completion of critical road projects including Le261.6 billion for the implementation of the ongoing MOUs with road contractors for the completion of the Hill-Side Bye Pass Road, Lumley-Tokeh Road and township streets in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Bonthe as well as spot improvement of roads in Kabala," he said.
He said Le172.0 billion has been allocated to the energy sector for the electrification of seven district towns (Kabala, Kambia, Kailahun, Moyamba, Pujehun, Bonthe and Mattru) and repairs of Government-owned thermal plants.
He also stated that an amount of Le146.0 billion has been allocated for the Freetown Water Supply Improvement Project; Bonthe Water Supply System and the Six Towns (Kambia, Kabala, Magburaka, Kailahun, Moyamba and Pujehun) Water Supply Project.
Contributing to the debate, Hon.Paul Sam of the Coalition for Change (C4C) party said government cannot do without agriculture, which addresses the bread and butter issue.
"As per the 255 tractors that were bought some times ago, we want to see the distribution of those tractors adequately to all districts for the government to succeed in what they are yearning for. There is need to do follow up on the NARCOVER payment of salaries as only the coordinators are receiving payment. You must first know if those monies are actually going to the frontline workers," he said.
Leader of the main opposition All People's Congress (APC), Hon. Chernoh R.M Bah said they were told that 255 tractors were bought, but that the Ministry of Agriculture confirmed that 180 were bought.
"We need to know the actual figure of the tractors that have been purchased as there seems to be some discrepancies in the current figures," he said.
He commended the government for prioritising local content policy by giving contracts to indigenous road construction companies.
"It's is a mark of continuity in governance. When the APC came to power in 2007, allocation to education was 4 percent, and on exiting power, APC left it at 17 percent," he said.
He urged the minister to follow the paths of continuity and do timely disbursement of funds for MDAs to deliver on the development agenda of the country.
Finance Committee Chairman, Hon. Francis A. Kaisamba, said the rationale for such supplementary budget has been clarified by the minister as most of the things mentioned will not be implemented, if there are no funds since covid-19 has affected most of the sectors.
Hon. Mark Mahmoud Kalokoh said water is a very important sector hence priority should be attached to it.
He said a certain water project was to be undertaken in Blama (Bo district), but that according to the contractor, funds were yet to be released by the ministry of finance.
Hon. Sallieu Osman Sesay said there is no way that the government can bring bread and butter to the lives of Sierra Leoneans if priorities are not placed on agriculture.