An Economy in austerity, with domestic revenue to GDP ratio among the lowest in the sub region, plus the suspension of the economic programme with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that led to low donor confidence and support, was the situation in Sierra Leone before the 2018 general elections.
This was the state of the country's economy that current Minister of Finance, Hon. Jacob Jusu Saffa, inherited upon taking up office in 2018. The development oriented economic guru wasted no time to develop a five year strategic plan with his team at the ministry, mapping how to turn around the situation in the shortest possible time.
In less than six months in office, Hon. Jacob Jusu Saffa Led government interventions to engage the IMF and other development partners and was able to restore relationship with the IMF on an extended credit facility programme of $USD 171 million. This renewed relationship with the IMF boosted the confidence of other development partners and donors like the World Bank that recently disbursed an unprecedented whopping some of $USD 100 Million, as budget to Sierra Leone; including timely disbursement from the African development Bank, European Union, Islamic development Bank among others. All of this took place as a result of the prudent financial management of the economy, clearly observed by development partners, under the stewardship of the financial guru.
One major manifesto commitment of the New Direction is to increase domestic revenue from 12.3% to 20% by 2023. In order to achieve this and blocking of leakages, Minister Saffa supervised the development of a duty waiver policy to restrict abuse of the process. Also, the ministry of finance is supporting the National Revenue Authority (NRA) with policies to achieve this.
Another sticking point was the government's wage bill; it is no secret that a significant portion of government resources that is spent on salaries of government workers was very high and to address this situation, the current government introduced verification exercises for all government workers. During this process, all workers were required to come forward for verification and this included their NASSIT. After the exercise, over 2,000 workers failed to turn up for verification, which has been interpreted as an open display of payment to 'Ghost Workers'. Even as this writer pens down this assessment, they have not showed up and their names have been struck off the pay roll. The government now keeps full record of all its workers, and this has resulted in regular uninterrupted salary payment on a monthly basis.
Along this line, Minister Saffa has got the government to take over the payment of salaries to lecturers in the university and end all the delays in payment and the incessant strike actions by these lecturers, which often disturb the academic year of students, adversely affecting their pursuit of academic excellence. As this ends all concerns over lecturer salaries, it now lays the ground for the full implementation of the President's dream to return the country's lost academic glory and the provision of quality education and human capacity building that President Bio had promised and has embarked on with the introduction of the Free Quality Education in schools.
In a bid to ensure financial development, the introduction of a Directorate of Research in the Finance Ministry has seen the country's development plans being research driven and this has informed government policies. To give students a taste of governance and expose them to further practical knowledge, the Ministry has engaged students in the research process.
As the country experiences steady growth, donor confidence grew, with international partners like the World Bank, European Union, AfDB coming on board, funding many projects. Unfortunately, this growth was rudely interrupted by the advent of COVID-19, which ravaged the whole world, sending some economies creeping.
Whilst tackling the virus' negative impact on the economy of the country, this economic dinosaur, again displayed the stuff he is made of when through his advice, the government embarked on a novel program, the Quick Action Economic Response Programme (QAERP) that provides a social safety net to citizens; where vulnerable people were targeted and given cash to mitigate against the economic impact of the disease on their businesses and lives. This system was extended to businesses, including the Tourism Industry and hospitality. Impressed about the government's pro-activeness, top international financial partners continue to pledge commitments to support the government's strides, effectively reviving a relationship that had gone sour prior to the assumption of power by the New Direction government. This has added more feathers to the cap of the Finance Minister, which was seen in his re-election as Chairman by WAMZ.
J. J Saffa's prudent economic management has seen the employment of officials with the requisite skills and knowledge in charge of strategic positions that have been delivering. His performance had not gone unnoticed, as according to a reliable source, his Ministry bagged the first position in the Chief Minister's Performance Tracking Report.
With the country's economy still struggling to recover from the twin shocks of global commodity prices and the Ebola, and the recent COVID-19 pandemic, a man like J.J Saffa with his vast knowledge on Sierra Leones development trajectory, the New Direction Manifesto and the medium term development plan, is more appropriate to lead President Bio's New Direction Crusade of economic recovery and growth.