By Augustine James and Ibrahim Bangura
The Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Siaffa, has reiterated to journalists at the weekly press briefing organized by the Ministry of Information and Communications, that his determination to develop the country’s economy is at the highest level and Sierra Leoneans should not be too hasty in thinking that he cannot do the job.
It is not news that over the past few months Mr. Siaffa has faced serious criticism with regards the inflation rate in the country which in turn has caused an increase in the cost of living, resulting into growing speculations and calls from the populace for his sacking from the office because he has failed to address the economic challenges in the country.
Explaining some of the reasons for inflation in the economy, Mr. Siaffa explained that the foreign exchange rate is suffering because the country’s export is at a very low rate.
He went on to say that over 70% of the export in the past five years came from the mining sector but that the sector has been crippled by obnoxious agreements between the former government and some of the companies involved in the sector, which they are now trying to correct.
He said another factor is that they use the dollars they generate to pay the huge external debt they inherited from their predecessors, adding that they pay a whopping 110 Billion Leones as interest every month to service the debt deficit they inherited.
Mr. Siaffa, said that people who are calling for his head should think again, because there are not many people around who can replace him, considering the skills, knowledge and experience he has to move the economy forward.
“We inherited a US$ 1.5 Million Dollars external debt, US$660 Million internal debt and US$320 million arrears. Getting a country’s economy that has been severely damaged to a transformed state might even last an entire life time” he announced.
Speaking on the “bread and butter issue”, Mr. Siaffa stated that the only way to address this is by ensuring that people get jobs.
“You cannot get bread and butter if you do not have a job or the right skills to meet the present job market”. he said.
The Minister emphasized that he is on the right trajectory to tackle the economy, as the GDP is expected to grow by 5.1% by 2020.
He said the economy is also facing challenges due to poor economic policies, bad laws and mining concessional agreement, low importation and the high demand for foreign exchange.
He explained that since they took over governance, 70% of both recurrent and development expenditure is being financed by the revenue generated by government, adding that only 15% is being contributed by donor partners. He further disclosed that from April to November 2018 they ran the country without donor support.
“Economic transformation is not an event It needs to be structured and transformed on a daily basis” the minister affirmed.
Mr. Siaffa said that two thirds of the revenue they collect is used to service the external debt and twenty percent of government expenditure is being spent on paying the interest rates but that in spite of this, his ministry is doing very well in terms of revenue mobilization, stating that within one year, from January to June 2019, they have exceeded their target to over Le 213 Million Dollars.
He said the executive order number one, imposed by government on revenue concession has helped in revenue mobilization, adding that the massive automation system implemented by the National Revenue Authority (NRA) has also boosted revenue collection.
He concluded by affirming that government will address the depreciation of the Leone, and solve the issue of ‘bread and butter’ within a short period.
However, according to the Chairlady of the Calaba Town Market Women’s Association (CMWA), Madam Yeabu Kamara, the prices of commodities in the market are skyrocketing every day because, according to her, there is no price control, adding that the government should try to control the dollar.
“Our Leone is declining day-by-day because of poor policies from the government, and government should try to salvage the situation now” She suggested.
In an interview with the Chairman of Congo Market Association (CMA), Mr. Musa Jalloh, he said food security in the country has been a major challenge for many due to the increase in the exchange rates, adding that the government and its donor partners should try to curb the situation.
“Government should come to our aid. Everything is expensive in the market, and government should reduce taxes on food stuff for the moment. A full bag of rice is now three hundred thousand Leones (Le 300,000) We are tired with the system. The living conditions of many Sierra Leoneans are appalling” he lamented