By Amin Kef Sesay
Many Sierra Leoneans in and out of the country have honestly attested that the Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, statement in April 2018 that the Bio led administration has implemented robust economic reforms that has increased domestic revenue generation and also strengthened expenditure management to the admiration of its international development partners, is indeed a truism.
From what this medium gathered of late, Minister Saffa is excelling at the Ministry of Finance as indicted by major world organizations like the International Monetary Fund, World Bank and the African Development Bank, as those financial institutions have reposed their trust in him and have been working with him even during this period of COVID-19 when other world economies have witnessed severe economic contractions.
It is an open secret that even under the impact and economic strain caused by COVID-19, all three financial institutions have been disbursing funds to implement certain projects in accordance with earlier agreements signed with the able Finance Minister who has commended to be very skillful in international negotiations.
As had been argued by financial experts if the Minister of Finance was not competent enough to chart the economy forward in a very realistic manner then these international financial institutions would have not been supportive to the President Bio’s led political administration as it is the case with countries that have been failing to fulfill certain benchmarks that laid down.
Without holding any brief for the Finance Minister, however, the facts are glaring that since he was appointed into that Ministry by HE Dr. Julius Maada Bio, he has stoutly proved himself as the best Finance Minister this country has ever produced.
Many people have in the past described the Finance Ministry as a poison chalice as most former Ministers never survived there for long but Saffa has survived over the years.
He has pushed for so many developmental initiatives in the country thereby complementing the New Direction Manifesto.
Minister Saffa, just recently, in collaboration with the Ministry of Tourism successful launched and implemented the Four Billion Eight Hundred and Eighty Three Million Eight Hundred and Forty Thousand Leones (Le4,883,840,000) Social Safety Net Wage Bill Support to affected employees in the Tourism and Hospitality sectors in order to mitigate the debilitating impact of the coronavirus pandemic and reduce the economic burden on workers in those sectors.
Going further the Minster, through his office also pioneered the launch of the One Hundred and Fifty Six Million United State dollars ($156M) for the Quick Action Economic Response Programme in order to maintain macro-economic and financial stability and to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 shock on businesses and households.
The evident reason for this is because since he took up office he has been able to put this country’s economy on a sound footing to create growth and reduce unemployment both of which have been challenges for this country.
Below are some of the few impressive achievements that the Minister of Finance has made within a very short period of time:
Sierra Leone Benefited from AFDP 10 Million Dollar COVID-19 Response, the AfDB approved a $10 billion COVID-19 response facility aimed at assisting the continent to confront the pandemic.
Hon Saffa has pushed the ADB to pledge funds to help Sierra Leone in its health sector and macro policy response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
On Friday 3rd April 2020 in a Press Statement the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) approved the disbursement of another 21.13 million dollar budget support to the Government of Sierra Leone under the current Extended Credit Facility programme.
The approval came after the completion of the Fund’s Second Review of the country’s performance under the 172.1 million dollar programme that was signed in November 2018. This will enable the IMF to immediately disburse 21.13 million dollars, bringing total disbursements under the arrangement to about US$63.39 million dollars.
This programme aims to create fiscal space for development needs by strengthening revenue mobilization and improving the efficiency of public investment.
It must be recalled that the World Bank Group on the 17th June 2020, approved a $100 million grant to Sierra Leone for promoting sustainable and inclusive growth and building economic resilience. This windfall took place amidst the Corona pandemic and global challenge facing developing countries with Sierra Leone being no exception.
The $100 million grant is from the International Development Association (IDA) to support the Government of Sierra Leone in promoting sustainable and inclusive growth and building economic resilience. This Development Policy Financing (DPF) supports ongoing reforms to enhance macro-economic stability, increase productivity in agriculture and fisheries, promote transparency in public procurement, and build an effective asset disclosure system to fight corruption and improve public sector accountability.
It has been ascertained that this is the first time that a grant of $100M support by the World Bank has been disbursed to the Sierra Leone Government and it came about when President Bio visited both the President and Vice President of the World Bank in Washington where he called on them to increase the support to the country.
Responding to this development, Minister of Finance Jacob Jusu Saffa expressed his delight and pride that the reforms of the Government of President Julius Maada Bio under the New Direction are receiving international commendation.
“It is in the interest of Sierra Leone to have an economic programme with the IMF and also to be on track meeting economic benchmarks and reforms of the programme,” he said.
The Minister further stated that the disbursement of all this funds has given Government the space to spend on key priorities of Government more so the COVID-19 pandemic ravaging the world. He said this is also a clear indication of the trust and confidence development partners and the international community has for the leadership of HE President Julius Maada Bio and the SLPP led Government.
It could be recalled that prior to the 2018 elections, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other development partners suspended their programmes (Funds) to the Government of Sierra Leone because the then APC Government failed to keep to the then Extended Credit Facility (ECF) Programme which led to the suspension of the Fund’s programme in Sierra Leone. But with the astute leadership of the Hon. Minister of Finance ,Jacob Jusu Saffa, Sierra Leone was able to get a new programme with the IMF which was the catalyst for other development partners’ interventions.
According to the IMF, since coming to office in early 2018, the Government implemented key reforms and launched a new National Development Plan with a strong emphasis on investing in education, infrastructure and improving governance.
Growth stabilized at 3.5 percent in 2018 before picking up to an estimated 5.1percent in 2019, on the back of a broad-based recovery of economic activity. At the same time, inflation moderated to under 14 percent by the end of 2019.