In a disappointing turn of events, local contractors are expressing frustration over unmet promises by the Government to settle substantial domestic arrears owed to them before the end of December 2023. Hopes were high among contractors, but these were dashed when they encountered a series of excuses from senior officials in the Ministry of Finance, including Minister Sheku Ahmed Fantamadi Bangura.
Initially, contractors were informed that a US$65 million grant from the World Bank aimed at supporting the Government’s macroeconomic stability would be disbursed, with a portion allocated for contractor payments. However, this disbursement did not materialize as expected. On December 21, 2023, the World Bank released the funds through the Bank of Sierra Leone, instructing contractors to await payments until civil and public servant salaries for December had been processed.
Subsequently, contractors were informed that Minister Bangura had ceased office attendance due to personal reasons. In the first week of January 2024, they were further informed that State House approval was required before any disbursements could occur.
As the Ministry of Finance seemingly runs out of justifications, local contractors find themselves dodged, prompting some to avoid their offices amid fears of potential altercations with disgruntled suppliers and workers. The repercussions of delayed or absent payments extend beyond individual contractors, adversely affecting the execution of vital government projects in areas such as water, agriculture, energy, health, and roads.
The suspension of these projects in various provinces is a direct consequence of the Ministry’s failure to promptly disburse funds. Of particular concern is the jeopardy posed to President Dr. Julius Maada Bio’s ambitious Big 5 development agenda, which includes initiatives like Feed Salone. The success of these key projects hinges on timely financial support, which the Ministry’s delays threaten to undermine.
A retired senior civil servant from the Ministry of Development issued a stern warning, urging the Ministry of Finance to cease obstructing local contractors and facilitate the timely disbursement of funds crucial for major government development projects.
Efforts to reach senior officials in the Ministry of Finance over the weekend proved futile, leaving the situation unresolved. Investigations into the matter are ongoing, highlighting the pressing need for transparency and accountability in financial dealings affecting critical national initiatives.