As members of the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) continue their work of reviewing Sierra Leone’s 1991 Constitution, President Ernest Koroma, in this wide-ranging interview with Charles Davies, gives his views on the process that could have far-reaching political implications; talks about his legacy; successes and failure and the perennial power supply problems.
WHEN President Ernest Koroma launched the CRC in July 2013, he told members of the committee: “We must act to remove constitutional ambiguities, ensure greater clarity of our statutes; and rationalise our governance processes.” He is still of the view that the 1991 Constitution has to change to fit in with the realities in Sierra Leone today, telling New Africa Analysis that the ongoing process “is a great moment for every Sierra Leonean”.
He said the process would “give us an opportunity to reflect on the 1991 Constitution”. He admitted that the Constitution itself had posed “challenges” to governance and as such there was a need to improve on this.
Koroma pointed out that even before he came into office in 2007 there was a review of the country’s Constitution headed by Peter Tucker, who had presented submissions to the then Sierra Leone People’s Party government. But he explained that the submissions were placed on the back burner because in his first term off office he did not want to “create distractions and maybe send signals to people that you want to create a situation that will put you in a position of advantage”.
He said the ongoing review was going very well, with the committee “addressing so many issues”, insisting that the exercise had to be a public one. Koroma added: “I am challenging [members of] the committee to ensure that they reach out to every Sierra Leonean, both in the country and out of the country.
“They must listen to everyone, and come up with a document that will make governance better; that will deepen democracy; that will make everybody feel part and parcel of the governance machinery; that will mean that we give transparency and accountability for the management of our resources, our inheritance. I believe that at the end of the day, when all of these issues are addressed, Sierra Leone will turn out to be a proper democracy where everyone will participate; and he or she will be free to express his or her view within the context of democracy and human rights.
“These will facilitate our transformation, because now we have set ourselves a target of achieving middle income status by 2035. And for you to get there you really have to have a Constitution that will ensure that everybody is part of the process. So this is where we are and everybody is looking forward to it with great expectations,” the president added.
On the issue of his legacy, Koroma said Sierra Leoneans “have seen my legacy unfolding in terms of infrastructure, energy, agriculture, and education”. He said what he would like to see was ensuring that these changes were sustained, adding: “And not only sustainability of the structures. I want to see a unified and democratic country that is at peace with itself; that is focused on reaching our targeted goal of a middle income status, in a very peaceful and democratic manner.”
Looking back at his main achievements after almost eight years in power, Korma told New Africa Analysis that things were difficult at times, noting that when he came to power in 2007 “we started to experience the global commodity crisis here”. He said this was followed by the fuel crisis and subsequently the financial crisis that hit the world. “And since then the world has not fully recovered,” he added.
“So it was quite a difficult start, but I came in quite prepared and focused, knowing the commitment and promises we made during the campaign and also the aspirations of the people. Together we came up with the Agenda for Change on which every sector required attention. But we decided to concentrate on the growth areas and prioritise these sectors, and that was how we started with energy, infrastructure, agriculture and the social services – health and education in that order.”
On the thorny issue of power supply in the country, especially Freetown, Koroma said: “Of course we promised regular electricity in Freetown within 100 days. We achieved that. We promised additional generation capacity and we succeeded by completing the Bumbuna phase one, which was under construction for a period of 30 or more years. This brought in an additional 50 megawatts.
“We know that the distribution has also been difficult so we have been addressing it step by step. The achievement there is that we succeeded in increasing the generation capacity of energy in Freetown. We are not there yet but we have experienced a marked difference from what we inherited.
“We have not only increased the generation capacity, we are also doing the distribution. Moving forward, we have put in place the legislation that will eventually see the unbundling of the energy sector wherein we will enter into private agreements with independent generators who will sell the energy to the distributors who will sell it to the consumer.
Koroma went on: “By that we will be able to open up the activities in the sector, get more private participation in the sector, and we hope to achieve increased provision of energy and distribution eventually.
“That has been to some extent successful, but we know that we still have challenges and we still have to invest heavily in the distribution network, not only in Freetown. We need to have a national grid, and we are working towards that. We are getting support from the West African power pool. My expectation is that by 2017 we will be in a position to provide at least 1000 megawatts of power to be distributed all over the country. This will sustain the growth levels that we are experiencing now as a country, as that’s key to sustainable growth. We now have a clear road map on the way forward and I think with time we will get there,” he added.
Koroma talked of the various contracts that had been signed with independent producers to provide the country with “at least 1,000 megawatts [of power] supply in the next year or two”.
“We are also doing a feasibility study on how we can exploit the other areas that have a hydro potential. I’m sure with all these activities, in the next couple of years, the energy crisis will be behind us so we can consider it an achievement,” the president told NAA.
On the roads sector, he said: “We have also been working very hard to the extent that we have almost completed projects while others are in an advanced stage of connecting all of the district headquarter towns. We have linked up Freetown with Conakry.
“We have secured support from the EU to do the Bandajuma–Monrovia highway. Very soon we will start the bidding process for contracts to be awarded. We are building road networks within the cities and the district headquarters. Everywhere you go in the country, you will see the same sort of roads development going on.
“We are now on the second phase that will ensure that the outer towns and cities are connected. We will end up having a ring road in the country. This is going to be a big, infrastructural development,” he added.
Koroma spoke of the construction of the Mamamah international airport, which will be built inland, as opposed to the current international airport at Lungi which is across the Sierra Leone River. He said the Chinese would build the new airport. He said the good thing about the big projects was that although money was coming from donors, “most of [these projects] are funded by us”.
“We have realigned the budget so that it will make provision for us to be able to support these projects and learn to do things on our own. I’m sure that when we increase our revenues we will be able to address most of these projects from our own resources,” he said.
“But the experience has been wonderful. It has given a lot of confidence to the government to be able to do things on its own, which was not happening in the past. We hope to build on that.”
Turning to the agricultural sector, the president told New Africa Analysis that Sierra Leone had succeeded in adopting the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) that was agreed by African leaders, which set a target of increasing agricultural output by six per cent a year for the next 20 years.
This is indeed a tough ask on African governments but the need for Africa to be self-sustaining in terms of food production is crucial to the continent’s overall development potential. The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) notes that improvements to agricultural production in Africa are expected to contribute about three per cent of the six per cent target, with the remainder coming from increased investment. The FAO says that even achieving a three per cent annual growth rate of total factor productivity will be challenging.
It points out that in no region of the world has total factor productivity increased over a sustained period of time by more than 2.5 per cent a year. The FAO says it will require larger investments in agricultural research, extension and education systems; and institutional reforms that will increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the spending on research and extension.
In Sierra Leone, Koroma told NAA that when he became president in 2007, expenditure on agriculture was just 1.7 per cent of the budget, adding that in subsequent years this had increased so that by 2010 Sierra Leone was part of the CAADP process. “This has enabled us to launch the national agricultural sustainable project for the country,” he said. He added that the programme was focusing on the small-scale farmers who have not been lifted out of poverty because they had been basically involved in subsistence farming.
The president said that in order to change the lot of these farmers, there was a need to commercialise agriculture. He said that the first phase of the smallholders’ commercialisation programme, which began in 2010, ended last year. “We have tried to establish agriculture and business centres all over the country. Almost every chiefdom now has an agricultural and business centre. Almost every chiefdom has a rural bank, which will provide financial access to our farmers,” he said.
Roads had been constructed to link farms with the markets in the towns. “We believe that agriculture can only be facilitated when the road network is good,” Koroma said. “We are creating and enabling environment, and in the process of commercialising we are also looking at value addition that will not only create more jobs but also create ready markets for the agricultural process.
“We are happy with the progress we are making in the agricultural sector. I think we have increased the output of crops such as rice and cassava while coffee export has also increased. We still have a lot of challenges but we believe we are on the right track and we are moving to ensure that we sustain that development.
Touching on social services, Koroma said the major achievement was free healthcare, which was introduced in 2010. “It’s going on well. I know there are challenges with drugs not being administered or distributed properly, but we are working on that,” he said.
“We have improved health facilities all over the country. All of the referral hospitals have transformed from when we took over in 2007. We have opened maternity centres all over the place. We have made improvements on service and on the quality of equipment. We still have challenges in terms of personnel and drugs. We still have challenges in terms of the movement of people from point A to B in terms of the ambulance service. These are all areas that we are working on and we are getting a lot of support from the international community,” he added.
On the issue of information and communication technology, something that is important to the development of Africa, the government has been moving apace with its fibre optic programme. “We have landed the fibre optic, we are now working on the laying of the optical backbone,” Koroma said. There is an echo programme that will provide services for Liberia and Guinea, and all of it is going on very well.
“We believe that this can increase access to IT in the country, and it will also help in the health, education and other services. So it is a good thing that we succeeded in landing the fibre. But we have not limited ourselves to the physical and other things we have also addressed the governance issues. We have ensured that the issues of governance, human rights, freedom of the press are dealt with alongside the infrastructure development,” the president said.
On the vexing issue of corruption, Koroma told New Africa Analysis: “I think we are down as having one of the toughest anti-corruption laws in Africa, put in place by our administration in 2008. We will be launching the next anti-corruption strategy very soon.”
He said that Sierra Leone was Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) compliant and that the country had qualified for US assistance under America’s Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), which was created by the US Congress in January 2004 with strong bipartisan support. The MCC is looking at how best to deliver smart US foreign assistance by focusing on good policies, country ownership, and results.
Koroma said the country would continue with the activities of the MCC. “We have been accepted in the open government partnership and we are working on it. He added that progress was also being made with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM), with a national committee that is working on it.
“I believe that because of all the efforts we are making in all of these sectors, we have been recognised as a country that is transforming economically, Koroma told New Africa Analysis. “Of course we belong to the group of countries with the fastest growing economies in the world. In terms of reform and good governance, the Ibrahim Index has positioned us as one of the leading reformers, and in terms of doing business we are making substantial progress. We are leading within the sub-region.”
The president went on: “These are all achievements we have made over the last seven years, to the extent that last year we were about number one in terms of economic growth – not only in terms of Africa but in the world. We are now greatly committed to sustaining these leading roles that we are playing.
“So looking back over seven years, I would say that a lot has been achieved. We are not yet out of the woods, but I believe we are on track. It’s a question of now sustaining the momentum, which is in the agenda for prosperity that we have rolled out, which can take us up to 2017,” Koroma added.
Interview conducted in Freetown 06/2014.