A Case for Ernest Koroma’s presidency as Dr. Samura Kamara delivers the keynote address on behalf of his boss at the Times Summit of Chief Executives and Political Leaders in London
20th March 2012 · 0 Comments
The charges are familiar from unpatriotic Sierra Leoneans, especially some members of the SLPP, who are only interested in replacing the president regardless of tangible results: He’s a northerner who hasn’t supported us or who doesn’t know what to do. But a look at his record reveals something even more startling — a truly historic presidency.
By any rational measure, Ernest Koroma is the most accomplished and progressive president in decades, yet the only Sierra Leoneans fired up by the development he has brought are SLPP leaders hell bent on reversing them. Heading into the November elections, Koroma’s approval ratings is at an all-time high daring into a landslide, and polls reflect a glaring enthusiasm about what the future holds for Sierra Leone after five more years under his belt:
Now read on the full speech as President Ernest Bai Koroma makes his case as to why he deserves a second term in office:
Keynote Address ByHis Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma
President of the Republic of Sierra Leone
‘The Times’ Summit
Of Chief Executives and Political Leaders
London , UK 19 March, 2012
I am delighted to be among you today. Delighted because it gives me an opportunity to talk to such a distinguished group of Chief Executives. Delighted also because, before taking office, I was a Chief Executive myself and spent over 20 years in business and the insurance industry. And after nearly 5 years as President – a very different kind of CEO – it is good to be reminded of your spirit of enterprise. For as soon as I entered politics I knew that the key to running a successful company is also the key to running a successful government. That is why in 2007 I said I would ‘run my government like a business’ – clear about our objectives, clear about how we get there, and relentless in making it happen. And, just like a business, if no one likes your product, you are out!
The theme of today’s Africa Summit is the drivers of growth. But we already know that Africa is growing. Growing faster than East Asia . Investment has increased six-fold in the past decade, investment from China ten-fold – with Africa offering the best returns to investors of any region in the world. And this is enabling profound changes on the continent. The middle class is expanding. 60 million Africans have an income of $3,000 a year. In 3 years this will be 100 million Africans.
So, the question for Africa is not really, what are the drivers of growth, but, rather, what are the drivers that will enable even more and even faster growth, and will enable the resulting benefits to be felt across populations, not in the hands of a few. It is not just the challenge of attaining and sustaining high levels of growth that we need to master to change our countries. It is also the challenge of using the benefits of growth in the right way to attain prosperity for the greatest number.
In many ways, if this is the timely question for Africa, it is also a timely question for my country – for Sierra Leone . So today, I would like to tell you a little about Sierra Leone ’s journey towards growth over the last decade, and why we cannot do without growth to achieve prosperity for our people in the future. And, of course I hope many of you will be able to join us along the way on this journey to prosperity.
Distinguished guests, when I came into office a little over four years ago, I was very clear in what I wanted to achieve. Recognizing the huge infrastructural deficit, the inadequacy of food supply, the low level of human development particularly in health and education, and the attendant consequences of all of these on economic growth and employment, my Government published what we called the Agenda for Change. It set out changes required that would put Sierra Leone on a path towards growth – in energy, in infrastructure, health, education, and strengthening our institutions – and we have made progress in many of these:
For energy, we brought light to Freetown , our capital, by completing the Bumbuna Hydro Electric Dam, which had been under construction for over three decades.
For infrastructure, my Government embarked on the most ambitious rehabilitation and construction programme in our country’s history, with by now over 1,000 km of roads constructed or rehabilitated. Part of the port has been privatised, and our international airport is being modernized.
Next, in agriculture, which contributes 50% of our GDP, we launched a programme to move away from subsistence farming to commercial, more productive agriculture. Since then, the programme has attracted over $200m funding. And nearly 200 agriculture business centres have been constructed throughout the country, and are now being made operational with machinery, fertilisers and marketing facilities.
Given the still significant risk of poor health for a majority of our population, particularly the women and children, I launched the Free Health Care Initiative in 2010, eliminating all user fees for pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers and children under 5. The results were immediate – more than half the births now take place in a government facility, and infant and fatality rates have fallen by about 50% since the launch of the initiative. I am grateful for the support my country is receiving in this area from the United Kingdom Department for International Development.
The education system had radically deteriorated in our country, with a large percentage of children missing out on basic elementary schooling. I therefore launched work to improve access to basic education, particularly for girls, and a new Teaching Service Commission is reforming teaching conditions and quality.
And finally, I wanted to ensure the strengthening of our laws and constitution, including creating macro-economic stability, improved public financial management, a stronger investment climate, a reduction in corruption through one of the most stringent anti-corruption laws in Africa , and providing broader democratic space through civil society involvement and decentralization, including an independent public broadcasting service.
When I set out to achieve these objectives, I knew it was going to be tough. Just over ten years ago, Sierra Leone saw the end of a brutal and prolonged war. But as the title of the Agenda for Change implies, I knew that these improvements were desperately needed in our country to begin a process of change for the better, toward sustainable economic growth and on-going improvement in the lives of Sierra Leoneans.
And the impact Sierra Leone has experienced proves me right. Sierra Leone is no longer classified as a ‘fragile state’. As of 2011 we rank 30 of 53 African nations scored in the Mo Ibrahim governance index, climbing in ranking year on year. And while still low, Sierra Leone continues to improve in the UN Human Development Index year on year.
One big driver of success is our ability to attract high quality investment. We are now a place to do business. The 2011 World Bank’s Doing Business Report showed Sierra Leone to be among the top reformers in the world, jumping 9 places over the last year. And this is translating into real investment in our country. Sierra Leone now sees new multi-million dollar investments – in agribusiness, in mining, in tourism:
In agribusiness, we now have large scale investors like Siva Group and Shanghai Construction Investment, who are investing over $1.2 billion to develop rice and rubber plantations. And Sierra Leone will be the first country in sub Saharan Africa to produce bio-ethanol through Addax Bio Energy.
In mining, last year saw the first iron ore exports in over 30 years by London Mining, and African Minerals.
And in tourism, the first Raddison Blu will open in Sierra Leone this year, and the first Hilton in two years, bringing five star hotels to Freetown.
As a result, this year our GDP is expected to rise by over 50%, and will take Sierra Leone to a rate of GDP per head similar to Rwanda. This follows an average above 5% year on year rise in GDP over the last 5 years, despite the global economic turndown.
Investors are seeking out our country. Thousands of jobs have been created. Growth is happening in Sierra Leone, and it is happening now.
But I want us to be realistic – growth takes time and its impact even more time. While Sierra Leone has started to change and make progress, significant challenges remain. Our incidence of poverty is still estimated at 66%. While lower than the 70% recorded in 2004, it remains too high. Jobs have been created, but, our levels of unemployment among the youth are unacceptable.
In other words, while growth has been happening for several years now, it is not yet enough to have made a significant dent on poverty, employment and human development. We have made changes, and seen growth, but it now needs to translate into wealth and prosperity for all Sierra Leoneans.
To me, this doesn’t just mean sustaining the changes we have started. To me, it means being even more ambitious. Following Sierra Leone ’s 50th anniversary last year, I convened a national conference with people from across the country to discuss the future of Sierra Leone ’s development. I told the conference that my vision for Sierra Leone is to become a middle income country within 25 years. Get it wrong, and the door may be shut for another 25 years.
The main issues highlighted during our Conference on Development and Transformation are around resource management; growth and how to sustain, manage, and get it to benefit our people; how to avoid the resource curse; and technology and how this could be advanced to transform the people’s lives; healthcare and an educational system that produces an entrepreneurial but caring citizenry.
Ladies and gentlemen, achieving this vision won’t be easy – it will require at least a doubling of our GDP per head, and sustained overall GDP growth of at least 7% every year over the next 25 years. In other words, the only way to move from the changes we have achieved so far to prosperity that benefits all Sierra Leoneans is more economic growth.
That brings me back to the theme of this summit, the drivers of growth in Africa . I believe that only growth can lift Sierra Leone out of poverty and into middle income status. But the only way to achieve that is to get right the key ingredient of growth. This is why my priorities for the next 5 years are power, infrastructure, private investment and education:
First power, because only stable electricity supply enables businesses to function, from the IT to the entertainment industry. Our first step will be the construction of a second hydro power plant at Bumbuna by 2017, lifting capacity to 400 megawatts. In parallel, we will improve our distribution network, and work is already underway to construct thermal plants with a total capacity of 1000 megawatts across the country over the next 5 years.
Second, infrastructure, because it is roads and ports and airports that let businesses maximize their opportunities from their goods and services, for import and export, at home and abroad. The construction of a new international airport is already in the planning stage, and we will continue aggressive infrastructural development.
Third, private investment, because Government can only create the conditions of growth, but itself sustain it – only private sector investment and businesses can. We have already begun to strengthen our own domestic and private sector through a new policy that will encourage foreign investors to participate in the strengthening of our local businesses.
And fourth, education for resilience and relevance in a globalized world. Education uplifts a nation, it raises income, it gives people chances to seize opportunities and meet the challenges of an ever-evolving world. Moreover, over three fouths the population of Africa are below 30 years, and their education is a prerequisite for their participation in and contribution to the greater growth of the continent.
Together, these priorities, if delivered, will transform Africa, and my country, Sierra Leone , into a vibrant, industrialized economy, and take it towards prosperity.
I said that Sierra Leone is blessed with natural resources. But that alone is not enough for sustained growth. And more importantly, that alone is not enough for growth to lead to prosperity across the population. What it requires is industrialization – and a strong domestic private sector, creating jobs along the value and production chain, and impacting directly on Sierra Leoneans – benefiting from the jobs, revenues and economic stability, and from the roads, electricity and infrastructure of lasting growth.
But Sierra Leoneans also have to be ready to benefit from this transformation. That is why I will also continue my reforms of health care, why successful agriculture – small scale and large scale – will remain the bedrock of our economy, and why the civil service will continue to adapt and reform, and why I will continue to drive business reforms to make Sierra Leone internationally competitive.
And of course, we can make the most of the opportunity of our natural resources wealth only if we use it to transform our country for the better. That is why I will set up a transformation fund from our natural resources revenues that will earmark a share of these revenues for strategic investments.
We have started to develop all of these themes comprehensively for our next national development strategy, what I have called the Agenda for Prosperity.
Ladies and Gentlemen, at the beginning of my address to you I said that our question should not just be about the drivers of growth, but also about ensuring that growth benefit across Africa ’s populations. My answer to you, based on my country’s journey over the last decade, is private investment and the pre-conditions for a flourishing private sector – energy, infrastructure, and education. They generate growth of a vibrant economy that extends opportunity to a large part of the population, rather than keeping it in the hands of a few.
My vision for Sierra Leone to achieve middle income status by 2035, to continue to grow successfully over the next 25 years, is ambitious. But it is within our rights to be ambitious. Given our resource endowment, and our renewed determination, it is within our reach. And we would like The Times to continue to partner with us in publishing to the world narratives of a continent and a nation on the move; a nation that is asserting its potential; a democratic country, tolerant, beautiful, and growing.
I invite you to be a partner in Sierra Leone ’s growth. A partner in helping us achieve our vision.
In making prosperity our business.
I thank you all.
(The Speech was read by Dr. Samura Kamra, Minister of Finance and Economic Planning at the CEO Summit forum)