Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Sierra Leone and the Millennium Challenge Corporation Fiasco

Some months ago, those of us with some knowledge of the operations of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), an American Congress sanctioned independent foreign aid agency established in 2004, were surprised by the statement on one of the local radio stations in Sierra Leone by government spokesperson Abdulai Bayraytay that Sierra Leone had "won" the Millennium Challenge Corporation Challenge. In a blog post I wrote on September 16, 2013, I expressed skepticism about Bayraytay's claims, as even though Sierra Leone was being considered for either a compact or threshold grant, the 2013 new grants and grant renewals had not yet been announced. See link
President Ernest Bai Koroma

Bayraytay's claim coincided with criticisms of the usual yearly bloated delegation of nonessential individuals that accompany President Koroma on his yearly trips to address the United Nations General Assembly, an action that had been roundly condemned both domestically and in international circles as reckless squandering of vital state resources by a government that cannot even afford to lift its employees above the international standards of poverty.

For those unfamiliar with the Milliennium Challenge corporation, it is an independent US foreign aid agency that gives aid to developing countries based on the pre-established criteria of good governance, economic freedom and investment in their citizens. There are two main types of MCC grants, Compacts and Threshold Programs. The Compacts are large five year grants for countries that pass MCC's eligibility criteria. The threshold programs are smaller grants.

Unfortunately, in spite of all the hoopla, the Board of Directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation   met in Washington DC yesterday and rejected the compact proposal submitted by Sierra Leone, delivering a serious slap to the face of the Sierra Leone government.

The main reason expressed by MCC in rejecting the Sierra Leone's bid was the country's failure to pass the Millennium Challenge Corruption's control of corruption indicator. The MCC board of directors decided  not to even bring Sierra Leone up for a vote after a review of supplemental information provided by Sierra Leone, a serious blow to the government of the small West African country. Sierra Leone had devoted substantial manpower and scarce resources towards the development and submission of the  MCC proposal bid. The MCC board encouraged the organization to continue limited engagement with Sierra Leone with the hope that the government would have taken serious steps to tackle corruption before a compact could be approved. They expressed the hope that the Koroma government would stop paying lip service to fighting corruption and be serious about tackling it.
Daniel W. Yohannes

Dr. Richard Conteh
Proposal not Supported by Evidence
The other country rejected was Benin. Some other African countries however delivered on the MCC scorecard. The very small Southern African nation of Lesotho's bid was selected and they were granted eligibility to formulate a new compact. Of the total bids, five countries accepted and told to continue putting together compacts and another two were approved to continue the development of Threshold Programs. According to MCC, Lesotho had, " consistently demonstrated a clear commitment to democratic governance and sound policies. A new compact with Lesotho offers MCC the opportunity to have a significant impact on reducing poverty and creating economic growth in the country."

Poverty in Sierra Leone
The new Lesotho Compact was a clear boost to the tiny country, as it had just completed a five year 365 million dollars compact in September that had helped the country greatly improve their health care system and expand domestic water supply capacity for household and industrial use in the country. Lesotho had also used the compact to promote foreign and domestic investment by identifying and eliminating barriers that impeded investment in the country. The MCC board were also suitably impressed that in addition to the 365 million dollars grant, the government of Lesotho had devoted $50 million of its own scarce resources to supplement the compact.  This action was viewed as a very strong commitment to the compact. Daniel W. Yohannes the Chief Executive Officer of the bilateral aid agency praised the government of Lesotho for being a strong MCC partner during the implementation of its old compact. The Basotho government had also taken cogent steps to improve the status of women in the country by granting men and women equal rights in marital relationships through legislation.

MCC grants are awarded on three broad criteria; the manifestation of good governance, the creation of an atmosphere of economic freedom, and demonstrating investment in the citizenry. Individual government actions and policies should demonstrate a commitment to these three broad criteria as measured by independent third party agencies.
Sierra Leone MCC Delegation

It is not only a blow to the  Koroma government's  political pride to lose out on the MCC compact, but a real blow to the poor citizens of Sierra Leone.

 According to Sheku Sheriff of Hamline University, MCC aid is the ideal assistance tool for African countries plagued by corruption, accountability and ineptitude, as the corporation ensures that its grants are used for the purpose for which they are intended, otherwise they will not be renewed. For a country with a history of poor accountability such as Sierra Leone, it is only grants of this kind that will benefit the country, as public officials will be forced to use the monies for the development programs for which they are intended.

Though Sierra Leone has been given a black eye this time round, the country still has the chance to demonstrate commitment to the principles of good governance and participatory democracy. According to a Sierra Leonean political pundit, 'the image that President Koroma's horde of sycophantic journalists have been trying to paint of his government as a model of good governance in the West African region has been dealt a major blow, but the blow is not mortal as the President still has time to rehabilitate his legacy."

What has truly been amazing in the lead up to this important announcement  is the sheer recklessness of those around the President who should have been trying to do all they can to project a good image of the country in anticipation of this substantial compact. In the past few months, the Special Assistant to the President has used the Presidency to embark on a policy of press and opposition intimidation and harassment and even went as far as to write derogatory statements against the country's grossly marginalized Vice President. For a country seeking a major grant from USA, a country which has freedom of expression enshrined in its constitution, this was a very idiotic move by the President's right hand woman. The President also appointed a notorious warmonger Omrie Golley to an Ambassador just a few days ago. Golley was the spokesman of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF), a group that embarked on the wide scale massacre of thousands of people in the country during its long civil war.

The Sierra Leone judiciary, always too eager to satisfy the government in power, has also not helped matters in the country. The spate of strange rulings in which individuals who should have been found guilty of corruption are routinely acquitted even in the face of tremendous evidence and the ineptitude of the country's Anti Corruption Commission displayed by rushing to court with cases without sufficient evidence has manifested to the international community and independent observers that Sierra Leone after President Tejan Kabbah is no longer serious in the fight against corruption and the statement of "zero tolerance to corruption," once the mantra of the President Koroma, now has little meaning, as corruption has reemerged in Sierra Leone with a vengeance. For the last two years the country has won the singular distinction of the country with the highest incidence of bribery in the world.
Not a Sign of Good Governance

During the first term of President Koroma, his actions were seen as that of a man with a commitment to good governance and a leader eager to avoid a repeat of the trouble of the past.

 However, the President's decisons over the past several months and the actions of those close to him has been nothing short of erratic. If it is not ministers being accused of rape, it is police gunning down children or protesters in the streets, or journalists being locked up for foolish charges. If government officials are not on Facebook writing incendiary statements, it is reports of health officials stealing funds meant for the vaccination of children, or ministers claiming that the scarcity of food is due to Sierra Leoneans eating only rice. Koroma's second term is nothing short of organized chaos and even all but the most die hard APC supporters are now starting to realize that they are just being taken for a ride. The appointment of Golley has manifested a callous indifference to the feeling of Sierra Leoneans, as many people contend that there are many Sierra Leoneans eminently qualified for this position.
Omrie Golley

To compound the growing chaotic situation, two opposition MPs who won their elections with very wide margins have in the past week had their votes annulled by the country's corrupt court system and two government candidates roundly thrashed in the elections have been awarded the seats. Many opposition supporters are being forced to ask whether Koroma's moves are a well calculated ploy to use the country's democratic institutions to give himself a third term, a statement he continues to strenously deny. Many see this latest move as an act that will cause further resentment in a country in which those who are not close to the presidents political circle are increasingly starting to feel as if they were second class citizens in their own country.


Maju said...

Lessons are to be learned from a good piece of writing. That is what our hard working blogger has done in writing this piece, and our duty here is to learn the good lessons now, and now if we mean to prosper in the "agenda for prosperity" and to then achieve the bench marks of MCC.

Andrew B said...

Evidently, our blogger is doing such a judicious job of informing and genuinely educating us about the mess that keeps pilling in our beloved land. Thank you brother for a job well done. Oh how I wish they would listen and see your postings as a subtle reminder that SL deserves better. Golley's affiliation with RUF was a confirmation of his intentions for SL. I even once had that he took a contract to deposit toxic wastes at "Bormeh" in Freetown. The deal backfired, I was told, because he could not give a bigger share of the spoil to other elements in this same APC government then. Their souls will rot in hell for bringing our country down on its knees. Keep exposing them brother.

Andrew B.