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What will President Bio’s talks with Turkish President Erdogan mean for Sierra Leone? – SIERRA LEONE TELEGRAPH


Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 August 2021:

Over a week ago, State House in Freetown announced that president Bio will be arriving in Turkey for a two-weeks holiday and to seek much needed private sector investments for Sierra Leone’s ailing industrial sectors.

Yesterday, State House officials reported that president Bio and his wife Fatima, met with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and wife for a private meeting.

Sierra Leoneans are keen to hear about progress on  the president’s mission to woo private sector investors in Turkey.

According to president Bio’s press secretary, Yusuf Keketoma Sandi, “the private meeting was also intended to strengthen the bilateral relations between Turkey and Sierra Leone and to further explore investment opportunities between the two countries.”

“It could be recalled that last year, under the joint leadership of H.E Dr. Julius Maada Bio and H.E Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Sierra Leone and Turkey signed cooperation agreements on visas, education, defence and the exemption of double taxation,” Sandi said, adding that the President is also expected to meet potential private sector investors with business interests in Sierra Leone.

Since his election as president in 2018, Bio has failed to make any meaningful progress in achieving his manifesto promise of creating two million jobs by the end of his first term in office in 2023, as millions of Sierra Leoneans languish in unemployment and poverty.

President Bio promised to build a bridge across the Rokel River from Lungi to mainland Freetown at a whopping cost of $3 billion, and to transform the entire Lungi area into a commercial, industrial, and residential hub, creating jobs for thousands of people and adding billions of dollars to the country’s GDP. To date there has been no progress in transforming this rhetoric into reality.

Many of Sierra Leone’s industrial sectors remain under-developed due to lack of investment. Successive governments failure to diversify the economy and implement a comprehensive private sector development strategy is at the heart of Sierra Leone’s economic malaise.

Over $500 million is needed to pump-prime private sector investments to grow and expand key sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, agro-processing, improved farming yields, marketing and distribution.

After decades of underfunding, the country’s electricity and water utilities are barely coping in meeting the needs of a fraction of the country’s population, let alone meet the needs of industry.

The government’s failure to diversify and expand the economy is having colossal impact on the country’s taxation base, with the government now borrowing far more than previous governments to pay for the delivery of vital public services, including healthcare.

President Bio’s reliance on foreign aid for over 60% of government revenue is unsustainable. It smacks of lazy governance, and an inability to take full responsibility for and control of the affairs of State.

President Bio has to do more than repeating empty manifesto rhetoric about diversifying the economy and creating employment. He must discuss the massive trade imbalance between Sierra Leone and Turkey with president Erdogan.

In 2019, Turkey’s export to Sierra Leone was $59.6 million, including iron bars ($15.5 million), cement ($14.9 million), and wheat flour ($6.9 milion), whilst in the same year – 2019, Sierra Leone’s export to Turkey was $2.67 million, made up mainly of ‘scrap vessels’ ($1.21 million), titanium ore ($1 million), and gold ($421,000).

This is just one sad example of Sierra Leone’s economic position in the world, since gaining independence in 1961. Yet successive governments have failed to grasp the importance of industrial development and the implementation of a coherent private sector growth strategy that will create sustainable jobs and expand the country’s taxation base and government revenue.

Hopping around in expensive executive jets from one country to the next, looking for foreign-aid and handouts is lazy leadership.

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