The World Bank today held their annual West Africa retreat in Sierra Leone. The retreat is an opportunity for regional staff to reflect on and discuss key issues in West Africa. Sunbird Bioenergy’s Richard Bennett and Bheki Chatira were invited to present their views on the ease of conducting business in Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone still faces many development challenges. Until the outbreak of Ebola in May 2014, the country was seeking to become a transformed nation with middle-income status, but the country still has high youth unemployment, corruption, and weak national cohesion. It continues to face the daunting challenge of transparency in managing its natural resources and its fiscal policy. Problems of poor infrastructure and widespread rural and urban impoverishment persist in spite of progress and reforms. The principle themes of the workshop were health, poverty, land ownership business and job creation.
Richard asked why with such an abundance of agricultural resources including available land, water and sunshine – was agriculture not such a large industry? This prompted a discussion on value-added agriculture, processing centres and the potential to create large number of sustainable economic opportunities for small-scale farmers.
Bheki discussed the need to reform of land ownership laws so that small-scale farmers could participate in out-grower programs, and use title deeds as collateral to rise finance for expansion.
Economy of Sierra Leone
The World Bank noted that Sierra Leone’s economy has proved resilient in the face of two major shocks in 2014 and 2015: the Ebola epidemic and collapse of iron ore prices. Economic growth has resumed, however, and remains upward, supported by new investments in mining, agriculture, and fisheries. The recovery underway, according to International Monetary Fund projections, is expected to remain sustainable over the medium term.
Real Gross Domestic Growth (GDP) is projected to recover from -20.6% in 2015 to 5.4% in 2017. However, Consumer Price Inflation continues to rise on account of exchange rate pass-through and accommodative monetary stance.The overall fiscal balance (excluding grants) was projected to recover slightly from -9.6% of non-iron ore GDP in 2015 to -8.1% in 2016. Total domestic revenue collection for 2017 is projected at Le3.5 trillion, up from Le2.68 trillion set in 2016.
The IMF projects medium-term growth to pick up to around 6.5% by 2020 from 4.3% in 2016. Inflation is projected to decline to 7.5% by 2020.
In 2012, Sierra Leone conducted its third democratic elections since the end of the 11-year civil war in 2002. President Ernest Bai Koroma is serving his second and final term, which ends in 2018. Elections will be held on March 7, 2018.
A national census, the research for which was conducted in 2015, put the country’s official population at 7,092,113.
The government has proclaimed the de-amalgamation of chiefdoms and an attendant re-division of the Northern Region into two distinct regions, namely: Northern Region and North-Western Region. This will bring the number of regions in the country to five from the initial four.
The World Bank retreat was held at The Place Hotel on Tokeh Beach near Freetown.