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Insight 1 2017

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Insight - it's the only magazine for those who do business in Sierra Leone. In this issue Sierra Leone's Minister of Finance talks exclusively about tough economic decisions; we profile creative entrepreneurship as exemplified by the Senesie siblings and take a look at the remaking of the Freetown Port. Plus lots more.

Change Maker Sierra

Change Maker Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance on progress, popularity and diff icult economic decisions Momodu Kargbo, Sierra Leone’s Minister of Finance and Economic Development was appointed in March 2016’s major cabinet reshuff le and given the signif icant challenge of addressing the negative impact of the Ebola epidemic and the decline in commodity prices on Sierra Leone’s economy. With stints in the National Development Bank; as Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister and Minister of State with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MOFED); and as Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, Momodu Kargbo has experienced the internal workings of Sierra Leone’s erratic economic heart, and firmly believes the path to progress lies in education, hard work and financial prudence. His own life story bears out the success of that formula. He describes his parents as “simple people”. His father was in the army - part of the team at Cockerill Barracks who maintained the great naval and coast defence guns that pointed out to the sea in case of invading enemy ships. He can still recite the motto engraved into them: “Load me well and keep me clean.” He remains very proud of attending the Royal Sierra Leone Military Force as a cadet. “We were being trained to become leaders in the army. These were the boys hand picked to become officers, with the most prominent army people deriving from among their ranks.” He clearly feels an intense affection for his cadet days, where the regular school day was followed by military training. The rigour of this early education is still evident in his sense of discipline, orderliness and respect for punctuality. “Popularity is often a large component of political pursuit and governance, but unfortunately not always to the benef it of the constituents. Since the beginning of my tenure as Minister of Finance, I have sought to make decisions on the basis of rigorous economic analysis and in the interests of Sierra Leone,” he says. “As a consequence, I’ve taken some hard policy decisions in spite of their unpopularity.” FT Insight 7 The family lived in Limba Town, by Aberdeen Bridge, Cockle Bay. It was like living in a village, he remembers, everyone came from two neighbouring villages in Tonko Limba and they were related. Everyone spoke Limba. It is why, despite growing up in Freetown, he learned to speak Limba fluently. He was no more than eight when his father died. Disagreements between his mother and his father’s relatives, meant she eventually moved from Cockle Bay to Brookfields, where his mother’s side of the family lived. It is the influence of his mother in the way he has lived his life, that he most repeatedly refers to. Mammy Sata was fiercely hard working. She produced and sold Omole, grew and sold the produce of her small garden and also did petty trading. “She could make money and would take nonsense from no one,” he says. Although illiterate, she had a great determination to see her children well educated. “If you wrote an ‘A’ as big as this house, she wouldn’t know what it was, but her greatest passion, her greatest ambition was to see her children educated.” His mother’s drive, purpose and no-nonsense approach would appear to have been inherited by her son. Asked how his supporters and detractors describe him, his answer is the same: “Difficult and get nah hand.” He gives a wry laugh, but he is quite clear that he believes in progress over popularity. Two of the ‘hard policy decisions’ he refers to are the removal of the fuel subsidy, which he points out was unsustainable, and the imposition of the so-called austerity measures. “For me it is very simple, these were necessary decisions that we believe will eventually yield dividends in terms of economic benefits to the people,” he says. “Regarding the fuel subsidy, we had simply got to a point where the subsidy was no longer affordable as far as the budget was concerned. “First, the amount of revenue lost was running into hundreds of billions of Leones. As the international price of petroleum products continued to increase, the excise duty was correspondingly reduced in order to maintain the low fuel price. The lost revenues were resources that could have been used to provide basic social services including education, health and the social safety net. “Second, at the time we reviewed the fuel price, we had reached a situation where Government was actually required to provide direct subsidy to oil marketers in order to maintain the low fuel price. Such a direct subsidy was not affordable in the face of increasing government spending in critical areas such as wages and salaries, infrastructure developments and other priority expenditures. If we had continued on the path of the subsidy, the policy would have been unsustainable and we might have resorted to increased borrowing, or the accumulation of more arrears in the budget. www.ftinsight.net

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