Sierra Leone rejects IMF subsidy demands

The Sierra Leone government has ruled out removing subsidies on rice and fuel ahead of next month’s General Election as advised by the IMF.

A government statement said the decision was based on considerations for the welfare of Sierra Leoneans.

The removal of subsidies from imports of the two commodities is at the centre of a row between IMF and the West African state, which became public last week, despite efforts by both parties to play it down.

The debate was sparked by an international publication, the Africa Confidential, which cited a US diplomatic cable reporting that IMF officials were unhappy that Freetown was using its funds on activities that would help it retain power, instead of implementing the conditionalities that informed the latest Extended Credit Facility programme signed by the two last June.

According to the programme, the IMF was to provide $244 million aid to Sierra Leone for the next five years.

The government in turn was to implement key activities, including removal of subsidies on fuel and imported rice, and tightening implementation of duty waivers on imports.

According to the London-based publication, disbursement of the funds was suspended after the government received only about $50 million.

Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Amidst denial by the government of any problem, the IMF added fuel to the public confusion with a statement that neither confirmed nor denied whether it had suspended its support to the country.

IMF only said there was a “delay” in disbursement, which it blamed on “weak budgetary” targets and said it was working with the authorities to fix it.

Deputy Information minister Cornelius Deveaux on Monday admitted that there were indeed issues, but said they did not amount to bad relations with the IMF.

Mr Deveaux also said while they were committed to resolving the issues, it would not be to the detriment of the masses.

“For now, our position as a government is that we won’t remove subsidy because it borders on the welfare of the people,” he said, stressing that there would be no increase in prices of rice or fuel.

Analysts say the government feared a backlash from voters if the prices of the two commodities rose at a time when the country was already struggling with tough austerity measures introduced at the beginning of last year.

Sierra Leone goes to the polls on March 7 to vote for president, parliamentary and local council representatives.

A one month campaign declared by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) officially commenced on Sunday, as the 17 political parties began criss-crossing the country canvassing for votes.

President Ernest Bai Koroma is barred from contesting, after serving two terms. His All People’s Congress (APC) party is seeking to retain power after 10 years in office through President Koroma’s handpicked successor, former Foreign minister Samura Kamara

APC is being challenged by its major rival, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), which is represented by former junta leader, Brig (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio.

There has emerged a third force in the form of the National Grand Coalition (NGC), whose candidate is a former UN official, Mr Kandeh Yumkella.

The opposition has condemned the APC’s handling of the row with the IMF, accusing the government of reneging on an agreement it signed.

APC, on the other hand, accuses the opposition of politicising the relations with Sierra Leone’s donors.

Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?

Read Story:Can Kiir deliver on his promise of peace and stability in South Sudan?