By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
So it’s ding ding! Seconds out! And we begin the final round of that international slugfest, the International Monetary Fund COVID-19 pandemic loans negotiations. Out of their corners came President Bio, his Finance Minister and Financial Secretary shrugging their shoulders and beating their chests – and I just hope you aren’t one of those trusting souls who still thinks it could really go either way. The fix is in. The whole thing is about as pre-ordained as a bout between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy; and in this case, I am afraid, the inevitable outcome is again another victory for the International Monetary Fund, with Sierra Leone lying flat on the canvas with 12 stars circling symbolically over our semi-conscious head.
I suppose there may be some aspects of the Chequers proposals that they pretend not to like. They may puff about “cherry picking” the dangerous Chinese loans and even genuine private investors to Sierra Leone that are not singing in the same hymn sheet with their rogue loans. There may be some confected groaning and twanging of leotards when it comes to the discussion on the International Monetary Fund rebuilding the economy they help battered in the previous regime(s) with their well exploitative conditions. But the reality is that in this negotiation the IMF has so far taken every important trick. The Sierra Leone government has agreed to hand over millions of taxpayers’ money and natural resources for two-thirds of diddly squat from the International Monetary Fund.
In adopting the Chequers’ proposals, we have gone into battle with the white flag fluttering over our leading tank. If we continue on this basis we will throw away most of the advantages of Sierra Leone. By agreeing to a “common rulebook” with the International Monetary Fund – over which we have no control – we are making it impossible for Sierra Leone to be more competitive, to innovate, to deviate, to initiate, and we are ruling out major free trade deals that will help us rebuild our economy and address our social challenges, this time under the “New Direction” government of President Bio.
If we go ahead with the Chequers’ proposals, we are forswearing the project of global Sierra Leone – so splendidly articulated by the President in his UN General Assembly speech of 23rd September 2018 – and abandoning the notion of Sierra Leone as a proud independent economic actor. We will remain in the International Monetary Fund taxi; but this time locked in the boot, with absolutely no say on the destination. We won’t have taken back control – we will have lost control. We will serve as a terrible warning to any other African or developing country thinking of changing its relationship with the exploitative neo-colonial financial institutions: that even Sierra Leone, one of the richest countries in terms of mineral resources, with a new government that promised a “New Direction”, was unable to break free of the gravitational pull of the International Monetary Fund and forced to sue for humiliating terms.
Of course, I hope that the President will still change course – and rediscover the elan
and dynamism of his UN General Assembly speech and scores of international and national interviews. With less than one year until the end of his presidential term, there is still ample time to save Sierra Leone. If we are to do so, we must go back to the issue of the role played by International Monetary Fund in destroying our economy in the past regime(s), which has been so ingeniously manipulated – both by the World Bank and IMF and parts of the Sierra Leone Government – so as to keep Sierra Leone effectively in the hands of the very exploitative neo-colonial financial institutions to get very easy access to our country’s natural resources and fixed assets.
Instead of really tackling the problem of the economy we have allowed it to be occluded by myths. It is a myth – pure nonsense – to state that there is “ economic value in getting the International Monetary Fund COVID-19 Pandemic Loans or the presence of IMF in Sierra Leone is to promote democracy”. So, such a thought must be changed. Of course, the current government can rearrange its present actions and make them better for the general good compared to the past government. These are two separate governments, and on either side, you will find plenty of differences.
It is a myth to say that you could create an effective “economy” – by renewing your exploitative partnership with the International Monetary Fund on the pittance they continue to give your government as loans after deducting the usual 10% from the loan.
And above all, it is a total myth to say that by dancing to the International Monetary Fund music government will improve social service protection for the majority or rebuild its international image in human rights violations.
The tragedy is that as soon as the government accepted the exploitative COVID-19 pandemic loans, the International Monetary Fund began working on their very exploitative methods to sustain their looting in Sierra Leone – our Government get lost in an eternal dither and couldn’t make up its minds, for month after month, to satisfy the International Monetary Fund, they failed to seize the opportunity of re-evaluating the very exploitative COVID-19 pandemic loans and add value to them for the good of the nation.
It is now clear that some in the current Government never wanted solutions. They wanted to use the said loans to attract the International Monetary Fund back to Sierra Leone and they enjoy doing so even if it takes stopping a genuine contract from patriotic nationals.