Sierra Leone: President Appeals for Help Over Debt Burden

Freetown — Sierra Leone’s new President Julius Maada Bio has appealed for international help to bail his country out of an economic crisis.

He blames the crisis on a huge debt incurred by his predecessor Ernest Bai Koroma and an underperforming economy.

President Bio told an International Monetary Fund (IMF) meeting in Freetown that he inherited a country with the worst economic state since independence in 1961, a situation, he said, had been worsened by agreements signed by his predecessor on the eve of this year’s General Election.

Development partners

“Initial assessment by the Governance Transition Team reveals that my administration will be faced with the worst economic situation since independence,” President Bio said at the High-Level Forum on Economic management.

“With the signing of new agreements on the eve of the elections, Sierra Leone is already in a debt crisis, which in collaboration with our development partners we must urgently address,” he added.

Initial assessment by the new government of the state of the economy revealed that Sierra Leone’s external debt stands at $2 billion, while the domestic debt stands at $600 million.

Mr Bio was sworn into office on April 4, the same day he was declared winner of the tightly contested March 31 presidential run-off in which he defeated incumbent All People’s Congress (APC) candidate Samura Kamara.

The new president immediately set up a transition team to ascertain the state of affairs of the Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs).

According to the findings, the two state-owned commercial banks were struggling under huge underperforming loan portfolios, some of which were linked to political figures in the last administration.

The IMF meeting at Freetown’s State House conference room marks the resumption of negotiation between the global lender and the Sierra Leone government on its Extended Credit Facility.

Massive corruption

IMF halted talks on the lending arrangement with the West African country after disagreement with the former government over implementation of its conditions, shortly before the March 7 first round vote.

President Bio told the IMF forum that in line with his promises to the Sierra Leonean people, which aims at restoring sanity in economic and financial management, he was willing to renegotiate with the institution.

The IMF meeting comes amidst calls from civil society and other local accountability organisations for investigation into the activities of the past government which is suspected of involvement in massive corruption.

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