The United Kingdom’s Minister for International Development visited Sierra Leone for the first time under the new coalition government on Friday 30th July. Stephen O’Brien who was appointed as Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development on 13th May 2010 subsequently undertook discussions about the country’s future with senior public officials.
The visit provided opportunities for the UK’s Department of International Development (DFID) to examine the progress of projects in the region especially with regards to the effectiveness of the free health care Initiative which was established in April 2010. The country has some of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world and though the provision of free healthcare for all pregnant women and children under the age of five in the country is a significant undertaking, the consequences of its successful implementation and enactment will alleviate the country of one of its biggest development challenges.
While the coalition government has decided not to cut spending on international development, some commentators remain apprehensive about the scale and diversity of aid that countries like Sierra Leone will receive. Between ‘08 and ‘09 DFID spent £47.8 million in Sierra Leone, but some critics believe that there is plenty of evidence to suggest that a substantial amount of aid is being wasted. O’Brien’s visit consequently addressed earlier pledges that were made by senior officials to improve systems of multi-level and multi-dimensional governance.
It has become apparent that the strategy of some African leaders has been to appease the conditions of aid donors whilst more importantly ensuring that their interests have been satisfied. The Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) for example has received tremendous contributions from DFID, who have attempted to provide training and equip the operational costs of the Commissions department since it was established in 2000. However, President Koroma is now being accused by some commentators of administering a policy of selective justice, as opposed to the much avowed zero tolerance mantra that he once claimed to uphold. Critics argue that the Commission has been ineffective in penetrating the citadels of government and there is growing concern amongst some commentators whether international aid is being used effectively.
While some minor charges have occurred in the ACC – like that of former Health and Sanitation Minister Sheku Tejan Koroma, few charges against those from inner political circles have occured. This was clearly exemplified with the recent controversy surrounding the case of the former Minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources, Haja Afsatu Kabba’s. After her arrest, the ruling political party, the All the People’s Congress (APC) released a statement supporting Kabba. The speculation around the resignation of the former head of Sierra Leone’s Anti-Corruption Commission, Abdul Tejan-Cole soon after led some to question the independence and effectiveness of the anti-corruption agenda, and ignited debate about corruption and poor governance in some of Sierra Leone’s institutions.
Though domestic actors may have the capabilities to stimulate growth in countries like Sierra Leone, the real cause for concern arise when one questions the capacity and will of decision makers to do so. Many aid donors have on-going fears of state predation, especially when dependence is seen by some decision makers as a form of exploitation. It appears that at a time of global economic recovery, NGOs and governmental bodies receiving funding from organisations like DFID will have to prove that they are high performers while achieving efficiency savings. Many aid donors will treat international spending with prudence and that the spotlight of the types of projects and institutions that funding goes to will be allocated with a significant amount of caution.