OPINION: Should President Maada Bio Continue to Fly or Not?

To fly or not to fly? That is the question. Whether it is nobler for our president to be flying and bringing goodies for his people or to stay home and the country loses?

Since his entry to State House in April 2018, President Bio has been on whirlwind tours of the world seeking partnerships for Sierra Leone, forging alliances and attracting cash and investments for the country whilst at the same time rebranding the image of the country which had been battered over the years due to a combination of factors most are familiar with.

The travels have got tongues wagging and the usual suspects and critics have been quick to draw their swords to attack a president whose intent is as pure as driven snow to attract the best for his people and bring the goodies that we so desperately desire and need.

But to them the president has been unwitty and frivolous in his trips overseas and have not seen anything good from his many trips. To the critics, President Bio’s overseas trips are a waste of resources and have not contributed anything to the development of the country. Even though evidences abound with some staring at them in the face, they have decided to play blind and pretend its useless.

Putting President Bio’s overseas trips into context might clear the cobwebs from their brains and cure the jaundice they are suffering from. Perhaps a little shudder into the travels would lift the wool from their eyes and give them a better picture of their results and the impact on the people of this country.

On December 3, 2018, few months into his presidency and just weeks after President Bio’s maiden address at the United Nations General Assembly, the International Monetary Fund or IMF Executive Board approved $172.1 million for Sierra Leone spread over a 43 month period. Of the said amount $21.5 million was approved for immediate disbursal to Sierra Leone as support to the then new government’s economic and financial reforms.

After his address to the UN, President Bio engaged the IMF top echelon on Sierra Leone’s relationship with the global financing institution which had frozen during the former administration of Ernest Bai Koroma leading to the country’s suspension from the Extended Credit facility (ECF).

The impact of that is being felt now as the country generates more funds internally than ever before. The National Revenue Authority has been exceeding targets for revenue collection due to reforms within the systems ranging from the ASYCUDA World to the Electronic Cash Register (ECR) to the Integrated Tax Administration System (ITAS).

Today as a nation we have shown resilience in the midst of a global pandemic that has crippled some countries’ economies due to our own ability to generate funds to service government projects.

In March 2019, President Bio made a trip to Washington and held high level discussions with the World Bank’s Kristalina Georgieva and other officials, on his then new government’s priority projects and the reforms being instituted. Without much ado, the World Bank committed $325 million for Sierra Leone and in a tweet after her meeting with President Bio, the World Bank’s Kristalina Georgieva said they were impressed with the work the president had done under a year of taking over. The resultant effect of such commitments we are feeling as the World Bank keeps doling cash to the country on priority areas of the government.

In June 2019, the government of President Bio hosted an investment forum in London which attracted investors with huge financial muscles and global credibility and reputation. At that same forum the president met with Idris Elba, an iconic Hollywood actor of Sierra Leonean heritage. Idris Elba has pledged to undertake the development of Bonthe Island and has attracted funds in excess of $15m to start the project. Apart from that Idris Elba is helping in the rebranding efforts of the country’s image, the result of which cannot be quantified.

President Julius Maada Bio made a trip to Japan in October 2019 to showcase the country’s investment opportunities and to rollout his government’s priorities among which was the Free Quality Education. Immediately after that trip, the government of Japan signed a $2m grant with the World Food Program to support the school feeding project of the government of Sierra Leone. Today, Sierra Leonean children in food insecure chiefdoms are benefitting from that trip. The school feeding program is both an attraction and retention in schools policy and has contributed largely to the over 2.4 million children subscribed to the Free Quality Education.

At the Global Partnership for Education summit in London in July 2021, President made a presentation that got the full glare of the global media focusing on Sierra Leone. At that meeting he emphasised radical inclusion in his education drive for the children of this country. Pledges were made by the world leaders in excess of $800m but President Bio returned home with $40m which was approved for immediate disbursal to Sierra Leone.

Just last week, President Bio returned from Brussels after attending the European Union – Africa Union summit. During the summit, he met with the European Union Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen, and afterwards an announcement of a windfall of €245 million for Sierra Leone over a four year period was made.

This piece has deliberately left other trips that have attracted both financial and other benefits to the country and contributed largely to the turn around we are witnessing. The FOCAC meeting in China and its attendant benefits have not been projected in this piece to avoid boring readers with long narratives. The unquantifiable material objectives of some trips have been skipped for obvious reasons.

Putting the highlighted trips and what the president came home with from each of them, would any reasonable person justify criticising the overseas trips of President Bio? If we are to do a cost benefit analysis of the trips, then we can more than justify the frequent trips of the president and even ask for more as long as we keep getting the same results. If one trip costs $150,000 or even as much as $250,000 to the national coffers but brings back $2m or $40m or $325m, who wouldn’t want such frequent trips? Only Fools. If we are to even take the net profit value of the frequent trips, they are still worth it, as the country benefits more than it losses.

Basic economics teaches that when the marginal utility cost exceeds the marginal utility benefit, a venture is not worth pursuing. Equally so, when the marginal utility benefit exceeds the marginal utility cost, the exercise is worth undertaking. In this case, the marginal utility benefits of the frequent overseas trips of President Bio far outweigh the marginal utility cost to the country. So to fly or not to fly????

MORE ABOUT: Maada Bio

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