President Bio’s Hardworking Finance Minister

 

There is no iota of doubt that a developing country trying to wrestle itself out of the grips of poverty, low economic productivity, fiscal hardship and unwieldy public debt cannot do so without a sober-minded Finance Minister with a clear monetary focus and a macroeconomic vision that incorporate workable policies, strategies, methods and applications required to first and foremost stabilize the economy.

In which regard, His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio made shrewd choice of his Finance Minister, Jacob Jusu Saffa who comes to the job of recalibrating a broken economy with a high inflationary monetary landscape with a wealth of theoretical and practical corrective applications for mending a broken economy.

Actions speak louder than words. Even the most sworn critics of President Bio’s ‘New Direction’ government cannot but grudgingly agree that the Sierra Leone economy is in a far healthier condition than it was in April 2018 when President Bio came to power reporting that he inherited a broken, heavily indebted economy.

Success by Finance Minister JJ Saffa and his equally hardworking monetary team in the ministry is attested to by Minister Saffa in presenting the country’s 2019 budget to Parliament reporting that because of remarkable strides made in domestic revenue generation, an appreciative European Union has granted Sierra Leone US$25 million in budgetary support that will be made available before the end of the year.

One MP, Hon. Mustapha F. Sellu in recognition of the phenomenal achievement of Finance Minister Saffa in realizing of President Bio’s vision of an economy that is largely financed from domestic revenue praised the ‘New Direction’ government for the improvement in domestic revenue generation that enables the country to be run without resorting to borrowings and donor support.

The 2019 budget which he titled: ‘Fiscal Consolidation for Human Capital Development,’ Minister Saffa told MPs: “brings hope to a country that had lost the glory of being the Athens of West Africa and condescended to become a country where school children can no longer read a passage or write their names.” It , he added, also brings hope to the people who had lost hope for being tagged as one of the countries with the highest infant and maternal mortality.

In which light, if President Bio is able to finance his government’s flagship free quality education programme from using only domestic generated revenue, the feat is owed to Finance Minister J.J. Saffa and his hardworking Finance ministry team of economists and monetary experts.

Renowned political and social commentator, Engineer Andrew Keili of the opposition National Grand Alliance (NGC) Party in quiet praise of the remarkable achievement of Minister Saffa in recalibrating of the economy to gear it towards improved management and productivity notes that the 2019 budget indeed spells good news for many Sierra Leoneans – which is what a pro-people budget should do.

On the positives that attracts him in the 2019 budget, Engineer Keili speaks of creation of 9, 000 middle level jobs in the public service, increase of pensions to a minimum threshold of Le250, 000 per month, as well as increase of the salaries of civil servants, teachers, police and military by between 5% and 10%. This, he notes, is in addition to the 10% that Minister Saffa announced in an earlier supplementary budget after the ‘New Direction’ government came to power, adding that the 2019 budgets gives the people a lot of freebies.

Another testimony of Finance Minister J.J. Saffa’ hard work in pursuit of the ‘New Direction’s’ economic growth vision is his report to MPs that the policies and programmes in the 2019 budget will restore donor and investor confidence in the economy, which in turn will attract DFI and expand existing domestic investment as well as facilitate the inflow of official development assistance.

In that direction, it could be recalled that due to the IMF’s satisfaction with the outcome of the prudent expenditure cutting and revenue generation policies and programmes of the Government, it is satisfied and will revive the country’s budget support lifeline that it blocked in November 2017, due to the former government’s unsatisfactory public financial management attitude.

Put graphically, minus the positives outlined above, the 2019 budget delineates, the following major achievements made by Finance Minister in terms of financial consolidation to finance the country’s human development in all aspects:

  1. The government made more money this year than it did the previous year. Domestic revenue generation is up by 30%. From 2019-2021, the economy (GDP) is projected to grow between 4.9% – 5.1%.
  2. Sierra Leone exported more in 2018 than in 2017. The total export value so far is US$515 million of which palm oil, timber, and honey account for 60%.
  3. Sierra Leone imported less in 2018 than in 2017. Imports are down across all sectors except for fuel.
  4. The budget deficit is projected to reduce by 3% (from 9% in 2017 to 6.1% in 2018).
  5. The government saved Le 2 billion on travel expenses as of the implementation of Executive Order #2 limiting all non-essential travel for government workers except with approval from State House.
  6. The health sector will take up 10% of the total budget for 2019 (Le 549 billion).
  7. A National Adolescent Sexual Reproductive Health Programme will be launched in 2019, primarily focused on reducing teenage pregnancy rates in the country. The House of Parliament Budget has been raised from Le12 billion in 2018 to Le14.5 billion in 2019.
  8. Personal income tax for citizens will be reduced by 5% in 2019, from 35% to 30%.
  9. Tax compliance is being strengthened, meaning more increased domestic revenue.
  10. Internal audit of MDAs and added Ministry of Finance audit structures to be bolstered in order to further reduce wastage.
  11. Ranked low by the World Bank in terms of doing business, due to cumbersome regulatory framework, administrative barriers, unstable macroeconomic environment, weak infrastructure, limited access to finance, unskilled labor and widespread corruption, reform measures that will be undertaken include making it easier to do business, improved customs processes, financial sector reforms, improved infrastructure, increased investment in human capital and improved transparency in the management of public resources.

Clearly, the ongoing economic and financial restructuring processes undertaken by Minister Saffa and his allied MDAs, the Ministry of Finance is, according to him, now well positioned to effectively design policies and programs for moving the economy forward into middle level income status.

Professional Profile

Jacob Jusu Saffa was appointed Minister of Finance by President Bio on April 12, 2018. He was a member of a Transition Team set up by President Bio to conduct a stock-taking exercise of the state of affairs of Government Ministries, Department and Agencies. He was the Team Lead for the Finance and Economic Development Pillar under the Transition Team.

Mr. Saffa started his career as a Development Planning Officer at the Ministry of Development and Economic Planning. He also has experience in training and facilitating, community mobilization and working in conflict and post-conflict environments.

Mr. Saffa is familiar with donor procedures and operations including that of the UN system, World Bank and the AFDB. Between 2002 and 2005 (post-war reconstruction and reintegration era), he served as HD Specialist in the World Bank Sierra Leone Country Office.

Between 1994–2002, he was a part-time lecturer at the Department of Economics, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone.

In 2005, Mr. Jacob Jusu Saffa became the National Secretary General of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), a position he held until 2011. During the 2018 general elections, Mr. Saffa was the Chairman for the SLPP Election Management Team.

He holds a Bachelor of Science (Honors) degree in Economics from Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone and a Master of Arts degree in Economic Development and Planning from the United Nations Institute for Economic Development and Planning in Dakar, Senegal.