The Budget Advocacy Network (BAN), through a spokesman, said Monday removal of subsidies on these commodities will negatively affect the common man at a time when the citizens were already struggling in the face of hardship to make ends meet.
The warning comes as the government and the IMF resumed discussion on its current Extended Credit Facility (ECF) arrangement.
On Friday, the government hosted a forum in Freetown bringing together officials from the IMF and the Ministry of Finance, marking the resumption of talks halted on the eve of the March elections.
The IMF’s support to Sierra Leone, through its ECF, signed in June, 2017, entails $224 million covering a five year period. The first instalment of $53 million was immediately disbursed.
The second installment was withheld after the Ernest Bai Koroma administration failed to implement the conditions attached, which include removal of subsidies from rice and fuel.
At last week’s Freetown forum, new President Julius Maada Bio expressed interest in resuming negotiations while calling for help from the IMF and other international development partners.
According to reports, a delegation from the government is already in Washington to engage in further negation.
Abubacarr Kamara, National Coordinator of BAN, said in an interview that while they value the relationship between institutions like IMF and the government, some of their conditions must be handled with caution as they risk impacting negatively on the lives of the poor masses who are already suffering.
“For us as civil society, one thing that concerns us is the aspect of removal of subsidy on fuel and rice. At this particular point in time when things are difficult, removing subsidies from these commodities
will make it more difficult,” he said.
In his first week in office, President Bio announced a series of Executive Orders which, among others, froze duty waivers on imported goods and directed Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) to
transfer all funds to a single treasury account. The presidency said that’s in line with Bio’s promise to instill discipline in government spending and curtail wastage. But it is also a partial fulfillment of
the IMF conditions.
Kamara said while they support those initial steps of the government, they were concerned about the aspect of subsidy removal. “We all know that fuel is a composite commodity. Immediately the
subsidy is removed, immediately the price of fuel will increase. Almost everything will go up, from transportation, to food stuff in the market,” he said.
And he added: “Rice is our staple food. The government has invested a lot, but we are not at that stage yet where we can produce enough to eat what we grow. We mostly depend on imported rice. Removal of subsidy will also increase price, which will increase hardship.”