President Ernest Koroma Referred to Diaspora as Sierra Leone’s 13 th District. (or 5th Region).
By Amadu Massally, Govt. and Public Affairs, Writer, Sierra Leone
July 29, 2013
Folks, we have been asked formally to reach out to the Diaspora with regard to soliciting feedback from what has been referred to as the 5th Region by no other person than His Excellency, The President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. This government takes the Diaspora as serious strategic partners in helping our country to reach her national objectives via the newest of the poverty reduction strategy papers, dubbed the Agenda for Prosperity.
Fellow Diasporas, your thoughts and comments are welcome in these initial stages so YOU can become stakeholders in what it is that concerns YOU. These threads will form the basis with which the Government of Sierra Leone will work with the Diaspora so please put your best thoughts forward in your responses as to how we can collectively do this in the best interest of the Diaspora and our nation. In the coming weeks the Ministry will be having targeted workshops and consultation exercises to hone into what we (Diaspora especially, and GoSL) collectively want to achieve and thereby create a win-win environment for all.
In summary, there has been increasing global interest and awareness in the potential of Diaspora contributions in national development. A great number of Western and African countries have instituted Diaspora units, agencies or ministries, aimed at developing strategic Diaspora engagement schemes.
This has been achieved through the engagement of Diaspora associations and networks to better utilize and broaden communication with Diaspora communities. Embassies around the world have played coordinating roles in these arrangements. The absence of legal policy framework in many of these countries has, however, been noted to be a deterrent to the ambitions of these nations to leverage on their Diaspora resources for national development.
In Sierra Leone, the Office of Diaspora Affairs (ODA) has been in operation for three years. Facilitating the Government of Sierra Leone’s capacity building Program in Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) has been the key responsibility of ODA. Recently concluded evaluations highlighted lessons learnt such as weak partnership strategies. Government, beneficiaries [Diasporas and locals] and donor partners need a legal policy framework that will categorically spell out their rights and responsibilities. In this kind of arrangement, trust factor will be ensured by all partners and there will be no surprises.
Sierra Leone can draw on the Israel experience, a country that benefited from its Diaspora in building a whole country from scratch. After 1945, Israelis tapped into their Diaspora resources to achieve this feat. There is some amount of post-war commonality between the two countries. The Sierra Leone Diaspora increased immensely between 1991 and 2002 due to the civil-war. Great nations and people have looked for opportunities in problems. Thus, this post-war condition has predisposed the country to an opportunity of harnessing its Diaspora skills, knowledge and financial capacity towards socio-economic development.
Notably, this trend has negatively impacted on the socio-economic outlook through the resulting loss of over 30% of the professional workforce. Compounded by forced migration in the preceding years, an exacerbated phenomenon demanding government intervention has emerged. Therefore, the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) needs to embark on strategic engagement policies aimed at the repatriation of targeted Diaspora technical skills, innovation, and knowledge in the public and private sectors to enhance service delivery and stimulate economic growth.
In a SWOT analysis internally conducted in December 2009 on ODA, the need for high-level institutional commitment was highlighted. Evaluation of the Capacity Building Program emphasized the need for internal policy coherence.
In successfully implemented Diaspora initiatives around the world, a strong correlation has been identified between program success and political will.
In formulating a comprehensive Diaspora policy, recognition and importance of trust and perception factors must be paramount to the establishment of an enabling environment aimed at mitigating the growing resentments and suspicions amongst Diaspora communities, home-governments, donor partners and the local population. Trust can be engendered by embedding Diaspora rights and responsibilities in a legal framework. Government commitment to Diaspora rights such as voting and access to investment opportunities will go a long way to engender trust between key stakeholders.
The National Diaspora and Policy Framework:
In order to gain the trust of key stakeholders in the Diaspora communities, the Ministry signed to a performance contract to formulate a legal policy framework with the following objectives:
1. To establish a Capacity Building Scheme
The Agenda for Change and the Vision 2025 have their success or failure hinged on the public sector human resource capacity. Diasporas’ skill and knowledge transfer scheme may be more effective because of the absence of a language and cultural barriers between them and their country of origin.
Government should take a lead in preparing for the anticipated technical needs in both the Public and private sectors with strategic Diaspora engagement scheme for skills and knowledge repatriation. Therefore formulating a strategy for Diaspora engagement should critically look at the aspect of skilled migration, leverage on existing programs such Migration for Development in Africa (MIDA), and maximize benefits from these engagements through consultation and data collection. Capacity building is closely dependent on the professions of our overseas communities.
The ODA website should be upgraded to be more data base driven and dynamic and to be coordinated and reflective of government’s aims and objectives in terms of projects and project development. The task of matching needs to Diaspora knowledge has been taken on informally without government input, by various associations, mostly through personal connections. Most interventions are centered on education.
The current Capacity Building program was closely linked to the Public Sector Reform Unit (PSRU), with a view of turning these short term contracts into permanent civil service positions. There is still a need within the Public and private sector to address capacity needs. By establishing clear operating parameters, human resource development can be impacted with a capacity building program geared towards education, with an aim to match university curricula to current marketplace opportunities.
Ø Capacity Building Scheme: the Diaspora is well-placed to share with and transfer skills to its counterparts in Sierra Leone in institutions within the overall context of institutional capacity building initiatives. Therefore, it is recommended that the Government of Sierra Leone embarks on a strategic contract educator/volunteer hybrid Diaspora engagement program of capacitating the private and public sectors through existing institutional structures with the aim of graduating highly skilled workers in the sectors of most anticipated need such as in Information Technology (IT) and the Extractive Industries.
The UNDP funded a paper in 2010 on remittance strategies. This was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance and to Central Bank for their comments and contributions; so far there has been no feedback. The remittance strategy paper was an add on to the Diaspora project due to the fact that remittances
• form almost 11.6% of our GDP
• are mostly transported through informal and unregulated channels
• Volumes are not reported to the central bank
• Data available at money transfer bureaus is not reported or analyzed
• are not government regulated, which undermines the leverage potential for government
Remittances are private funds which cannot be readily re-directed for public use. We can however leverage on the remittance culture to develop remittance type products or to expand on them to include new investments in SMEs or to support existing businesses.
This research found that 86.4% of the Sierra Leone Diaspora in the UK who responded to the survey sends money to Sierra Leone. Of those who remit money back to Sierra Leone nearly all, 95.4%, send money to their family members.
These remittances are mostly sent to take care of basic needs such as health and education. It forms a major part of the monthly allowance for families with Diaspora connections. In order for government to leverage on the more than $168,000,000+ foreign currency, and to stimulate growth in the private sector, it will need to either regulate the informal channels or make the formal channels more attractive to remitters through:
§ Development of remittance products by banks to increase local competition in money transfer operations
§ Continued focus on removing barriers to investment through financial sector reform
§ Expansion of mobile banking and money transfer operations using mobile technology
§ Development of dialogue with Sierra Leoneans in-country and in the Diaspora on the position and function of the government in relation to remittances
§ Development of public awareness campaign to inform the Diaspora about methods of transfer and investment opportunities
§ Collection and analysis of monitored data to inform initiatives to formalize and incentivize remittance flows.
With the right policy framework, banks can then develop remittance products or facilitate and manage other Diaspora funds sent for specific projects such as home construction, or managing Diaspora resources contributed to hometowns or alumni associations, and make it all cost effective to expand services in the provinces beyond western area.
Ø Diaspora Investment Fund: Remittances are private funds which have not attracted any Government policy to re-direct them towards national development. Other countries have leveraged on Diaspora remittances for development; the Government of Sierra Leone needs a strategic policy to leverage on the remittance culture for the development of investment type products such as a Diaspora trust fund or bonds.
Political will is critical to the avoidance of program delay and to the assurance of successful program implementation.
In order to increase collaboration governments must recognize the diversity of Diaspora interests, to avoid resentments from all sectors; collaboration must be built based on realistic objectives and expectations. There could emerge many obstacles in harnessing and leveraging on Diaspora human and financial resources, including the inability of a true assessment of Diaspora development potential, the lack of confidence in government in mobilizing resources to finance governmental programs, inefficient communication structures, and the difficult task of overcoming competition and increasing collaboration amongst Diaspora groups, while allowing them to keep ownership of their agendas.
A well-formulated policy can serve as an engine and an enabling tool of addressing and defining legalities and costs of goods and services and even the movement of people through well-defined embedded migration laws with the policy framework. A good policy can also reduce bureaucratic delays and bottle necks and also simplify and define business start-ups and transactions procedure.
This project therefore seeks funding for the Office of Diaspora in the Ministry of Political and Public Affairs to develop a legal Diaspora policy framework aimed at establishing Diaspora rights and responsibilities and that of the Government of Sierra Leone to develop and implement capacity building and Diaspora investment fund schemes as well as their contribution to national development at large.
Arolyn I. Koroma, Editor in-chief BBT1 AND 2
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