By Lawrence Williams
Rights activist and pioneer of the Green Monday protest, Sorie Sengbe-Marah Esq., says the action was intended to provoke a government that brooks no criticisms into taking immediate pragmatic steps to address the rising cost of living, inflation spike and exponential increases in gas price.
Marah says they chose to were green this and every other Monday because it represents the colours of the national flag, but more so because it’s the official colour of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP).
Market monitors says a food price hike that hit the market few months after Julius Maada Bio came to power has since been on a galloping trend. The effects have been horrendous. Many households struggle to meet basic dietary needs.
An analysis of a multi-dimentional poverty index (MPI) survey done Statistics Sierra Leone shows over 60% of the country’s population is MPI poor. A Comprehensive Food Security and Vulnerability Analysis published by the World Health Organisation in May 2021 finds out about 66% of the population faces food insecurity. The analysis shows that the price of staple food (rice & cassava) has quadrupled.
The first four years of Bio’s regime has seen a maladroit handling of the economy, activists say. The local currency has depreciated significantly as against foreign currencies, pushing the central bank to undertake a re-domination of the Leone amid the growing costs of food, transportation, housing, healthcare, water and electricity which are more or less a mod con for the rich, leaving the hapless scavenging for survival.
The Green Monday came amid calls by another pressure group, Legal Link, for affirmative actions to mitigate the impact of the economic hardship on the general populace.
The organisation says the country’s economic situation is “at its lowest ebb” since Bio became president. They argue that this situation, if left unattended, could have far-reaching implications for internal peace and security. The organisation then recommends raising the income levels of public sector workers and at least 50% increase on the minimum wage as remedial steps to cushion the effects of this declining economic situation on the ordinary man. See Legal Link’s press statement below.
18th March, 2022
LEGAL LINK URGES THE GOVERNMENT OF SIERRA LEONE TO INCREASE THE MINIMUM WAGE, SALARIES AND PENSIONS OF THE WORKING POPULATION BY 50% INORDER TO MITIGATE THE HARDSHIP AND PAIN CURRENTLY EXPERIENCED BY THE MASSES
Following the unprecedented rise in fuel prices coupled with the rise in prices of essential commodities, foreign exchange earnings and inflation in the country, it is no gainsaying to opinionate that Sierra Leone’s economic situation is not only in shambles but at its lowest ebb since the coming into office of the new direction government.
As an organization that defends the rights of vulnerable groups in Sierra Leone, LEGAL LINK is deeply concerned about the current abysmal state of affairs and it’s potential to undermine the relative peace, security and cohesiveness of the society if not addressed urgently.
It is against this backdrop coupled with a burning desire to address the welfare needs of the Sierra Leonean society that we make bold to call out on the government and its relevant agencies to do the needful by raising the minimum wage as well as the salaries and pensions of the working population in the country.
It could be recalled that in Sierra Leone, since the year 2020, the minimum wage stands at 600, 000 leones (50 dollars) a month while the majority of the working population particularly in the civil service takes home about 2,000,000 Leones (200 dollars) a month.
It is also reported that majority of the pensioners in Sierra Leone receives less than 300,000 Leones (25 dollars) a month.
A cursory look at the above monthly salaries and pensions paid to the majority of Sierra Leone’s workforce (past and present) will reveal that indeed, the people of Sierra Leone are merely eking out a living by miracle and magic.
With the rise in transportation costs as well as house rent charges and other essential commodities like rice, sugar, flour, pepper, packet water, cement etc, it stands to reason, and without doubt that, the average Sierra Leonean household is currently strangulated by the economic hardship in the country. Little wonder why corruption, mismanagement and the blood thirsty ambition for political power continue to fester on and even remained unabated within the public sector of Sierra Leone.
While the rise in petroleum products may not necessarily be the making of the government, it is however within the full grip and purview of the government of Sierra Leone to introduce affirmative actions, policies and programmes that will help cushion down the effect and mitigate the impact of rising prices in petroleum products and other essential commodities on the wider population.
Like many progressive nations are currently doing across the world, Sierra Leone must also take reasonable steps to mitigate the hardship that has eclipsed its vulnerable population.
And one sure step towards reducing this burden and suffering on the masses is by increasing the minimum wage, salaries and pensions of the working population in the country by a reasonable margin or percentage.
In LEGAL LINK’s assessment, a 50% increase would be a good starting point. For example, if a worker in the private sector who receives the minimum wage (600,000 Leones) as monthly salary now receives an increased minimum wage by 50%, it would mean such a worker will now earn 900,000 Leones as monthly salary.
Even though such salary may still not be adequate given the economic realities of the day, it does however give a reasonable satisfaction to such worker that the government is doing something positive to ameliorate his predicament situation.
This in our view is the very reason why a government does exist; to seek the welfare of its people.
A Government that chooses to do nothing or turns a blind eye on the suffering masses in such a crisis situation and suicidal moment, is not only being insensitive to the plight of its citizens as well as its obligations under the social contract, but is certainly a government that may be scoring an own goal on itself, heading for doom and rejection.
And like a wise political philosopher rightly puts it, “a hungry man is not only an angry man but also a man that cannot wait.”
LEGAL LINK therefore hopes and prays that this clarion call on the government will not only be given due attention but will also be treated with alacrity and a deep sense of cosmic responsibility and moral rectitude.
Rashid Dumbuya Esq