Our missing Professor-Governor

When Julius Maada Bio was elected President in 2018, one of his immediate actions was to appoint Kelfala Kallon as Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone. A Professor in Economics from the University of Colorado and a critic of the economic and fiscal policies of the Koroma-led APC, Kallon was presented as the man with the answers to Sierra Leone’s poor performing economy. Nearly five years down the line and on the eve of national elections, Kallon has quietly left the scene. For many, it was good riddance. The Professor could not translate his economic theories into practice. In what many described as frank, the Professor on a few occasions admitted that there was nothing else he could do. He even admitted to not having the capacity to fix Sierra Leone’s economy in the face of rising inflation  

But we don’t intend to make this piece an appraisal of Kallon’s tenure as Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone.  It is about the surreptitious nature of his departure without any official communication. There are many questions to unpack here. First, is the government trying to bypass some legal provisions by secretly allowing Kelfala Kallon to leave without entangling itself into another legal conundrum about his removal before the expiration of his term of office? The 2011 Banking Act of Sierra Leone is categorical that the “Governor shall not be removed from office by the President before the expiration of his term of office unless a resolution is passed by Parliament supported by two-thirds of all its members recommending his removal”. Given the current political temperature and with national elections a few months away, you would imagine that getting a two-thirds resolution in the current Parliament will be a near impossible task. Well, the government has its own way of getting things through parliament but it is probably a piece of drama they do not want at the moment.  Second, could Kelfala Kallon – who fiercely campaigned for President Bio – shield the Presidency from any embarrassment by resigning? Depending on the relationship between the President and the Bank Governor, you would expect some sort of concurrence on this. But what if Kelfala Kallon is still employed by the State, continues to receive his salary and enjoys other benefits but missing from service? Anything can happen in this republic. What is the game plan here? How does this even give confidence to the business community and the population as a whole at a time when Leone is in a freefall and galloping inflation? And why now, even after some repeatedly embarrassing calls by the Governor? 

The relevance of these questions speaks to the heart of our governance system – one that has consistently shown disregard and disrespect for the people If State House was quick to inform the public about Kallon’s appointment as Bank Governor, they also have the responsibility to let the public know about his whereabouts and the person leading the country’s monetary policy. The continued silence is indicative of how our leaders treat important national issues with disdain. 

Many celebrate Kallon’s seeming departure after years of frustration with his failed economic policies. Whether it is his auctioning of forex and confessions of “bribery” or the controversial redenomination of the currency, the outcomes have been terrible. Kallon has left us in a weird fiscal situation where two local currencies circulate at the same time. Ten Leones carry the same value as Ten Thousand Leones and you can use them at the same time. Does anyone see how silly this very serious situation is? 

The information gap surrounding the departure of Kallon is problematic as the choice of the President to hire him in the first place without any proven track record of real world practice beyond his theoretical classroom experience. As one businessman told the Professor, “di economy laydon na street” and he did not seem to get that as he remained adamant about his methods. But now that Kallon may be out, a pertinent question to ask is what next? The Government has not made announcements about their plans to turn the economy around or proffer any solutions to the ailing economy. Well, considering that the economy is an area this government cannot boast about, you would also imagine that it is an uncomfortable conversation, especially around the elections. 

Amidst the confusing situation, Parliament remains comfortably silent and unperturbed by this development. As the elected representatives of the people who, in the first place, approved the appointment of the Bank Governor, you would expect them to take a keen interest in this and summon the relevant government officials for answers. It seems everybody is busy campaigning–the economy and the nation’s currency can wait or die.  No one seems to care. While our economy is struggling and suffocating from rising inflation, a weak currency, and poor export, we continue to grapple with the simplest of things on who manages our monetary policy. We have redenominated the Leone, auctioned US dollars, and placed restrictions on the use of foreign currency – all in a bid to stabilize foreign exchange. Would things be better? We hope so. But we must brace ourselves for the turbulence as it appears that things would have to get worse. The sign? Look at the exchange rate as the Leone ticks itself down like a timer.