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Sierra Leone
Voluntary National Review 2021

Watch video of panel where the VNR was presented

Key 2021 VNR Messages for Sierra Leone


Sierra Leone remains steadfast in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the SDGs. It is presenting an evaluative third VNR report, following its second review in 2019. The country continues to give great focus to its accelerator Goals: SDG4 (education) and SDG16 (justice). The two Goals were informed by the national development context, as the most crucial to the socioeconomic transformation of the state.

Ensuring basic, inclusive, and free quality education is a top priority in the Government’s Human Capital Development flagship programme within the country’s Medium-Term National Development Plan (2019-2023). Accordingly, national budget allocation to the education sector has remained around 21 percent since 2018 to ensure all public-school pupils have access to basic and senior school education; free access to textbooks for core subjects; and school feeding. With regard to the latter, the Government provided food for more than 300,000 pupils in 2020, besides efforts by Development Partners in the same area. This initiative has generally benefitted 2.5 million pupils and saved parents an estimated US$500 per year per beneficiary pupil, coupled with free school bus service for all districts headquarter towns. This has seen significant increases in the Gross Enrolment Rate for the primary level which exceeded 135 percent in 2019 and 2020, compared to 109 percent in 2018.

Also, the country’s efforts on SDG16 (justice) remains laudable. Internationally, it continues to provide leadership to the g7+, which secured a UN Observer Status in December 2019 to leverage more support to walk this group out of fragility into sustainable development. Sierra Leone is also Co-Chair of the International Dialogue on Peace-building and State-building. In December 2020, the country exited the formal agenda of the UN Peacebuilding Commission Configuration, as a show of remarkable achievement towards resilience and sustainable development. Nationally, the Government has scaled up efforts towards establishing the planned Commission of Peace and National Cohesion, with a Bill enacted in parliament to this effect. The justice sector has accelerated strides in promoting access to justice for the underprivileged. With the establishment of the Legal Aid Board in 2015, those benefiting from free legal representation, advice and related services reached a total of 413,169 people in 2020 (including persons in pre-trial detention and prisons); recording a 93 percent increase from 2018. Interventions covered child and women rights issues, land disputes, and criminal cases including domestic violence, rape, and juvenile offences; rural communities provided with special attention. To reinforce this, the number of Magistrates and Judges have increased from 63 in 2019 to 77 across the country.

Prioritising education (SDG4) and justice (SDG16) is central to pursuing other Goals, such as 1 (ending poverty), 2 (zero hunger) and 10 (inequality), as well as 3 (healthcare) and 5 (gender). For instance, increasing access to justice as an entitlement and basic need is fundamental to stemming rural multidimensional poverty in the country, currently estimated as 86.3 percent, and income poverty 73.9 percent, compared to 37.6 and 34.8 percent for urban areas, respectively. Reducing school fee burden on poor households will increase their access to basic needs, including healthcare services and investment in small businesses consistent with SDG8 (decent work), and even 11 (responsible production and consumption) and 13 (climate change). Additionally, we have continued to maintain gender parity in primary education and achieved parity in junior secondary education.

With regard to localising the SDGs, the Government has revitalised district development coordination structures, alongside scaling up the “People’s Planning Process” model integrating chiefdom/village level planning into district/national planning processes.

On partnerships and financing for development (SDG17), a range of initiatives have been pursued, largely informed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among them, we currently implement a strengthening domestic resource mobilisation for SDGs financing project aimed at driving innovation in domestic revenue collection and management at central and local levels and financial sector capitalisation through deploying digitalisation and financial literacy.

In terms of challenges, Government has experienced dwindling domestic revenues, especially with the COVID pandemic that has extremely constrained private sector operations. To this end, debt relief and cancellation would be critical to sustaining SDGs financing, in addition to ongoing efforts at strengthening general public financial management.

Voluntary National Review 2019

There has been increased appreciation of the SDGs in Sierra Leone. The country recently launched the Medium-Term National Development Plan (MTNDP) (2019-2023) titled “Education for Development”. The people centred plan is aligned to the Africa Union Agenda 2063 and the SDG’s, to strategically guide the delivery of services and ensure that no one is left behind in Sierra Leone. Sierra Leone has identified SDG4 (education) and SDG16 (justice) as accelerators for pursuing its developmental agenda, based on estimations that both goals are central in its transformational trajectory.

Currently, basic, inclusive and quality education stands out as the premier development necessity for Sierra Leone. Since August 2018, the Government has allocated 21 percent of the National Budget to the Free Quality School Education programme, to ensure that all children have access to basic and senior school education. Currently all Pupils, even those in remote communities, have access to textbooks for core subjects, other learning materials and improved services, free of cost. The initiative has benefited 2.14 million boys and girls in Government-Owned and Government-Assisted Schools, saving poor parents an appreciable amount of money to start small scale business. Since August 2018 enrolment has increased by approximately 90,000 for Primary and 10,000 for Junior Secondary School. Enrolment in Primary Schools for children with disabilities also increased from 26.6 percent in 2017 to 78.7 percent in 2018.

As a global pioneer of SDG16, Sierra Leone hosted the 16+ Forum Annual Showcase and the first technical consultation on SDG16+ for Anglophone African countries in Freetown in November 2018; Co-chairs the Global Task Force on Justice, which launched the “Justice for All” Report in The Hague in April 2019; Chairs and Co-Chairs the g7+ and International Dialogue on Peace-building and State-building, respectively, to promote SDG16 in fragile and conflict-affected countries; and is setting up a Peace and National Cohesion Commission.

The capacity of Legal Aid Board has been enhanced to provide legal services to low-income Sierra Leoneans. The Board provides legal advice and representation, especially for the rural and disadvantaged citizens, including those in pre-trial detention and prisons. The number of less privileged persons with access to justice has increased substantially from 25,000 in 2015, to more than 215,000 to date. Issues covered range from child protection and land disputes, to criminal cases, domestic violence, rape, defilement and juvenile offences. 

Goal 8 on decent work has also received ample attention from Government. The comprehensive Decent Work Country Programme is now in place and has led to the development of the Labour Market Information System and the National HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy. The program has also facilitated the domestication of International Conventions on the Elimination of Child Labour.

For SDG10 on inequality, Government is funding STEM education for girls and supported the launch of the First Lady’s “Hands-Off Our Girls” campaign to end child marriage and reduce teenage pregnancy. 

For SDG13 on climate change, Sierra Leone is enforcing environmental protection compliance, through monitoring and other strategies, such as the integration of climate change messages into school and university curricula.

On the implementation of SDGs at sub-national level, Sierra Leone has scaled up the “People’s Planning Process” model by putting chiefdom and village level planning at the centre of the formulation and implementation of all development plans.

On partnership for the goals (SDG17), financing for development is significant for effective development cooperation. Sierra Leone recently undertook a Development Finance Assessment (DFA) that highlights potential public and private financing for the SDGs and the MTNDP. The DFA exercise will pave the way for the development of an Integrated National Financing Framework (INFF).

Challenges remain in delivering the SDGs in the country, especially limited fiscal space with domestic tax-revenue-to-GDP ratio standing at less than 15 percent. However, it is encouraging to note that Government remains relentless in pursuing domestic revenue mobilization and rationalization of expenditure. Efficient public financial management is in force, amongst a range of other structural interventions.

Sierra Leone’s participation in the 2016 VNR process communicated the country’s determination and commitment to minimize poverty, reduce inequality and increase prosperity for all Sierra Leoneans. Sierra Leone continues to work towards this and renews its obligations at this year’s VNR.


Voluntary National Review 2016
Summary Report of Adaptation of the Goals

The Government of Sierra Leone strongly supports the launch of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (the UN SDGs) to succeed the Millennium Development Goals (the MDGs). The new agenda conveys renewed commitment by the UN to support global paths to sustainable development by 2030. The previous agenda, the MDGs, provided useful benchmarks that the government strove very hard to achieve despite Sierra Leone’s weak start at the dawn of the 21st century due to a devastating decade-long civil war (1991-2001) that crippled the economy and human development.

Unfortunately, while the government was staying the course of pursuing the MDGs to an end, the nation was struck by yet another crisis, the outbreak of the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD) in May 2014. The disease killed an estimated 3,500 of about 8,000 infected persons. It caused unprecedented damage to the social and economic fabric of the state before it was officially declared over on 7th November 2015. This natural catastrophe was exacerbated by a coincidental crisis in the mining sector. As the disease was raging, the international price of the country’s leading export commodity (iron ore) was crashing, compelling the two leading mining companies of the mineral to suspend operations for at least a year during 2014-2015.1 The economy phenomenally plunged during the twin crises. Growth in GDP decelerated from 15.2 percent in 2012 and 20.1 percent in 2013 to 4.6 percent in 2014. 2 The estimated growth for end-2015 was minus 21.1 percent. Consumer prices skyrocketed and at least 2.3 million people had their livelihoods worsened during these crises.

The combined effects of the twin crises badly affected progress towards meeting the MDGs, and undermined hopes of achieving the country’s Vision 2035 of becoming a middle income country anchored on the successive implementation of its poverty reduction strategy papers (PRSPs), the current one dubbed the Agenda for Prosperity (A4P, 2013-2018). These effects have continued to linger on to date, to the extent that the government is currently instituting tough austerity measures to rebound the economy.

Progress on the MDGs

Before the EVD struck in 2014, Sierra Leone had made progress in implementing the MDGs by, among others, integrating its goals in the national development plans, including the PRSPIII/A4P. Two MDG reports had so far been prepared (2005 and 2010) and the country received a UN MDGs award in 2010 in recognition of the President’s remarkable leadership commitment and progress towards achieving MDG6. Various socio-economic surveys and sector reports indicated notable progress towards achieving a number of MDGs and the country was optimistic that several goals would have been achieved in 2015. Poverty headcount had declined from 70 percent in 2003, to 52.9 percent in 2013; prevalence of underweight children reduced from 20 percent in 2004, to 16 percent in 2013; primary school completion rate stood at 76 percent in 2013; the ratio of girls to boys in primary school was close to 100 percent; HIV/AIDS prevalence dropped from 1.5 percent in 2005, to 0.12 percent in 2015; access to safe drinking water increased from 36.7 percent in 1990, to 62.6 percent in 2015; and mobile cellular subscribers increased from 14.3 percent in 2007, to 76.7 percent in 2014. A draft 2015 MDGs progress report has been prepared. This end-programme report and various socio-economic assessments including the Ebola Recovery Strategy show that the EVD reversed gains made in achieving several MDGs. Indeed, serious challenges remained in a number of other areas, especially in reducing maternal and child mortality. In 2013, maternal mortality rate was 1,165 deaths per 100,000 live births and under-five and infant mortality rates were 156 and 92 deaths per 1,000 births, respectively. A huge room also remained in protecting the environment and enhancing sanitation and hygiene.

Challenges and lessons going forward

A number of challenges have emerged for Sierra Leone in light of recent socioeconomic developments and their implications for the need to foster regional and global cooperation to ensure sustainable development. Poverty, vulnerability and inequality remain a concern. And to the extent that Sierra Leone could phenomenally suffer a cross-border infection to a monumental scale as witnessed with the Ebola virus originating from the Republic of Guinea cements the fact that regional and global dimension to a country’s sustainable development cannot be overemphasized.

Sierra Leone’s economy remains fragile and vulnerable to external shocks. It is highly dependent on mining for foreign exchange earnings, which is unpredictable as corroborated in the recent crash of international price of its leading export commodity (iron ore), suggesting that the country must diversify its economy to grow and develop sustainably.

Natural disasters are a continuous threat to the country. Recent disasters included massive flooding that decimated homes, business houses and claimed scores of lives in the capital city of Freetown and other regions just as the country was emerging from the scourge of the Ebola epidemic in August 2015, thus speaking highly to the need for SDG11 that warns states to ensure efficient management of towns, cities and population.

Related to the foregoing is the increasing evidence of the negative effects of climate change, including rising sea levels and frequent flooding. Sierra Leone has been recently reported to be among the most vulnerable countries to the effects of climate change in the world.3 Addressing these threats require sustained development cooperation and investing in attitudinal and behavioural change in consumption and production patterns, as well as in climate change-related disaster preparedness, such as early warning systems, and prevention planning.

Other challenges include management of regional conflicts that require member countries’ participation, such as responding to cross-border organized crimes; terrorism; piracy; drugs and human trafficking; and illicit financial flows ripping Africa of scarce development resources. Great attention is required to overcoming youth unemployment in pursuing social stability.

Leaving no one behind

The domestication of SDGs in Sierra Leone has taken into consideration the principle of leaving no one behind, as this is an additional dimension to the special context and challenges the country faces, which require adequate response in fulfillment of this principle. Accordingly, SDGs consultations and popularization process has taken into consideration marginalized and excluded groups, including the disabled, women in rural areas, children, youth and households in informal settlements. Statistics Sierra Leone and other government agencies are being sensitized to collect disaggregated (including spatial) data that enable effective policy making and tracking of relevant inequalities. Furthermore, upholding concerns relating to intergenerational environmental equity is crucial to the fulfillment of this objective; otherwise not only a huge cross-section of the present generation will be left behind but the sustained survival of those yet unborn could be doubtful.

What to do to overcome the challenges

As gathered from the consultations, addressing these challenges requires development of a capable and effective state with sound institutions, and monitoring and early warning and response mechanisms to respond to risks and threats accordingly and building on acquired strengthens and applying critical lessons learned. Having a well-incentivized public and civil service system and a durable and robust peace infrastructure is all the more critical to ensuring sustainable development in the country; incentive that are accompanied by inculcation of integrity at work.

Accession to the voluntary review and progress in national adaptation of SDGs

It is against the above background that Sierra Leone has seen the SDGs as a timely opportunity to overcome development challenges ahead. We have therefore prepared a review report to inform the UN at the July 2016 High Level Political Forum (HLPF) about the progress that Sierra Leone has made in integrating the SDGs into our national development processes. So far, we have published a simplified version of the SDGs, distributed copies to Parliament and the public at large; and provided briefing to Cabinet. These have been followed by series of sensitization meetings and workshops with civil society and Non-Governmental Organizations, the local councils, a cross-section of university colleges, and the general public through radio and TV discussions. The Office of the President provides broad oversight to the SDGs adaptation process, while the Ministries of Finance and Economic Development and that of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation provide operational, technical and diplomatic leadership.

The SDGs were integrated into the 2016 National Budget, and have been aligned to the Eight Pillars of Sierra Leone’s third generation poverty reduction strategy paper. Technical workshops were organized to prepare Sierra Leone’s SDGs adaptation report, which constitute the review report to present to the HLPF in July. A draft set of SDG indicators specific to Sierra Leone have been formulated.

Planned implementation arrangement on the SDGs

The SDGs will be implemented within the existing framework of implementing our national development plan: the PRSPIII or A4P. The institutional management framework is presented in Figure 1. It is proposed to have a Presidential Board on the SDGs (PBS) at the highest policy and political level to provide overall policy and strategic guidance to the implementation of the SDGs, to be chaired by the President with members drawn from the Office of the President, the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development (MoFED), Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), the Ministry of Information and Communication, and the Office of the UN Resident Coordinator. Below the PBS is the Ministerial Committee on the SDGs (MCS) to provide operational guidance to the SDGs process across line government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs) at the central and local levels, and across CSOs/NGOs, the private sector, the media, the research community and the academia. The MCS will include MoFED, MFAIC, Statistics Sierra Leone, Open Government Initiative/Partnership (OGI/P) and Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) in the Office of the President; and other MDAs. Below this are the existing Pillar Working Groups (PWGs) of the Agenda for Prosperity which will be modified to capture technical follow-ups and reporting on the SDGs within the Pillars.

Implementation of the adaptation plan shall be informed by the principles of the New Deal, such as transparency, ownership, one plan, capacity development, and joint management of risk, guiding development interventions in fragile states like Sierra Leone, as well as the principles of Mutual Accountability to ensure effectiveness of aid. All development actors including the public sector, CSOs/NGOs, donor agencies, local councils and the private sector shall be coordinated within the institutional framework described in Figure 1.

•Office of the President/OGI/OGP/SPU
•Ministry of Finance & Economic Development
•Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation
•Ministry of Information & Communication
•United Nations Resident Coordinator’s Office
•Ministry of Finance & Economic Development
•Ministry of Foreign Affairs & International Cooperation
•Sierra Leone Environmental Protection Agency
•Statistics Sierra Leone
•Civil Society and Private Sector Representatives
Focal point
Ministry of Development and Economic Planning

Partnerships & Commitments
The below is a listing of all partnership initiatives and voluntary commitments where Sierra Leone is listed as a partner in the Partnerships for SDGs online platform.
National Level CSO Advocacy and Monitoring

To provide an independent civil society monitoring of the implementation of the Post-2015 SDG and providing the needed evidence based advocacy that compels government for fulfilled promises/commitments.

Youth Partnership for Peace and Development in partnership with the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Network (WASHNet) of Sierra Leone
Sustainable Development Goals
United Nations