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.
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.
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.