KELFALA KALLON: TRIUMPHS AND TRIALS OF A BELEAGUERED BANK GOVERNOR
I have always admired Central Bank Governor, Professor Kelfala Kallon for his candour. It would however seem I incurred his ire when I wrote in this column that he had played with three lions at a resort. He clarified the issue in an interview on Radio Democracy, saying that I had fallen prey to a forged picture showing he was playing with the lions at a resort when in actual fact the incident was in “the poorest part of one of the poorest states in the US” whilst he was on vacation. Whether Jonah swallowed the whale or the whale swallowed Jonah, the fact remains that some swallowing was done! Anyhow, a thousand apologies, Sir!
His interview, which waded through his 5-year tenure as Bank Governor left me with the distinct impression that rather than think he was a brave man who played with lions, the beleaguered governor may actually be a lamb led to the slaughter in his day job.
Let us get back to the interview. The Governor touted his successes. He had some initial successes and managed to stabilize the exchange rate during his first 18 months in office and prices were fairly stable. During his tenure there had been no Bank failures, even where countries like USA had several. Financial inclusion had improved and he had ensured Banks did not discriminate against women. He had got the Collateral Registry Act passed. People maintained confidence in the Banking system and there were no attacks on Banking institutions-quite unlike Nigeria. He ran a tight ship at the BSL, honouring checks only when funds were available.
But alas, according to the Governor, COVID and the Ukraine war set in. The world had never faced the accompanying financial crisis of such a magnitude since the great depression and Sierra Leone’s economy as an integral part of the global economy was badly affected. As Bank Governor he considered the national interest paramount. Whereas the IMF was pushing for price stability, he was pushing for state stability in our fragile state. Even during these trying times, we have experienced no “kata kata”, he continued. Fuel, rice and essential good were available and there were special credit facilities for oil companies.
So much for his triumphs. The Governor was refreshingly honest about his challenges. He said that insincerity, corruption and inefficiency were at the heart of our problems. “Everyone cuts corners. You can have the best policies but under the prevailing atmosphere it is difficult to implement these policies”, he said. The law that unlicensed operators should not deal in foreign exchange was being flouted right under his nose on Siaka Stevens street with the Police standing by. The law prohibiting house owners from charging rent in dollars was openly flouted. He related the story of handing over someone who was caught smuggling $40,000 into the country through the Gbalamuya border. This case went from the FIU, then to the CID and finally to the Law Officers’ Department, which released him on the grounds that when he arrived at the border at night it was closed! He confessed that many ostensibly honourable people often came to him with indecent proposals. According to him, this is a country in which parents cheat for their children.
All was not lost however and there were still come honest people in this country. He related the story of how a Policeman who had found his wallet containing $800 tendered it at the Eastern Police station.
He had strong views about Sierra Leone not earning enough from the mining sector. Sierra Leone had exported $2.5 billion worth of minerals between 2018 and 2022 but only earned 3% of this which amounted to $75 million (not quite correct as it is the Effective Tax Rate that matters, which includes not only…