The United States of America Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) has officially confirmed that Sierra Leone’s progress in developing its MCC compact program has encountered significant setbacks, primarily due to concerns surrounding the credibility of the country’s electoral process held on June 24, 2023.
In response to inquiries about the program’s status, the MCC communicated via email, stating, “MCC is deeply concerned about the credibility of Sierra Leone’s recent electoral process, and these concerns have directly impacted the pace of compact development.”
This development traces back to Sierra Leone’s selection as an eligible country to formulate a compact program after successfully executing the US$44.4 million threshold program. This compact program entails a substantial US$450 million grant, disbursed over a five-year period, intended to bolster various sectors within the nation.
In a letter addressed to President Bio in January 2023, MCC’s Chief Executive Officer, Alice Albright, underscored that the approval of any proposed compact hinged upon Sierra Leone’s continued dedication to the principles of democratic governance, a prerequisite outlined in MCC’s eligibility criteria and scorecard. These criteria encompass critical elements such as combatting corruption and ensuring free and fair elections.
Throughout President Bio’s campaign for the multi-tier elections held on June 24th, he repeatedly emphasized the significance of the MCC Compact, highlighting his government’s efforts to secure this grant. His remarks reflected his confidence in the country’s achievements in combating corruption, advancing women’s empowerment, and upholding freedom of speech, garnering approval from international partners, including the United States government.
In February 2023, during a meeting with MCC CEO Alice Albright at State House, President Bio expressed appreciation for the progress made toward MCC approval and called for an alignment of priorities for the compact. He stated, “Given the pressing need for energy and our current budgetary constraints, I urge that we prioritize my government’s proposal. Let us ensure that, at a strategic level, our priorities align for the compact.”
However, the hopes of securing the much-needed MCC grant for critical sectors such as energy and water were cast into doubt following President Bio’s re-election after the June 24th elections.
The MCC disclosed that their initial plans to negotiate the proposed compact in Washington, D.C., in August and subsequently recommend it for Board approval in September have encountered delays. They reiterated their commitment to engage with the Government of Sierra Leone in discussions concerning the election-related concerns raised, building upon the partnership established over successive administrations in both the United States and Sierra Leone.
In a letter dated July 21, 2023, addressed to Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, Alicia Philip Mandaville, Vice President of the Department of Policy and Evaluation at the MCC, delineated the expectations of MCC’s Board of Directors and U.S. Congress stakeholders. They anticipate unwavering commitment from all MCC partner countries to safeguarding democratic rights and conducting free, fair, transparent, and credible multi-party elections. She expressed apprehensions regarding the recent elections’ integrity, including transparency in the tabulation process, irregularities in electoral results as announced by the Election Commission of Sierra Leone, and the protection of fundamental freedoms and civil liberties, particularly those of election observers.
While acknowledging the government’s efforts to address these concerns through electoral process investigations and public discourse on electoral reform and constitutional adherence, Mandaville informed the Vice President that MCC would be unable to adhere to the original timeline for commencing compact negotiations in August 2023 and presenting the proposed compact to the Board in September. They await further clarification on the raised issues.
President Bio, in a post-election engagement with civil society leaders in June, challenged the position of some Election Observer Missions and called on citizens to uphold the integrity of the country’s elections. He stressed that international bodies had not consistently intervened in the affairs of other nations, citing examples like the United States to illustrate that each country possesses unique democratic processes.
Regarding election and tabulation matters, the President underscored that the constitution prescribed the tabulation process, and it was not within his or the Chairman of the Electoral Commission’s purview to alter it. He concluded by asserting that the constitution should not be disregarded due to differing views held by election observers.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Information and Civic Education, Chernor Bah, reiterated the government’s commitment to its relationship with the United States and other international partners. He announced President Bio’s decision to establish an electoral systems review committee in response to the concerns raised.
The MCC also confirmed ongoing discussions and correspondence with Vice President Jalloh, reaffirming its commitment to engage with the Government of Sierra Leone in addressing election-related concerns.
In a separate development, Sarah Van Horne, the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Freetown, clarified that the remarks made by David Reimer, the outgoing Ambassador, regarding the election’s outcome represented the position of the U.S. government and not the views of any individual. The U.S. government continues to express concerns about irregularities in the election results as announced by the Electoral Commission for Sierra Leone and is evaluating all government-to-government programs in light of these concerns. Ongoing discussions are underway, but no new announcements have been made at this time.
Additionally, Anthony J. Blinken, Secretary of State of the United States of America, has announced a new visa restriction policy targeting individuals believed to have undermined the democratic process in the June 2023 Sierra Leone election. The policy will pursue visa restrictions for those responsible for or complicit in undermining democracy in Sierra Leone, including through electoral manipulation, voter intimidation, or interference with election observers.
In response to this announcement, State House Press Secretary, Solomon Jamiru, asserted that the U.S. visa ban fails to acknowledge the government’s sincere efforts to consolidate the country’s democracy and the credibility of the recently conducted elections. He described the travel ban at this stage as undesirable for any government.