Delivering on a Presidential Agenda: Sierra Leone's Strategy and Policy Unit, 2010-2011
Focus: Centers of Government, Building a Reform Team and Staff, Civil Service
Topics: Donor coordination, Follow-up & monitoring, Coordination, Preparation of policy papers and choices, Strategic planning, Inter-ministerial coordination, Evaluation and Performance, Performance Management System
Type: Case Studies
Author: Michael Scharff
Keywords: project management, policy, Sierra Leone, accountability, institution-building, performance management, international donors, recruitment
In 2010, President Ernest Bai Koroma struggled to implement his development agenda for Sierra Leone, unable to count on consistent follow-through by his own ministries. He had won election in 2007, five years after an 11-year civil war had decimated the civil service and destroyed much of the West African country’s infrastructure. Early in his presidency, Koroma had established an advisory group called the Strategy and Policy Unit (SPU) in a bid to monitor ministries’ progress on major projects and to hold ministry staff accountable. During 2008–09, the SPU had made a few notable gains, particularly in formulating performance contracts with ministers and steering completion of the giant Bumbuna hydroelectric dam. But by 2010, major elements of Koroma’s development agenda had faltered, and the president knew he had to improve coordination and accountability at the center of government in order to address Sierra Leone’s daunting challenges. He hired a chief of staff, Kaifala Marah, and charged him with overhauling the SPU. Marah hired expert support staff and sharpened the unit’s focus. Victor Strasser-King, a retired geology professor who oversawthe successful completion of the long-delayed Bumbuna project while working as an SPU adviser, became director of the unit. Rather than spreading its efforts across all of the president’s priorities, the unit under Strasser-King targeted a handful of flagship projects. The revamped SPU held regular coordination meetings of the president and ministry officials that strengthened monitoring and accountability and identified logjams and bottlenecks that required presidential intervention. By late 2011, with support from the Africa Governance Initiative, the United Nations Development Programme and other partners, the SPU had increased interministerial coordination and significantly improved progress on priority programs. This case study describes the reforms in the president’s office at the center of government.