Sierra Leone slashes spending in huge austerity drive

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Ernest Bai Koroma (AP)
Ernest Bai Koroma (AP)

Freetown - Sierra Leone has announced it will slash spending across the board and freeze all government projects to stabilise its finances following a prolonged economic slump.

The economic shock of the Ebola crisis and difficulties faced by the country's key commodities sector have led the government to undertake a seven-month review of its finances.

A meeting chaired by President Bai Ernest Koroma on Monday announced measures aimed at addressing a depreciating foreign exchange rate, lower prices of minerals such as iron ore and a poor tax compliance rate.

The government aims to slash spending across the board with expected savings of 309 billion leones ($69 million) targeted within six months by cutting into ministry budgets, and enforcing more stringent revenue gathering.

"These measures will be implemented up to the first half of 2017 in order to stabilise the current situation," Koroma told cabinet ministers in comments obtained by AFP.

"If we are able to fight Ebola, we should be able to put up a fight that will turn around the economic fortunes of the country," he added.

Officials will be hardest hit: the purchase of new cars and office equipment has been banned and domestic and international travel budgets slashed.

Paid overtime has also been scrapped.

The government is also likely to consider addressing fuel subsidies after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said elevated levels of spending on petrol could leave it unable to pay civil servants salaries.

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