Regardless of stage and scale of development, governments need assurance that their financial affairs – budget, revenue, accounting, audit, borrowing, investment, procurement – are managed competently. Transparency and accountability go to the heart of credibility and rebuilding trust in troubled times. But what brand of leadership must emerge to steward global competitiveness?
When President Ernest Bai Koroma handpicked Dr. Kaifala Marah as Minister of Finance following last November’s elections, he raised the bar for principled leadership of Sierra Leone’s financial and economic fortunes. As one of Africa’s new-generation decision makers, Dr. Marah was called from the Commonwealth Secretariat in 2010 to execute the President’s ‘Agenda for Change’ as Chief of Staff.
The Commonwealth had launched Building Pyramids in the Valleys three years earlier to foster sustainable professional networks for senior finance officials. Institutional leaders built capacity by exchanging knowledge, skills and systems through peer review and south-south cooperation:
• Counterparts mentored more than 100 thematic fellows from 40 countries;
• IPAC published 10 cases on finance innovations, supported by a learning and research portal;
• Botswana, Ghana, Sierra Leone and Solomon Islands mainstreamed internal audit and risk management;
• 17 African countries and the Caribbean networked Commonwealth public procurement; and
• 21 Commonwealth countries self-administered a web-based toolkit to diagnose and chart public finance reform endorsed by Ministers of Finance and Auditors-General.
As policy lead, Dr. Marah observed, “Working through communities of practice is an emerging comparative advantage for the Commonwealth. There is no better way of achieving sustainable results and a sense of ownership than by helping practitioners initiate, lead, and share in-country reforms.”
Public financial management is a strategic lever in any public sector reform program. The finance function in government is central to decision-making about allocating and utilizing scarce resources needed for nation building and capacity development. Social transformation requires political will, ingenuity, and alliances to evade the convention trap.
Dr. Marah’s path in transitioning from advisor to gatekeeper to minister is virtually seamless and untrodden. The collaboration necessary to alleviate poverty and to diversify and grow the economic base must bridge disparate political-administrative leadership divides. People are keen to see the new Minister work the vision for Sierra Leone.
John Wilkins was a Commonwealth diplomat and a career public servant in Canada. He is Executive in Residence: Public Management with the Schulich School of Business at York University (email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org).