Sierra Leone economic update 2022: leveraging SME financing and digitization for inclusive growth

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has set back the economy and fiscal balances of Sierra Leone, which are now further impacted by the war in Ukraine. Real gross domestic product (GDP) growth turned negative in 2020, while the government’s efforts to reduce the fiscal deficit were undermined by the need for emergency spending. Just when the economy began to recover, the war in Ukraine caused new disruption through sharply higher food and fuel prices. Thus, the authorities face both the short-term challenge of coping with these price shocks while recovering from the pandemic, and the medium-term challenge of renewing fiscal consolidation and promoting higher economic growth. Public finances have deteriorated since the onset of COVID-19. Inflationary pressures have accelerated since mid-2021, driven first by the post-pandemic rebound in consumption, and subsequently by global supply chain disruptions since the onset of the Ukraine war, and depreciation pressures on the Leone. Small-and-medium enterprises (SMEs) can be engines of economic growth and job creation,under the right circumstances. Currently, in Sierra Leone, SMEs (along with micro-enterprises) provide livelihoods to approximately 70 percent of the population and represent over 90 percent of the domestic private sector. Access to finance for SMEs and digital finance are priorities for the government. Digital financial services (DFS) are not diversified, and mobile money remains the main driver. The payments infrastructure including the RTGS, ACH and securities settlement system needs to be upgraded. Sierra Leone lacks a modern credit reporting system. Key recommendations for greater SME access to finance are presented in this report.