Delivering on a Presidential Agenda: Sierra Leone's Strategy and Policy Unit, 2010-2011


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. 

Michael Scharff drafted this case study on the basis of interviews conducted in Freetown, Sierra Leone, in October 2011. Case published February 2012. For more examples of how Sierra Leone strengthened its center of government, see related cases, “Turning on the Lights in Freetown, Sierra Leone: Completing the Bumbuna Hydroelectric Plant, 2008–2009” and “A Promise Kept: How Sierra Leone’s President Introduced Free Health Care in One of the Poorest Nations on Earth, 2009–2010.”
international donors
performance management
Sierra Leone
project management
Focus Area(s)
Centers of Government
Civil Service
Building a Reform Team and Staff
Critical Tasks
Adaptive management
Delivery units
Donor coordination
Evaluating performance
Inter-ministerial coordination
Performance management system
Preparation of policy papers and choices
Strategic planning
Core Challenge
Principal-agent problem (delegation)
Country of Reform
Sierra Leone
Case Studies
Michael Scharff