Sierra Leone Telegraph: 1 January 2017
Speaking in what will be regarded as one of his shortest New Year messages to the people of Sierra Leone, it is clear that this is equally president Koroma’s most important effort at rallying not only his ruling party faithful, but millions of cash strapped, apathetic citizens across the country.
With presidential and general elections just over twelve months away, Sierra Leone’s economy is in deep trouble. Austerity measures announced by president Koroma last month, aimed at curbing government spending, is impacting hardest on the poor and most vulnerable.
Inflation, youth unemployment and the increasing fall in the value of the Leone, have ushered in a New Year that few in the country could afford to celebrate.
Economic hardship, coupled with a chilling sense of the government having lost control of dangerous and armed criminal gangs in the streets of the capital Freetown, will give voters plenty to think about in the coming elections.
But the ruling APC is in dire straits. Electorates across the country are fast losing confidence in their ability to govern the nation and maintain law and order.
Where does the ruling APC and the country go from here?
President Koroma has now decided to end his austerity measures, barely two months of its implementation. Today, he tells the people of Sierra Leone: “…by mid 2017, we will review the austerity measures we are implementing, and we will reassess the progress we have made under the Recovery Priorities to determine where we are and to define our new actions going forward. “
He is now planning to reflate the economy in the short-term by increasing government spending, despite risking further inflationary consequences in the long-run, especially after the elections.
Analysts believe that with the sacks full of Chinese Yuan and debt cancellations brought back from Beijing by Koroma and his senior ministers last month to help stabilise the economy, president Koroma can now afford to flood the economy with cash and much needed cheap household commodities, such as rice in advance of the 2018 elections.
But with the deep uncertainty about who the party will elect as its 2018 presidential candidate, and fear of the party descending into chaos at its convention in the next few weeks, president Koroma has every reason to use his New Year message to calm frayed nerves and inspire voter confidence.
This is what he told the people of Sierra Leone this morning:
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the New Year usually beckons hope and a strong yearning for the fulfillment of our aspirations.
As Sierra Leoneans across the country gather with family and friends to celebrate, I want to wish everyone a happy and prosperous 2017.
The New Year has come upon us with the promise of bright days ahead. It has come upon us with the assurance of an economy on the path of full recovery.
With more investments in agriculture, fisheries and small manufacturing, the evidence now points to a positive and steady growth trajectory.
With the better prices in the international market, we are attracting more and stronger investments in our iron ore mines and other extractives, indicative of a boost to our exports earnings.
We have also acted to improve on our own revenue generation, reviewed public expenditure, and sought support from our friends and partners to help in our recovery programme.
Every Sierra Leonean has had to make some adjustments and sacrifices – from the fisherman at Funkia to the farmer in Buedu; from the petty trader at Abacha Street to the bike rider in Pujehun.
And our compatriots in the Diaspora – Sierra Leoneans, have shown great resilience and have been at the forefront of discussions and actions to turn this country around.
I believe that the Sierra Leonean goodwill is second to none and in this season of goodwill, I say thanks to you all.
I thank you for the support you have given to our recovery priorities; I say thank you for the support you are giving to us to reposition the economy back to the better times we had before the last two difficulties.
We are not yet there, but we are doing what is required to achieve our goals. In agriculture, our support is making our farmers cultivate more, produce more, and earn more.
We will continue to promote value addition, support local content and access to finance in the sector. With these actions, national and international experts are telling us that we could surpass our own targets of creating 10,000 new jobs in the sector.
We are also investing more in education; building more schools, establishing more universities and rebuilding Fourah Bay College.
We are training more teachers, reviewing and developing relevant content, providing more incentives to both pupils and teachers and implementing quality assurance mechanisms in our schools.
Our National School Feeding Programme is gathering momentum with instant positive impact on school attendance and retention and in the local economy.
In the health sector, we will continue our efforts to build a resilient system, with new hospitals, more qualified personnel and specialists, and a better referral system, with more ambulances and more state-of-the-art equipment.
With your continued support, we will scale up nutrition, improve on health service delivery, and continue to support the most vulnerable among our compatriots.
We are taking similar actions to double access to energy, increase access to safe drinking water and to justice so that electricity, pipe borne water and the rule of law are not only limited to our capital and the major towns.
The rural communities where most Sierra Leoneans live must also enjoy these social services.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, as we celebrate the New Year with these better prospects; as we make new resolutions, and set ourselves new targets; we must also back our hopes and determination with actions that will ensure the accomplishment of our new resolutions.
This is why, by mid 2017, we will review the austerity measures we are implementing and we will reassess the progress we have made under the Recovery Priorities to determine where we are and to define our new actions going forward.
We owe it to ourselves and to posterity to do what is right for the development of our country and I believe we will get there, sooner.
We have shown the world our resilience, our ability to pull together in times of adversity and our determination to succeed against all odds.
We can do it again; but we must approach national issues with considerations that transcend partisan affiliations, and we must adopt the imperatives that put Sierra Leone first in our actions.
As Sierra Leoneans, our destinies are bound together and our fortunes are intertwined. The school enrollment of a child in Kamakwie in the North, may in the future, translate to the availability of one more doctor in Gbondapi in the South.
The safe delivery of a child in a Community Health Centre in Kailahun in the East, could translate in the availability of a lawyer in Waterloo in the Western Area.
My Government therefore counts on your attentiveness towards our development programmes; we rely on you to help in the monitoring of projects in your chiefdoms, in your constituencies and in your districts.
In the end, the achievements of any government are achievements for Sierra Leone.
My government’s ambitious infrastructural drive is to the benefit of every region; our improvements in access to energy, clean water, justice are to the benefit of everyone. (Photo: Poor road conditions in the south of the country, while the president’s northern cities and towns are being developed).
We have put policies and institutions in place to ensure a sustainable economic turn-around but we can only achieve this when we abandon the mentality of leaving government in the hands of government officials.
We will continue to build roads, but our success will be limited if we continue to use the drainage to dump trash.
We will continue to empower the Anti Corruption Commission, but you can also help our fight against graft when you decide not to pay any bribe, no matter the interest at stake.
We will continue to train and equip our military and police to keep us safe, but you will enhance their job when we choose to report on irregular activities in our neighbourhoods, discourage violence and promote peace by adhering to the rule of Law.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, soon, our national electoral processes will begin. There will be several aspirants seeking political office; debates will go on, tensions may rise. But whatever you do, you must never lose sight of the fact that Sierra Leone is bigger than everyone; it is bigger than every group and every political party.
We therefore owe it to ourselves and to our future generations to stay together, to work together and to build this our beloved nation together.
With hard work, determination and resilience, we have established our country as a united, peaceful and democratic nation. With hard work, determination and resilience, we were able to establish our economy among the fastest growing economies in the world.
With those same attributes, we are overcoming our current challenges; our economy is rebounding strongly and with your continued support, we will build Sierra Leone to a better and prosperous nation.
Happy New Year, God bless you all and God bless Sierra Leone!