Maada Bio tells world business and political leaders in London – it is time for a “New Direction for a Better Sierra Leone”

11 May, 2012

Speaking at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in Chatham House, yesterday, the presidential candidate of Sierra Leone’s main opposition party – the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) – Mr. Julius Maada Bio, talked about the kind of society he wishes, for the country to become under his leadership.

He also discussed his aspirations for a prosperous, socially just and economically inclusive Sierra Leone, where no one goes to bed hungry. This is what he said:

Please permit me on behalf of my Party, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), to first and foremost thank the United Kingdom (UK) Government for its continued support to Sierra Leone, and for helping my country through our numerous difficulties, including support to re-establish peace after a devastating war and for our post-war reconstruction, resettlement, rehabilitation and development.

I am particularly appreciative of the lead role the UK is taking on Sierra Leone in the organs of the United Nations and various other international bodies. Let me also thank the Director of the Royal Institute of International Affairs for inviting me to this forum.

Since I am speaking to you for the first time, let me start by sharing with you my party’s philosophy and ideology which provides the basis for my future policy direction. I will then end by addressing briefly the current challenges to our democratic process.

Philosophy and Ideology of the SLPP

The Sierra Leone People’s Party’s overriding philosophy of a unified Sierra Leone is enshrined in its motto of “One Country, One People” supported by the Party’s ideological brand of “Social Democracy”.

This seeks to combine the efficiency and effectiveness of the market economy with the innate compassion of state intervention to protect the vulnerable and the marginalised in society. It also assures optimal production, wealth creation and social justice.
It is this orientation that will inform the economic and social programmes of a future SLPP Government.

After the elections in November, Sierra Leone will come under “A New Direction”. The SLPP will work assiduously towards the attainment of “A Better Sierra Leone” adopting the concept of “A New Direction”. Essentially, it means discharging Government’s responsibilities in new ways for better results.

The New Direction will be guided by the following principles; unity in diversity; primacy of the national interest; accountability and transparency in public affairs; end to impunity; zero tolerance for corruption; respect for human rights, upholding the rule of law and promoting justice.

Priorities for the New Direction

It is commonly the case that every sector of governance makes a claim to priority especially where there is fierce competition for limited national resources. In our case, our main priorities shall include the following:

Youth training and employment, effective management of natural resources and the economy, human capital development through quality education and improved health care, respecting human rights and upholding the rule of law, eliminating hunger, fighting corruption and improving accountability, empowerment of women, and building and maintaining a sound infrastructure.

Youth Training and Employment

The youths (15-35 years) in Sierra Leone account for about a third of the total population and our youth voting population is at least 60% of total voting population. This means that the November elections are about putting the youth at the centre of development and in the driving seat to seek a New Direction for Sierra Leone.

Across the country, dynamic young people are striving to make an impact on national development. They play a crucial role in the on-going democratisation and peace-building processes. They are our greatest national asset, which we can ill-afford to squander because today’s young people are the next generation of workers, entrepreneurs and leaders.

Investment in education, training and youth development has been unacceptably low. This has resulted in weak opportunities for youth employment. Consequently, the proportion of underutilised and unemployable youth among the total youth population is increasing in alarming proportions and could easily become fodder for future conflict.

In the New Direction, we view the Sierra Leone youth problem as a human development and security challenge. We must give it the utmost attention if the country is to drive further the consolidation of peace and capacity building for a prosperous nation.

Overall, the focus of my administration regarding youth training, employment and development will involve the following:

• Providing technical skills in areas relevant for the Sierra Leonean Job market
• Investing in tertiary education to train our youth in employable skills
• Establishing a National Youth Service Scheme
• Establishing a Special Youth Empowerment Fund to provide for youth capacity building and supporting their entrepreneurial efforts
• Promoting youth engagement in agriculture and
• Developing and encouraging job creation in the private sector
• Efficient and Effective Management of Natural Resources and the Economy

Minerals

Mining is second only to agriculture for both employment and income generation. The prospects for additional discoveries of mineral deposits in the country are looking bright as mineral exploration is being intensified throughout the length and breadth of the country.

It is estimated that within the next decade, we could well see the establishment of four new large-scale mines (one diamond mine and three gold mines) in the country. Direct and indirect employment in the mining sector could thus grow exponentially.

The present Government has been demanding advance taxation from mining companies to finance especially its infrastructure projects. This is money that should be due in future and could be used for other developmental purposes.

To collect these monies and use them under dubious circumstances with suspicions of kickbacks being paid for infrastructure projects is illicit and grossly unfair to any future government.

A recent report by civil society ‘Not sharing the loot’ (with extracts reproduced in the January 2012 issue of Africa Confidential) states that in 2010, the mining industry accounted for 60% ($200 million) of the country’s exports and 8% ($24 million) of government revenue.

Government revenue from mining accounted for only 1.1% of GDP. Companies paid the government a mere 2.2% of the export value of minerals as tax; only Sierra Rutile paid corporate tax, the others reported heavy losses and so paid no tax at all.

As a result, the government raised only $2.4 million from the mining sector or 10% of its total revenue from the sector. Thus, companies paid considerably lower than the stipulated 37.5% corporation tax or the general company tax rate of 30%. They also had a considerable number of waivers or reduction in other fiscal imports.

Many mining companies are also using our natural resources as collateral to raise huge amounts of investments without having the country to share in the financial windfall.

Even worse, the Government recently auctioned for pittance the country’s shares in Sierra Rutile, the only mining company that paid its corporate tax without recourse to our Parliament and in breach of the country’s procurement and financial management laws.

Confidence in the government by mining companies is waning as regards security of tenure, consistency of policies and stability of the fiscal regime. The sector is plagued by poor community participation in agreements, bad employment practices for Sierra Leoneans and poor local empowerment.

Petroleum Resources

Petroleum resources are another national asset the management of which is another source of concern. International competitive bidding and international best practice are concepts that appear still alien to our present governance system in Sierra Leone.

Whereas other African countries make acquisitions of such assets subject to these fundamentals, they are yet to come into the corpus of law and practice in Sierra Leone.

So far, the government has failed to disclose details of negotiations and licenses for public scrutiny and this non-disclosure is raising concern in the public.

Government in 2010 hastily passed the Petroleum Production and Exploration Act without allowing due diligence by the citizenry. There are concerns about the non-transparent nature of granting exploration licences, misuse of licence fees and other funds paid to the Petroleum Resources Unit.

Unsurprisingly, the new Petroleum Act gives inordinate powers to the President and there is no Ministry dealing with oil issues. Against this backdrop, my administration will work with partners to have:

• Case-by-case review and possibly re-negotiation of all Mining and Petroleum Agreements based on international best practice and existing mining and fiscal legislation
• A fiscal regime that creates stability and credibility in the mining and petroleum sectors
• Conduct a natural resource audit to determine what we have, where they are and in what quantity and establish and sustain a natural resource database
• Set up and operate the new National Minerals Agency in line with the new Act and
• Train high level professionals and develop capacities in mineral negotiation and management

Economic Management

Our country is resource-rich but policy-poor. We have a vast sore running through the population. Nearly six million people stuck in desperate conditions of grinding poverty amidst the growing affluence of a few.

Lifting them from those conditions is the struggle we must wage, and it is a struggle we must win. Thus far, the management of our economy has been less than impressive.

Annual economic growth which averaged about 6.5% between 2002 and 2007 dropped to 5.5% in 2008 and averaged 4.7% between 2008 and 2011. Growth has been largely backed by new investments in mining.

The expansionary fiscal policy as a result of unplanned spending on urban roads and electricity, coupled with falling domestic revenue, has considerably widened the fiscal gap and is a major source of inflation which stood at about 21% in July 2011.

The exchange rate has also escalated by 43% from Le 3,000 in 2007 to Le4,300 to one US dollar on 2012. Public spending is expected to rise even further as desperation within the ruling Party for the re-election of the incumbent President reaches fever pitch.

The global financial crisis created immunity for no country. And in Sierra Leone, the poor received no protection from the ravages of the crisis. As a result, living standards dropped drastically.

Compounding this problem, the Government completely failed to put in place any medium-term strategy that would have increased domestic production and reduce food prices. The effect of all this is that today the conditions in Sierra Leone are so terrible that many a poor family cannot even afford a meal a day.

My administration shall manage the economy in a New Direction. To this end, we shall put an economic team together that will think outside the box, craft new policies in line with the philosophy of the New Direction without jeopardizing the ongoing arrangements with our donor partners. Overall, the objectives of my economic management shall be:

To have a stable and competitive national currency that will promote exports; reduce public sector deficits through increased revenue as a consequence of enhanced revenue administration and expansion of revenue base as well as better management of public finances;

To reduce inflation and create conditions for essential goods to be available and affordable;

To create jobs, particularly for our youth through boom in private sector activities;

To increase domestic production of essential goods, particularly food;

To expand and improve efficiency in public spending on social services; and to develop public infrastructure with high economic and social benefits.

Private Sector Investment

We see our future as one of collaboration with our development partners. We shall design systematic, well co-ordinated and coherent policies and programmes that make our own development commitments more credible to investors and to our own people. This way we hope to increase private sector investment in our economy.

In the New Direction, our focus on the Private Sector will be; strengthening and enforcing the existing legal and regulatory framework; building capacities and providing financial and technical support to local entrepreneurs; attracting credible foreign investment, particularly in job- creating sectors; improving on infrastructure; extending domestic and foreign investment into disadvantaged areas.

Human Capital Development

Development is about people and by the people. Development in a New Direction will start with developing the human capital. This will require investing in education, training and health care.

Education

Investing in quality education – primary, secondary, technical colleges and universities – will help turn Sierra Leone’s natural and mineral resources into sustainable development. It would help lift people out of poverty and help create vast new opportunities.

It would also help to reduce unfair income distribution and sustain democracy and peace.

Only two out of every five Sierra Leoneans can read or write. Primary school enrolments are low, the quality of education at all levels has dropped and there are few qualified teachers and lecturers at all levels.

Access to technical education is restricted and the curricula are not often related to the job market in many cases. In the New Direction, the focus of our educational development will be the following:

Establishing adult and functional literacy programmes in all chiefdoms and urban owns;

Increasing investment, access and affordability to pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical, vocational and tertiary levels of education;

Free girl child education at various levels;

Establish schools of excellence initially in the regional capitals and later in all districts for best performing students in public examinations;

Improving quality of education at all levels through improvement in educational infrastructure and conditions of service for our teachers and lecturers.

Health

Developing Sierra Leone also requires a healthy population. The health care system is weak and requires huge investment and institutional reforms to enable the citizen to get easy access.

The present health care situation in the country is characterised by high morbidity and mortality, particularly among infants, under-fives and pregnant women; high incidence of malaria and other diseases; poor management; and manpower constraints.

My administration will strengthen the health care delivery system and make it accessible to the vast majority of our people. In particular, my administration will:

Continue with the Free Health Care Initiative and expand it to include all school-going children, the mentally and physically challenged and vulnerable persons;

Establish a Child Health Fund to be financed by a percentage of all taxes paid by mining companies;

Introduce innovative health care financing schemes such as insurance schemes and community-based financing;

Expand and intensify preventive health care;

Equip all district hospitals with modern facilities for accurate diagnosis and cure; Consult with the General Medical Council of Sierra Leone about introducing a compulsory national service scheme for new doctors and other medical graduates; and introduce public-private partnership in health care management.

Respecting Human Rights and Upholding the Rule of Law

Since 2007, respect for human rights in Sierra Leone has taken a nose-dive. Intimidation of committed Opposition members, cross-carpeting by less committed Opposition members, and illegal vote buying by the ruling Party have been some of the tactics deployed by the ruling Party against the Opposition.

As all this is happening, the other branches of government have been noticeably mute. They are rapidly losing the confidence of the public who increasingly perceive them as pliant takers of directives from above, meaning the Executive branch. Our Party is not afraid of justice but we are afraid of partial justice.

Abuse of citizens’ rights has also been widespread. Severe forms of abuse are unfair dismissals, unequal access to opportunities, brutal actions by State Police, and unfair trials in the Courts.

Bail conditions, especially for accused Opposition members, often demanded by the Prosecution, have grown stiffer and stiffer and are seldom compatible with the tenets of democratic governance.

Judging by the torrent of concerns from the public about the performance of the Police and the Judiciary, I know a mountain of pressing reforms awaits my administration to bring those institutions in line with international standard.

On April 26, 2012, the Special Court for Sierra Leone (SCSL) delivered an historic verdict.

The Court found Charles Ghankay Taylor, former President of Liberia, guilty on all counts in an 11-count indictment with aiding and abetting the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) and the Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) in Sierra Leone for various war crimes, crimes against humanity and serious violations of international humanitarian law against our people during the 11 year long internecine civil war.

This verdict by the Special Court for Sierra Leone has great significance for all countries in the world. It tells all serving Heads of State who commit international crimes against their subjects or their neighbours that there is no hiding place for them anywhere anymore.

Impunity in all its manifestations in state governance has been outlawed by international criminal law and shall no longer be tolerated no matter how high or low a government official may be.

This is news that is greatly welcomed by all the peoples of the world. Quite apart from this, the Court’s judgment has other far-reaching implications. Disappointingly, the current APC Government in Sierra Leone completely ignored this in their acknowledgement of the Court’s decision.

The decision has one other major implication for the people of Sierra Leone, more specifically, the huge numbers of victims of the RUF/AFRC atrocities.

The decision offers a new window of opportunity to pursue a claim for reparations in the International Court of Justice at The Hague on behalf not only of Sierra Leone as a State but of all the victims of the war.

These victims, mostly poor and destitute, number hundreds of thousands. They are found in every corner of the country and are still languishing to this day with no food or shelter and no-one to care for them.

The new Government I shall lead after the November elections shall make a claim of reparations on behalf of these miserable families against the delinquent states that assisted the rebellion of the RUF a matter of high priority. I pledge this as an obligation and a policy direction to the people of Sierra Leone.

Challenges to Democratisation and Peace Consolidation

The key challenges to our nascent democracy and peace consolidation are; political violence and security, the Media, exclusion and unequal opportunities,

Political Violence and Security

Despite the huge investments in peace consolidation, peace in the country remains fragile as it is being systematically undermined by the current Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma in his desperate bid to get re-elected at all cost.

I refer in particular to his party’s perpetuation of a long series of violent attacks on supporters and the infrastructure of our Party, beginning right from the day that he was sworn into office. I will mention just one of a series of such acts involving my good self.

I was physically attacked by stone-throwing APC supporters in Bo, our second largest city, on September 9, 2011 while I was on a tour of the provinces to thank my supporters for electing me as the presidential candidate of the SLPP.

An investigation supported by the Government confirmed that the stoning and wounding of my person was done by supporters of the ruling Party generally believed to be organised by the Minister of Internal Affairs.

At the same incident, the Sierra Leone Police indiscriminately fired at peaceful and jubilant SLPP supporters who had assembled to welcome me resulting in one death and 20 seriously wounded. These were all confirmed by an Investigative Panel set up by the President.

Despite this confirmation, the perpetrators were only charged with the minor offence of riotous conduct while supporters of SLPP were charged with arson following the burning of three buildings rented by the APC.

Following series of violent incidents in March 2009, the United Nations Integrated Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) facilitated the negotiation and signing of a Joint Communiqué by the ruling APC and our Party in April, 2009.

Among other things, the Communiqué provided for the establishment of an Independent Review Panel (Commission of Inquiry) to investigate the incidents of political violence in various parts of the country in the month of March 2009. The Panel completed its work and submitted its report in May 2010.

According to the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, the President is obliged to publish the Commission’s Report and issue a White Paper within six months after submission.
After persistent pressures from the Opposition Parties, the Press and Civil Society Organisations, the Government issued a White Paper in March 2012, nearly two years after the submission of the Panel’s Report.

The White Paper completely failed to heed to the key recommendations of the Commission that would deter the reoccurrence of political violence in our polity.

The role of the Police

The Police are the key instrument the ruling Party is using to intimidate and brutalise the Opposition. The ruling Party has not only influenced the recruitment, promotion and transfer of police officers, its interference with the management of the Police is most times undisguised.

Evidence abounds of dismissals that are not in accordance with laid down rules and recruitment that is also at variance with laid down procedures. Suffice it to recall only one such case.

Following the assumption of power by the APC, ex-combatants who had been involved in gross human rights abuses during the 11 year rebel war and particularly during the interregnum of the illegal and unrecognized Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC) – (May 1997-March 1998) – have been recruited into the Police by the dictate of State House and are now part of the President’s Close Protection Bodyguard.

These bodyguards of the President continue to violate human rights with impunity and bring shame on our country.

Additionally, thousands of youths hailing from the President’s home District are being recruited secretly into the Sierra Leone Police and the Military for the purpose of seeking the interests of the ruling Party in the forthcoming elections.

Worse still, the Police are growing trigger-happy as we move towards the November elections. In the process, there is little left of their constitutional mandate they have not abandoned.

At one point they even placed an illegal ban on processions and rallies by political parties. So much have the Police compromised their constitutional role that they are now perceived by the public as virtually turning the country into a police state, ever ready to wilt at the first whim of Executive displeasure.

And, as regards the policing of the November elections, the demands are many that if they should be given a role at all in the electioneering process they should carry out that role unarmed or they should be combined with United Nations Police from neighbouring Liberia to inspire public confidence in the credibility of the process.

The Media

The media equally has an important role to play. During his visit to Sierra Leone in 2010, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and President Koroma jointly opened the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), which had been transformed from the UN radio to an independent public broadcaster.

Our Party radio station (Unity Radio) and the ruling APC radio (We Yone) had by then been banned by the Independent Media Commission (IMC). Now, however, what was expected to be an independent national broadcaster has become the loudest mouthpiece of the ruling Party.

There is no level playing field and most of its programmes are biased in favour of the President and his Government with very little airtime provided to the Opposition.

The station is also plagued with complaints of mis- management and corruption.
Exclusion and Unequal Opportunities

In the last 48 months it has been in office, the APC administration has deliberately overturned the efforts of the SLPP at galvanizing national unity and cohesion after the war.

It has been applying a peculiarly cruel and crude brand of tribalism, patronage and nepotism in many state institutions.

The discriminatory pattern of dismissals, appointments, promotions and transfers within the public service are among the worst forms the country has seen since independence.

Outdated practices such as these are not only unacceptable; they threaten the very fabric of our nationhood, our nascent democracy, national reconciliation and national cohesion.

Most of the victims are competent Sierra Leoneans whose only crime is their perceived support for the Opposition or for having been born outside the Northern Province.

Over 80% of the appointments and promotions done in the past 48 months within the Public Service (including the Cabinet, Foreign Missions and Parastatals) are of members of selected ethnic groups from Northern Sierra Leone, the presumed stronghold of the ruling Party.

More particularly, in the last 48 months, at least 200 senior level technocrats and over 400 of the middle level cadre have been maliciously targeted by APC government operatives for dismissal or premature retirement.

They include workers at the Universities, Police and Military Forces, Parastatals, Electoral Commission and the Civil Service. A sense of fear of dismissal and alienation have gripped persons who are not supporters of the APC in many public institutions, sending the public sector into total chaos and undermining productivity and morale.

Even student scholarships for overseas and in-country studies, which currently offer the greatest opportunity for human capital development, have not been spared from abuse. The vast majority of beneficiaries have been family members and political activists of the APC.

Despite the relentless efforts of our donors to improve public procurement and financial management, government contracts are still largely awarded to supporters, financiers and relatives of those in leadership positions in the ruling Party.
Conclusion

Let me conclude by emphasizing that I have not come to Chatham House to complain against these doings of the APC Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma. I am sure, in this age of the World Wide Web, nothing I have said here today is entirely new.

But truth be told, the peace in our country is still very much fragile and still donor-dependent. It therefore needs to be managed with great care and discretion. Nor can the country claim immunity from chastisement by the whirlwind of youth power. We have seen its wonders elsewhere just recently.

If change is ripe for Sierra Leone, as I am sure it is, our people want it to come peacefully.

That is why I must again emphasise that youth empowerment shall receive the utmost attention of the Government I shall lead after November, just like attracting foreign direct investment to become our engine for economic growth and for creating new jobs.

And alongside, ample provision shall also be made for skills training, especially for the youth, to empower and equip them to meet the challenges of a modern economy.

Companies, especially mining and petroleum companies, will be encouraged to partner with Government to provide specialised training programmes where these are not available in the public sector.

I thank you all for your attention. When next we meet here, I hope it will be in a different capacity.

 

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