30 December 2012
The president, for the first time, and after five years in office is about to take on the illegal street traders plying their wares along the narrow streets, criss-crossing the central business districts of the country’s capital Freetown.
It is not going to be easy, but the president has given his word and he cannot fail.
Street trading in Freetown has mushroomed beyond control, since the end of the war in 2001, with grave consequences for road safety, public health and sanitation, street crime and environmental blight.
Hundreds of thousands of unemployed people in Freetown are eking out a meagre existence out of illegal street trading. Few are paying local council tax, let alone declaring their income for personal taxation purposes.
But analysts believe that many traders are operating as part of criminal syndicates controlled by powerful and very rich import merchants.
With high levels of illiteracy and poverty, desperate and undiscerning customers are being hoodwinked into buying products that are dangerous and unfit for purpose.
President Koroma is now going to get tough. He has decided to get rid of all street traders in the centre of Freetown.
This is a fight against lawlessness that the president must win, if he is to usher in the seismic change necessary for the transformation of a nation whose development is being crippled by indiscipline, corruption and slothfulness.
Today, State House has announced that:
“Following the re-election of His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma, specific issues have been identified as of national concern that needs to be addressed immediately. These issues include; waste management and garbage disposal, improve road safety and decongestion of city streets.”
This statement comes just twenty-four hours after the Sierra Leone Telegraph published its article: “President Koroma confesses – lawlessness is too much in the country”.
The president had three days ago delivered a speech at a dinner gala held in his honour in Makeni, where he told his audience that:
“No country can prosper in the midst of lawlessness. You have voted me for my second and last term and I thank all those who voted for me. But please I want you all to realize that this is going to be my last term and I’m all set to leave a legacy as a former President.”
So it does not come as a surprise that State House has today revealed the president’s strategy for the New Year. The statement says that:
“….the public is hereby informed that beginning Tuesday 1st January 2013 actions such as clearing of all abandoned vehicles, including scrap metal yards, street stalls, shops and traders in SLRA right-of-way, footpaths in Freetown and highways shall commence immediately.”
President Koroma’s war on lawlessness will initially focus on cleaning up the following areas:
Siaka Stevens Street, Pademba Road, Robert Street, John Street, Charles Street, Naimbana Street, Richard Street, Thomas Street, Congo Cross Road, Sections of Lumley, Wilkinson Road, and Spur Road.
Many observers will question why major streets in the centre of the capital, which have been virtually taken over by street traders – such as Sani Abacha Street, PZ, Garrison Street, Little East Street and Sackville Street, have been left out of this very important campaign.
But today’s statement from State House is clear. It says that; “This exercise will continue for all streets in Freetown and other cities, during other dates to be announced.”
So what should offenders do now in order to avoid the wrath of the president?
“Owners of all abandoned vehicles and scrap metal shops in city streets and highways are therefore requested to remove all such items immediately. Street traders in all SLRA right-of-way in the above mentioned streets are expected to desist from all street trading and abide by the law”, says State House.
“The general public and all stakeholders are required to fully cooperate as there will be penalties and full enforcement of the law”, the statement warns.
So the government has set its priority for 2013. The fight against lawlessness starts on New Year’s Day – 1 January 2013.
Will president Koroma be remembered as the president that made difficult decisions and took tough actions for the common good?
That remains to be seen.