Sierra Leone has the fastest collapsing economy in West Africa – says John Benjamin

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 July 2017

Mr. John Oponjo Benjamin, who is the former leader and chairman of the opposition SLPP and now one of the aspirants for the party’s presidential flagbearership, last Friday poured scorn over the governance record and performance of the Koroma government.

Speaking to local media in Freetown, he said that Sierra Leone is facing a serious economic crisis as a result of bad management of the economy by the APC government. (Photo: John Benjamin).

“Forget about the collapse of the mining sector and the falling commodity prices. London Mining and Africa Minerals did not collapse of their own, but were basically hounded out of Sierra Leone by the government’s failure to protect them,” Benjamin said, as he attacked the Koroma government’s poor handling of the economy.

Responding to Benjamin’s statement, a senior SLPP executive told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that John would have to do more than making statements, if he is to wrestle the SLPP flagbearership from Maada Bio, who is seen by many in the party as their ‘tribally ordained leader’.

This is his full statement delivered at the press conference:

First of all I want you to know that I am still very much in the race for flagbearer of the SLPP, and more than confident today than ever that I will win God willing. I have no doubt about that.

I have a very distinguished public track record, not only as a very successful businessman, but a politician who has served my party – the SLPP, at every level from the grass root to become Chairman and Leader for four years.

So my ambition today for the highest office in the country is not by chance or some desperate naked ambition for power. It is the realization and fulfilment of my continuing commitment and dedication to serve my country. I have the experience and the knowhow.

You are no doubt aware that our party, the SLPP, has been going through a difficult patch of late; but this is nothing new. It happens to every political party everywhere; it is further evidence of the maturity of Sierra Leone’s burgeoning democracy.

Yet, having said that, I would here and now appeal to those people who continue to interfere with the internal politics of our party to leave us alone; SLPP problems can only be sorted out by the members themselves.

They have a much greater interest and stake to see their party succeed. I have no doubt that as a party, come the elections in 2018, we will win.

The people of this country are yearning for change and we will not disappoint them. It is for this reason I continue to appeal to all members of the SLPP to stay focused and not be distracted.

The SLPP as I have always said is bigger than all of us. Leaving the party is never an option, neither does it provide a solution to the many problems facing our country. I have always taken the view that staying within the party is a far better option; that you can engage with others and try to sort out the problems.

But of course, this is a democratic society where everyone has a choice. But I dare say that such a choice will be better served if it were in the overall interest of our people. What we have seen so far is people deciding to leave the SLPP primarily because of their own selfish individual interests, nothing to do with the interest of you and me.

The evidence is all over for all of us to see. The experience of Mr. Franklin Rogers who recently left the SLPP to join the APC is a very unfortunate development. I do not support his leaving the party. Mr. Rogers was a very dedicated individual who loved the SLPP.

But when some people in the party such as Retired Julius Maada Bio (Photo: Maada Bio) and his supporters continue to intimidate, harass and use violence against other members of the party, it is a serious cause of concern for us as a democratic state.

Mr. Rogers, like Dr. John Karimu here, was attacked with a knife in broad day light outside the law courts by a mob who claimed they were supporters of Mr. Bio’s presidential campaign team, the so-called Paopa.

These attacks were done before the watchful eyes of the police and no arrests were effected.

Thank God Mr. Rogers and Dr. Karimu are lucky to be alive and around. My house has not only been attacked, but I was personally chased in broad daylight in Kenema by Mr. Bio’s notorious thugs, under the directives of one Mr. Fokai Demby.

When they could not get me because of the security surrounding me, they turned around and stabbed, killing one of my prominent supporters Daddy George in Kenema. Those cases are still gathering dust at the Attorney General’s offices.

Of course, the case of Dr. Kandeh Yumkella (Photo) is well-documented, when he and his ageing mother were last year attacked and molested in broad daylight outside the SLPP main Freetown offices, again by violent thugs claiming to be followers of Julius Maada Bio.

Is this the man (Maada Bio) who wants to rule this country? I could go on and on, but let me don‘t bore you.

Due to the continuing violence in the SLPP party perpetrated by the PAOPAS, we are now seeing a trend we have never seen before, by our international partners over strengthening the incumbent government financially: a clear signal to the SLPP that they are unwilling to support a violent presidential candidate.

Three years ago, long before the outbreak of Ebola, President Koroma and his government were boasting that the Sierra Leone economy was the fastest growing in the world, thanks to the high price of iron ore. It is a situation few people have taken time to look at closely.

Why is it then just after three years from being the fastest growing economy, Sierra Leone today can be categorized as the fastest collapsing economy where interest rate is the highest in the sub-region, inflation has sky-rocketed in double digits and growth stunted.

This country is facing a serious economic crisis as a result of bad management of the economy by the APC government. Forget about the collapse of the mining sector and the falling commodity prices.

London Mining and Africa Minerals did not collapse of their own, but were basically hounded out of Sierra Leone by the government’s failure to protect them.

In the case of African Minerals, the government did nothing to prevail on SHANDONG which was owning 25% of the African Minerals shares in the Iron Ore project, to prevail on its bank to release the money held on behalf of African Mineral’s Iron Ore Mining Company.

In the process, African Minerals Tonkolili Iron Ore Company could not meet its obligations towards the Tonkolili Iron Ore Project. And as a result, SHANDONG acquired the remaining 75% shares of the Tonkolili Iron Ore company for a mere 1(one) USD symbolic.

In the case of the London Mining Company also, which transferred its mining rights to TIMIS Company, the government also cancelled TIMIS mining license on the grounds that it did not pay its royalty for (6) six months, which is not true.

What they did was to cancel TIMIS mining company’s license and lease agreement and awarded it to Sierra Leone Mining company, whose directors are also directors of TIMIS Mining Company. This forced the TIMIS Mining Company to cease operations leaving thousands of youths unemployed in this country.

The education sector is nothing to write home about either. It has been in high-speed decline as long as the APC has been in power. The sector is facing the worst crisis in the history of this country, all because of bad governance, corruption and poor wretched policies.

We all saw in the recently concluded NPSE examination, more than two pupils were using one question paper. In such chaotic educational system what quality do you expect?

Education has declined to a level that examination malpractice is now the order of the day, with a University lecturer caught spying in law examination.

We all know about the chaos that took place during the recent WASSCE exams. Then we come to the health sector, where there are still a large number of people who are yet to be absorbed into the service.

Many of the hundreds of nurses worked and risked their lives during Ebola and were promised permanent jobs. But many are still not yet on the payroll or simply out of job. Is this how we manage the country?

Have you ever asked yourselves what happened to all the money the government collected during Ebola? or the huge sums of money paid by these mining companies to government as taxes?

Let me conclude by informing you that the statement I am handing over to you should be considered as work in progress, as my team and I will continue to engage you with detail analysis of key sectors of the economy in due course.

Be rest assured that the future of this country is in the hands of SLPP, and now is the TIME FOR CHANGE!!!

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