Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 February 2019:
The diplomatic community, international agencies and eminent Sierra Leoneans were guests of president Julius Maada Bio and the first lady – Mrs Fatima Bio, at a state banquet held at State Lodge, Hill Station in Freetown last Tuesday, where the president spoke about his government’s priority programmes and achievements.
Welcoming guests to the dinner, Mrs. Fatima Maada Bio said she felt honoured by the turnout of members of the diplomatic community, particularly those who do not reside in Sierra Leone.
Addressing president Bio on behalf of the diplomatic community in Sierra Leone, Mr Guy Warrington – the British High Commissioner to Sierra Leone said: “We followed your campaign messages before you became president. We also followed your government’s priority areas as stated during the Cabinet Retreat. We welcome those steps as we have seen tremendous progress in just ten and half months of your leadership.
“We have seen fiscal discipline and financial management; most importantly we have seen the fight in combating corruption. We have also seen good governance and the rule of law. We congratulate all of them, we will support those principles laid particularly in economic diplomacy because we have seen a lot of gains in that direction.”
Mr Guy Warrington (Photo: Above), said that as head of Diplomatic Missions in Sierra Leone, he is very pleased with the manner in which President Bio is governing the country, especially the president’s prioritisation of Human Capital Development.
Mr Warrington affirmed that the diplomatic community welcomes president Bio’s key priority areas, and promised to continue to support the government of Sierra Leone in achieving those priorities.
He said that the diplomatic community will work with the government to ensure that Sierra Leone continues to move in the right direction and looking forward to deepening dialogue with the government.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mrs. Nimatulai Bah-Chang, told the guests that the essence of the state dinner was to strengthen bilateral partnerships to foster national development.
“We are here this evening to reflect on where we took this country from, to know where we are as a government and what we have achieved in just ten months of leadership under the New Direction of President Julius Maada Bio,” she said.
President Julius Maada Bio thanked resident, non-resident and eminent personalities, on behalf of his government, for their diverse contributions to the development of the country, as he told his guests that he inherited the worst economic situation since independence.
“This worst economic situation is characterised by double-digit inflation, low domestic revenue mobilisation, high domestic debt burden, unsustainable external debt and huge arrears to contractors,” he said.
But the president assured the international diplomatic community that his government is pursuing a disciplined economic management policy, by tackling leakages and streamlining revenue mobilisation.
He added that his government’s achievements are ensuring that there is prudent public finance management, characterised by aggregate fiscal discipline and resource allocation on strategic priorities.
“Despite all the economic challenges which I inherited, I have prioritised investment in Human Capital Development as the bedrock for my administration. It may interest you to know that I have coined a new definition for Human Capital Development. For me, Human Capital Development means three things: feeding the brain through Education; feeding the stomach through Agriculture and taking care of the body through Healthcare,” he maintained.
President Bio said that before he launched the Free Quality Education Programme, he had committed his government to allocating a historic 21 per cent of the national budget to the education sector, because the standard of education in Sierra Leone had fallen sharply, for a country that was once known as the Athens of West Africa.
“Therefore, the role of the diplomatic community here and those accredited to Sierra Leone towards the success of this flagship programme, cannot be overemphasised,” he said.
“As part of our government’s commitment to Human Capital Development, we are also scaling up investment in healthcare infrastructure services this year. My government is focusing on constructing well-equipped Peripheral Health Units, expanding free ambulance services to all districts of the country, rehabilitating healthcare facilities, providing healthcare personnel. Again, I encourage the diplomatic community to support us in ensuring that we make quality healthcare delivery both accessible and affordable to all Sierra Leoneans,” President Bio urged.
He assured the international community of Sierra Leone’s readiness to welcome business opportunities, especially foreign investors that are credible and transparent.
The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) is losing ground to the All Peoples Congress (APC) party in the political arena of Sierra Leone. What is the next move for the SLPP?
In the 2018 presidential elections, the SLPP became victorious in a controversial points decision (1.8% margin) declared by the now infamous Chairman of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Nfa Alie Conteh.
In the red corner, the defeated Dr Samura Kamara representing the APC threatened to contest the decision in the High Court; however, the spirit of his intentions was lost in the thunderous jubilations coming the green corner, as Rtd. Brigadier Julius Maada Bio was crowned as the undisputed champion of politics in Sierra Leone.
Since that electoral contest, about 10 months ago, things have not gone smoothly for Julius Maada Bio, as manifested on Tuesday 5th February 2019, when a state banquet was held at State Lodge by President Bio and the First Lady Mrs Fatima Bio for “the diplomatic community, international agencies and eminent Sierra Leoneans”. In her welcome address Mrs Bio said, “she felt honoured by the turnout of members of the diplomatic community, especially those who do not reside in Sierra Leone”.
The grand occasion was complemented with the best of champagne, Jack daniels, johnnie walker, don perignon, vodka (to name a few); all expensive liquor products from abroad. The guests were all happy and in high spirits – some look tipsy, some were very thoughtful, and some were dossing the night off. Compliments to the Sierra Leone Telegraph.
To the general public of Sierra Leone, especially those struggling to find a job or make ends meet, the lavished banquet was nothing more than a confidence boosting exercise for the Bios. But, were the various guests all there to seek the interest of the First Gentleman and First Lady? How much does such an extravagant exercise cost the taxpayer? Or, was it privately funded by the Bios?
When President Maada Bio came to power on 4th April 2018, he simulated a system of governance akin to that of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) in which he was a prominent member, and later became the leader of that outfit. The NPRC junta came into power after overthrowing an APC government and resorted in the demolition of the APC party. This was carried out by sheer intimidation, arbitrary detention and killing of APC members, supporters and stalwarts. However, this time round, the SLPP eencountered fierce criticism from Human Rights groups (Amnesty International), Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and the Sierra Leone public at large.
Then came the degradation of the constitution with impunity. A situation that eventually led the Sierra Leone Bar Association (SLBA) to challenge the SLPP’s actions in the Supreme Court.
Now, the ongoing strategy is to implicate the hierarchy of the APC party in three commissions of inquiry that bear no rule of evidence. In effect, it is to the discretion of the judges presiding in these inquiries to indict, convict or discharge the carefully selected members of the previous APC government, led by Earnest Bai Koroma (EBK).
Notwithstanding, President Bio, in his thank you tour of Kono District stated that, “… anyone who stands in the progress of the Commissions of Inquiry will receive the stiffest resistance from me … but if fighting is the last resort for the Commissions of Inquiry to progress and stop corruption in the country, then it is a rightful fight … “.
What the present SLPP government don’t seem to realize is that, this is not 1992 when NPRC seized power from the then APC administration. At that time, the capacity and influence of the internet in conveying vast quality of information across the world was almost non-existent. And by the time they (NPRC) transferred power to the SLPP in 1996, the technology of mobile phones was still in the drawing board. Today, the product of these technologies is like an erupting volcano – in social media.
Social media can be seen as a powerful tool to check-point political figures around the world to follow democratic principles. And for Sierra Leone, in particular, social media have supported efforts to safeguard and keep the fragile peace that was inherited from 1996 to the last elections. No dictator or another civil war is wanted by the people. The SLPP’s priority, or next move, must be to keep the peace in a fair and transparent democratic setting. NO WAR.
Without any doubt, corruption in general is a norm in the social fabric of the country and as President Bio indicated, corruption stalls economic development, impedes basic rights and compromises on national values.
But, is war the answer to corruption?
The present approach in fighting corruption is like ‘putting the horse before the cart’. In this technological age, are there sufficient controls in place to deter the act of corruption in Sierra Leone, in the first instance? Has any risk assessment being carried out to determine the hazards of corruption? Poverty, greed, nepotism, tribalism and regionalism. Thus, is there any viable motivation in the present fight against corruption? Why can’t Sierra Leone start afresh, probably through a referendum, and determine the dynamics and standard penalties of graft?
In Western and as well as Eastern democracies, the President’s remarks in Kono District, in threatening war against his nation can be regarded as an impeachable offence. But in Africa, many will argue that the President’s outburst was made at the spur of the moment, and that it was not intentional. In Sierra Leone, one has to bear in mind that in spite of all these problems, the opposition APC party wants to keep the peace.
President Bio should be rest assured that the majority of the people, including APC members, are anxious to realize his dreams; and that they (the people) have entrusted him to achieve these goals in a fair and peaceful democratic atmosphere. He can boost his confidence and popularity by ensuring that his promises are actualized to the nation. Then, the extension of his mandate to rule after 2023 elections would just be a formality.
As the ‘new direction’ agenda implies, the fundamental aspects of governance, or the efficient management of an entity is discipline and prudent economics. In that respect, was it worthwhile to throw an exorbitant party – banquet – for the diplomatic and international community and local dignitaries, especially considering the present economic climate in the country?