Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 September 2018:
A Commonwealth Parliamentary Association delegation which also consists of members of Parliament from Britain, were in Freetown, Sierra Leone two days ago to gain first-hand experience and insight into political developments and realities on the ground.
This visit comes after the electorally defeated opposition APC and some of its disgruntled supporters in London – along with British Labour MP – Neil Coyle, complained about alleged abuse of human rights and the collapse of democracy in the country.
But, speaking to president Julius Maada Bio at State House, the delegation commended the president and his government for the progress they have made since elected six months ago. They found no evidence of human rights abuse nor curtailment of democracy in Sierra Leone.
The head of the delegation – British MP John Mann , said that as lawmakers they are impressed with the astute leadership qualities shown by President Bio. He noted that the new government was on the right path, especially in education, as he expressed optimism for improvement in other sectors.
“We are aware of your free quality education which is a laudable venture and we anticipate that there will be development in other sectors as well. We are delighted about your democratic values and how our two parliaments have cooperated. We recognize the significance of democracy here and the close ties between our two countries,” he said.
But in contrast to calls by the main opposition APC for president Julius Maada Bio to be arraigned before the International Court of Justice for allegations of abuse of human rights, the British MP congratulated president Bio on his victory in an election he described as being democratic and credible, which he said is a clear sign of how much the country has developed democratically.
The British MP (Photo: Mann shaking hands with Bio) stated that the British parliament was delighted with the strengthening cooperation between the British parliament and the parliament of Sierra Leone.
Another member of the delegation – British MP Angela Rayner, also praised president Bio for his leadership and what he has achieved so far.
“We are very impressed and excited to see what you have done,” Angela said. As the UK parliamentary opposition spokesperson on education, Angela commended president Bio for his vision on free education.
In response, president Bio thanked the delegation for their visit to the country. He said that the composition of the present parliament was a strange one, but that his government has adapted quickly because of its belief and policy of promoting a culture of inclusion.
He assured the delegation of his determination to work with the opposition in furtherance of the development of the country, and that his government is fully committed to peace, democracy and inclusive governance.
He told the delegation that his government inherited a nearly bankrupt economy six months ago, and that this is posing serious challenges for the development of the country.
He told them that he has put in place tough revenue generation measures and spending discipline through the single treasury account to help pay for the delivery of the government’s priority programmes.
“Despite the poor economic climate we inherited, we have been able to start our major programmes through robust revenue generation. As a nation, we want to lay a solid foundation that will enable sustainable development.
“In doing so, we have figured out education as our flagship programme because we want our citizens to be part of the development process and that is why we are providing free and quality education for our kids,” he said.
President Bio also expressed his commitment to economic diversification and addressing other social challenges.
Speaking about addressing democratic accountability and fighting corruption, the president said he will not relent. He said that corruption is very pervasive and depriving ordinary people of basic amenities.
He said sternly that he is using the rule of law to hold people to account and nobody will be victimized unduly.
“We have to address corruption and I am very committed to doing that,” said the president, despite what many in Sierra Leone regard as the recent rants by British Labour party MP Neil Coyle about his so-called abuse of human rights in the country.
Responding to stories about Neil Coyle’s wild accusations that are likely to tarnish the image of Sierra Leone, the head of delegation who is a colleague of Coyle – British MP John Mann, assured president Bio that not all British Members of Parliament take advice and directives from social media.
John Mann, a Labour Party MP for the constituency of Bassetlaw since the 2001 general election, distanced himself and the British Parliament from Neil Coyle’s action. He said that members of parliament should rely on accurate information and facts, and not on what is being propagated on social media.
Mr Mann further stated that as responsible members of parliament they wanted the facts and get a true picture of what was happening in Sierra Leone, which is why they decided to visit the country to speak to many people to obtain first-hand accounts.
“From what we have seen on the ground, the people we have spoken to and we have listened to your vision, I must say we are very impressed Mr President with what you have done within this short time, and we are hopeful for the future of your country,” Mr Mann told Bio.
The leader of the delegation also told president Bio that when they return to the United Kingdom, other Members of the British Parliament would be informed about the impressive work going on in Sierra Leone.