Cyril Barnes: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 31 March 2019:
About a year ago the people of Sierra Leone decided to vote for the Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio as president, making him the fifth democratically elected President of the small mineral-rich West African nation.
Dubbed the ‘actualization of a dream too long deferred’, the people’s faith in Maada Bio rests on the belief that he will serve his country patriotically well, by healing the wounds of decadence inflicted by the defeated Koroma led APC Administration.
Maada Bio’s electoral victory as president of Sierra Leone came as a result of the wide range of policy promises outlined in his election manifesto.
A year down the line, President Bio has shown remarkable signs of re-branding the blemished image of Sierra Leone. He is delivering what he promised.
The defeated All People’s Congress (APC) party, had provided outlandish leadership which, as their Agenda for Prosperity implied, was wired for enriching those connected with the leadership of the party, leaving the average Sierra Leonean in paucity.
Amidst their lofty promises, former ministers and heads of parastatals were never convinced that their party’s Agenda was ever going to shape or promote the development of the country.
Funds meant for national development disappeared into the personal bank accounts and off-shore investments of political kingpins. As they fastened themselves to public funds, like ants to sweets, donor funds became the source of amassing massive personal wealth.
Many had expected nothing much to be achieved by president Bio in his first year because the process of acclimatising to governance could be somewhat difficult, especially after inheriting national leadership from the porous hands of the APC.
President Bio’s job has been made all the more difficult, after inheriting a country whose economy hit rock-bottom in 2017/2018 – the worst since Independence, yet there is plenty of evidence he has made great strides in putting the country on the right development footing.
A review of a range of development activities president Bio has undertaken so far, is likely to give him a performance score of 60% after barely a year in office.
President Bio has prioritised education, health, energy, agriculture, tourism and sports. Though the challenges seem overwhelming, many believe that if he continues to be consistent in delivering his policies, he will soon be labelled the harbinger of the great Sierra Leone that the people have always envisioned.
EDUCATION (BIO’s FLAGSHIP AGENDA)
By improve the country’s education sector – thereby increase literacy rate, president Bio is pinning his mast on the country’s human capital development as a driver for economic and social progress. He believes that mineral resources can be exhausted with time, but with an enlightened, skilled and educated human resource, Sierra Leone can become prosperous. Using the Singapore Model, he realizes the urgent need to push Sierra Leone away from an unflattering 65% illiteracy rate, by launching the Free Quality Education Programme.
The Free Quality Education Programme provides access to quality education from elementary level to senior secondary level with a surfeit of learning materials and school feeding.
President Bio’s irreversible decision to reclaim the “Athens of West Africa” glory has seen his government investing 21% of budgetary allocation on education (the first and highest budgetary allocation on education in the annals of Sierra Leone).
The New Direction Government has also embarked on improving standards by reviewing schools curricular with civic education intended to be reintroduced. There are plans to improve schools’ infrastructure across the country.
In addition, tertiary education has also benefited from this resurgence with free tuition for girls studying sciences, free university application forms. There is also the recent turning of the sod for the construction of a state-of-the-art Eastern University in Kono District.
Stabilizing the economy is the stiffest challenge facing the president in this his first year in office. His government has implemented all the recommendations of the IMF and World Bank aimed at turning the economy around.
He has also met their requirements by instituting fiscal management policies in the form of Treasury Single Account (TSA) which was rebuffed by former President Koroma.
In addition, the government through the effort of the National Revenue Authority (NRA), has increased revenue generation to over Le30 billion a day, helping the government to pay salaries and wages of public sector workers without resorting to international begging, bank overdraft and domestic borrowing.
President Bio has made the cost of engaging in corruption in Sierra Leone very high to the extent that offenders of his own administration are not spared. In the past twelve months, the anti-graft body e ACC, has focused on recovering stolen monies from past and present officials.
There has been a huge gain in the recovery of the country’s stolen public funds from officials of the former Koroma led APC government. There is accountability.
The three Commissions of Inquiry established by president Bio are providing additional gains in the fight against corruption.
These financial recovery processes have shoved Sierra Leone into the international limelight, thus re-branding the nation from a corrupt-stricken society to one desperate to eradicate graft.
Today, President Bio stands as an example to other African Heads of State as a purveyor in the fight against corruption, with a 71% scorecard unmasked by the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC).
The past administration bragged about their delivery of uninterrupted electricity across the country, with Bumbuna Hydro up and running. But after spending over $500 million, the so-called uninterrupted electricity vanished the moment they left office. One would be tempted to ask what happened to all that money.
The current Minister of Energy renegotiated a better deal with the Turkish karpowership brought by the Koroma Administration without kickbacks in the agreement process. As it stands, the government is set to save $10 million each year from the deal.
Other Turkish power providers have been contracted for the supply of electricity to the east end of Freetown. Temporary electricity strategies have been sound, as they substitute Bumbuna until Phase two is completed.
Organising Sporting events has been a huge challenge over the past five years for Sierra Leone. In football, all hope was lost for both players and sports loving fans as the Sierra Leone Premier League went into oblivion.
After rekindling the spirit of the game with a Three Billion Leones government funding (the highest government has ever provided to the Premier League Board) as a start-up fund, many youths have had their talents resuscitated; businesses are now booming, footballers are now yielding dividend from their labour and football loving fans are happy.
The “Thank You” tour gave president Bio the opportunity to identify regions that are without proper health care facilities. It was also an opportunity for the government to distribute state ambulances to different regions of the country.
The ambulances will help reduce maternal mortality rate with swift facilitation of women in labour; it will also save those who are in other emergency situations.
Furthermore, the Bio led administration has increased the salaries of health workers in addition to a 15% pay increment across the board. An addition of three thousand health workers will be recruited with pin codes.
There are several other policy areas which a single article cannot exhaust: from securing funding for the construction of a state-of-the-art cancer treatment centre, improving healthcare, attaining food sufficiency, promoting tourism, boosting investor relations, linking MIT with Njala, increasing pensioners monthly benefits, constructing major roads – to providing free tertiary education for students whose parents are teachers.
These huge strides made by president Bio in just less than one year in office have received great admiration and support from Sierra Leoneans both home and abroad, and have also brought renewed hope that Sierra Leone will rise once again.