Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 July 2015
President Koroma’s home coming from what government officials say was a successful Ebola conference in America, was this weekend marred by news of fresh outbreaks of Ebola in Kambia and Freetown.
The president was also greeted by a handful of the newly arrived buses, broken down in the capital Freetown – each costing $120,000, supplied by the Chinese, at a total cost of $12 million.
The one hundred buses were taking part in a street parade on Saturday, drawing thousands of people on to the streets, in contravention of the government’s own Ebola restrictions, which had denied Christians and Muslims from celebrating their religious festivities.
But then, this is Koroma’s Sierra Leone – supported by a Chinese government that prohibits Muslims from fasting during Ramadan and going to work.
International donors at last week’s UN conference have pledged about $3 billion to help Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea recover from the economic and social effects of the Ebola crisis, which has wiped off hundreds of millions of dollars from their export earnings.
It is not clear whether the $3 billion pledged last week, is part of the $10 billion pledged last year at the height of the crisis, by various countries.
Serious concerns were raised by the representatives of the donor countries who attended the UN Post Ebola conference, about the inability of both Guinea and Sierra Leone in bringing the Ebola crisis to an end.
As president Koroma arrived back in Freetown on Saturday, he was greeted with the news of 7 new confirmed cases of Ebola – in just one single day, 5 of which were found in the capital Freetown, and 2 reported in the northern district of Kambia, where the virus is said to have become firmly entrenched.
Two weeks ago, the government said that it was going to step up the restrictions, so as to get the number of new cases down to zero by the end of this month.
But health specialists say that Saturday’s public celebration and parading of the government’s newly arrived 100 buses in the capital Freetown, which brought thousands on to the streets, can only add to the risks of transmission of the virus.
It seems the government has failed to learn lessons from the last twelve months, nor is it prepared to stop playing politics with the lives of its citizens.
On Saturday there were reports from Freetown of some of the newly arrived buses broken down and abandoned on street corners, after developing engine failures. But the transport authority are frantically denying these embarrassing reports. (Photo Below: One of the abandoned buses).
Speaking at the UN Post Ebola conference, president Koroma said: “That Ebola is still in a few areas means we are not Ebola free; it means the Mano River Union is not Ebola free; it means the world is not Ebola free.
“The battle now is to get the few cases down to zero, and getting our countries and the whole world to stay at zero. This is the most difficult battle of all.
“It involves building the resilience to stay at zero; it involves rebuilding our health sectors, caring for the survivors, and supporting the orphans and the widows brought unto that very vulnerable position by the virus.”
But these are not new words coming from the president who at the beginning of the crisis, solemnly promised to get rid of the virus in three months.
More than twelve months on, Ebola is still in Sierra Leone, as the government fails to uphold the Ebola restrictions. There are several reports of those in power and connected to the ruling party, continuing to break the burial restrictions and orders banning social events.
As was evident last Saturday, not even the minister of transport could resist not breaking the Ebola restrictions, after calling out thousands of ruling party supporters to the streets to celebrate the home-coming of the imported government buses. (Photo: Another bus seen leaking engine oil and abandoned).
Reminding himself and the international community of the need to remain steadfast in the fight against the virus that is yet to be won by his government, Koroma told the UN conference: “But we also know that humanity sometimes displays short attention spans and may want to move on to other issues, because the threat from Ebola seems over. No, no and no.
“We are here because we believe that with your dedication to making the world Ebola free, the funding and other resources to do this are within reach; and you will support our region and countries secure and deploy those resources in optimal, transparent and accountable ways.”
Many would argue that president Koroma is holding the international community hostage to fortune.
With the government woefully failing on issues of accountability, transparency and the fight against corruption, few donors will take lessons from the president, who has spent $12 million on importing 100 buses, without following the country’s procurement regulations.
In an attempt to shore up confidence, whilst holding the international community equally responsible for eradicating the virus from West Africa, the president said: “We have learned many lessons from the outbreak. The lessons inform our national and regional recovery plans.
“We are committed to making the plans work, because making them work has the urgency of a life and death situation for over twenty million people in our countries; it is a matter of life and death for the billions more that our globalized world has put within arm’s reach of these twenty million people. This is a battle for all of us.”
In his statement to the conference, UN Chief Ban Ki-Moon said: “I think we can overcome this one, and I think we are now overcoming it. But we have to go until the end; until we see the last patient cured and there will be no further cases.”
Ban Ki-Moon also reminded the international donors of the challenges facing the three countries worst affected by the Ebola crisis. He said: “Our shared goal is to build back stronger, safer and more resilient capacities for prevention and response.
“That means access to health services everywhere – not just in capitals. It means health services equipped to not only respond to extraordinary outbreaks like Ebola, but to address malaria, cholera and other common ailments.
“Investing in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia will yield global dividends in preventing local outbreaks from becoming national emergencies and regional pandemics.
“That is why today is about more than speeches and pledges – it is a chance to forge a partnership for a better future – a future that is full of opportunity and free of Ebola.”
“Your continued generosity will help the affected countries carry out their plans for recovery over the next two years,” the UN Chief told donors.
And as the conference drew to a close, international donors once again made generous pledges totalling over $3 billion. But there are questions as to whether this is a new pledge, or part of last year’s $10 billion pledged by several countries.
In the meantime, president Koroma has to tell the people of Sierra Leone why his government continues to flout procurement regulations with such impunity; and why he hasn’t taken legal action against all those responsible for misappropriating the $14 million Ebola funds.
He also needs to account for the $12 million spent on the importation of 100 Chinese buses without going out to public tender, at a time when the government was also saying that it was short of cash to pay doctors, nurses, and Ebola burial teams.
Last week, the transport minister was on radio announcing that the $12 million used for purchasing the 100 buses is a loan, and not monies that came from the consolidated funds as promised by the finance minister in his budget statement to parliament last year.
But the government has all along been telling the people of Sierra Leone that the buses were bought with cash from the consolidated funds.
Can the Koroma government be trusted?