Sierra Leone Telegraph: 3 January 2019:
New Year’s Day is always an opportunity for the president to speak to the people of Sierra Leone about the solemn promises he has made and the challenges ahead for his government.
President Julius Maada Bio was elected ten months ago in a close contest between his Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) and the All People’s Congress Party (APC), based on a manifesto that spoke of the need for a New Direction in the management of the country’s affairs.
Focusing on improving education access and standards, introducing fiscal discipline and the control of government spending, president Bio’s government has made good progress.
But there are fears the country’s economy may be slipping into deeper recession, with export production output remaining stagnant, and inflation as well as unemployment continuing to be stubbornly high.
The economy needs a kick-start so that ordinary Sierra Leoneans can begin to earn a living wage.
In the next twelve months, president Bio is expected to move from promises to real delivery of jobs and diversification of the economy – from mineral production to agro-processing, tourism, fish processing, large-scale private sector-led affordable housing development, timber and wood finished products manufacturing.
But for now, politics in Sierra Leone is dominated by talks of a commission of inquiry into alleged corruption by the former Koroma-led APC government, and other key issues, such as the rekindling of the stalled national constitution review process, repealing of the 1965 Public Order Act, and the active promotion of national cohesion and inclusiveness.
Replying to his critics and doubters about his New Direction, president Said: “….to anyone starting this New Year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to assure you of this: this New Direction is heading in the Right Direction.
“In the New Year, we will continue with our efficient economic management of the state and create the enabling environment for economic investment in order to create jobs for our youth.
“We will continue to expand investments in the energy sector, WASH initiatives, and purposeful infrastructural projects including rural roads and bridges. We have completed policy and implementation frameworks for expanding investments in the agriculture, fisheries, and tourism sectors.”
This is president Bio’s 2019 New Year’s address to the nation:
Fellow citizens, across our country we gather as family members, friends and neighbours to celebrate the end of one year and the beginning of another. As Sierra Leoneans, this moment gives us an opportunity not only to look back but also look ahead into a new year of hope and boundless opportunities.
As a Nation, we are thankful to God that we have closed the year with no catastrophic natural disasters and no calamitous disease epidemics. Let us also congratulate ourselves for a peaceful transition of political power from one democratic government to another in 2018. We have shown the world that our faith and commitment to democracy is unshakable.
Despite the fact that my Government inherited a near bankrupt state and the worse economic situation since independence, 2018 was a remarkable year not only for what we achieved as a Government but also for the international community to recognise us as a Champion for human capital development.
Fellow citizens, since coming to power, we have launched the Free Quality Education programme which will forever change the future of our children and the fortunes of our nation. This is why my New Direction Government has committed an historic 21% of our national budget to the education sector.
We have established a Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation to leverage the benefits of technology for education delivery, research, business, and governance.
In the past 8 months, we have pursued a disciplined management of our economy by sealing leakages and streamlining domestic revenue mobilization.
Our multilateral partners have resumed engagement with and support for our nation because they recognize that what we are doing for our economy is good for our country.
In November 2018, the International Monetary Fund approved a new arrangement under the Extended Credit Facility to support our country’s economic and financial reforms.
Our robust and relentless fight against corruption has led to the recovery of Le8.4 Billion of stolen public money in just the last six months. We will invest that money in facilities such as a well-equipped Medical Diagnostic Hospital that will serve the needs of every Sierra Leonean.
Fellow citizens, I am also pleased to note that the Millennium Corporation Challenge has acknowledged our success in fighting corruption with an unprecedented passing grade of 71% from the abysmal 49%.
For the first time in recent years, we organised the Islamic Pilgrimage to Mecca without any scandal.
So to anyone starting this New Year with questions about where we are heading and what the future holds, I want to assure you of this: this New Direction is heading in the Right Direction.
In the New Year, we will continue with our efficient economic management of the state and create the enabling environment for economic investment in order to create jobs for our youth.
We will continue to expand investments in the energy sector, WASH initiatives, and purposeful infrastructural projects including rural roads and bridges.
We have completed policy and implementation frameworks for expanding investments in the agriculture, fisheries, and tourism sectors.
We will continue to invest in Human Capital
Development to make our citizens competitive and fit for purpose in the 21st century. Hence, we will invest in improving the Free Quality Education programme because human capital development is crucial for our national development.
We have also committed our nation to the protection of the Girl Child from rape, early marriage, exploitation, gender-based discrimination and other forms of gender-based violence.
To this end, we will review and implement the Sexual Offences Act; strengthen legislation for women’s empowerment, children and persons with disability and strengthen child protection services. Let me reiterate that men who rape girls deserve to be jailed for life.
Fellow citizens, we will continue to open up democratic spaces in order to strengthen our democracy. We will repeal the Criminal Libel Law and continue to assure the Freedom of the Press.
We will promote access to justice and respect the Constitutional Rights and the sanctity of the lives of all our citizens. This also means that, we cannot abandon the work of the Constitutional Review Commission.
We will examine the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission and the accompanying White Paper with a view to move the process forward.
We will scale up investments in Healthcare and Healthcare Infrastructure and Services in 2019 by constructing well-equipped Peripheral Health Units, expanding Free Ambulance Services to all districts of the country, rehabilitating healthcare facilities, providing equipment and drugs and investing in the training of healthcare personnel.
We will continue promoting credible private investments in agriculture and commercial agricultural production not only to provide gainful employment but also save our nation hundreds of millions of dollars in food imports.
Therefore, we will launch the Torma Bum & Gbondapie Rice & Irrigation Project in early 2019.
Fellow citizens, we also recognise in tough economic times, Government must support ordinary people who make an outstanding contribution in the public sector.
Therefore, effective January 2019, the salary of Civil Servants, Teachers, Police and the Military in Grades 1 to 6 is also increasing by 10 percent and those in Grades 7 to 14 by 5 percent. This is in addition to the 10 percent increase announced in the 2018 Revised Budget.
Also, for workers in both public and private sectors effective January 2019, Government is reducing the top marginal personal tax rate from 35 percent to 30 percent to break this vicious cycle of low disposable income, low spending and low savings.
To also address the disparities in pay and remuneration among the various public sector payroll categories, work has already started for the establishment of a Wages and Compensation Commission in 2019.
Our pensioners cannot also be left behind. So effective January 2019, Government is increasing the minimum pension to Le250,000 per month consistent with the NASSIT Act 2002 to improve the living conditions of our pensioners.
As we look ahead into the New Year, we also have a collective responsibility to maintain the peace and stability of our great Nation.
In 2019, my Government will establish the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion to enhance national cohesion, strengthen peace consolidation and promote inclusive governance.
Fellow citizens, as you may all be aware the Commission of Inquiry is expected to commence in January 2019. We have an opportunity as Sierra Leoneans to demand accountability from those we once entrusted to hold public offices on our behalf.
The Commission of Inquiry is not about a political party, a tribe or a region. Let us collectively reject those who seek to divide us and support the Commission of Inquiry to send a clear message to the world that Sierra Leoneans are all united in the fight against corruption and to restore democratic accountability.
As we look into the New Year, we can be optimistic because we are making tangible progress. We are doing what is right for our country and best for our children’s future. In this New Year, let us commit ourselves to putting Sierra Leone above all else.
My family and I pray that 2019 be a great year of transformation and happiness for every Serra Leonean. I thank you, and wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year. (End of address).