President Bio discusses recent violence and covid-19 with civil society leaders

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 May 2020:

Leaders of Civil Society Organisations and CSOs were at State House yesterday, where they met president Dr Julius Maada Bio and Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic and the recent surge in violence in the country.

Vice President Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who chaired the event, said that the meeting is part of government’s plan to work on a sustained dialogue with civil society organisations.

President Bio said that he personally invited the CSOs to talk frankly about the relationship between government and civil society.

He said that his government intends to continue to listen and stay engaged with every voice in the civil society space because his government believes that each voice matters and every voice would make the country’s democracy better and stronger.

“Governance can be arduous. We were left with numerous structural imbalances either deliberately because the previous government gained a political advantage or just out of sheer incompetence. Whether it be in constituency allocations, the security forces, the civil service, wealth distribution, social protection, the fight against corruption, census and the allocation of parliamentary seats, decentralization and local government, justice mechanisms etc. All those constitute triggers of conflict. As a Government, we want to work with civil society to identify and resolve those structural imbalances and triggers,” the president said.

He also went on to say that “Government has moved swiftly to contain and fully investigate recent spates of violence at Pademba Road, Lunsar, Foredugu, and Tombo. We take our responsibility for protecting the lives and properties of every Sierra Leonean very seriously. We believe that security sector reform and other well-thought-out measures to address structural imbalances will lead to a longer-term fix and greater security.

“We thank civil society for condemning the violence outright and taking the strong view that violence is inimical to peace, stability, and development. We note the sundry concerns around the issue and we will work on recalibrating next steps accordingly.”

Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance, Marcella Samba Sesay, said that the COVID-19 response requires every country to design its own pathway; adding that it is very important for the government and civil society to sit together to enable effective co-creation processes.

Executive Director of Health for All Coalition, Charles Mambu, commended the government for the recruitment of healthcare workers. He said he is pleased that government expenditure on health is increasing. He also commended the government for the ongoing infrastructural projects across the country.

This is presidential Bio’s full statement:

I have personally invited representatives of civil society organisations today to talk frankly about the relationship between government and civil society. Let me state our regrets from the outset that social distancing rules in this era of Corona dictate that we cannot have every civil society group present here today. That would have been our best wish. Your absence here today is not because you are less of a voice but because we cannot have everyone here today in the same room.

But rest assured that beyond this meeting, we intend to continue hearing you out and staying engaged with every voice in the civil society space. That is because we believe, as a government, that each and every voice matters and each and every voice makes our democracy better and stronger.

So I thank you all for honouring my invitation and I also thank those who are not present here for closely following our deliberations here today.

I want to thank members of Civil Society for their diverse support to the Government’s response to COVID-19 through direct support and other initiatives, advocacy, social mobilization, and also reiterating Government’s appeal to citizens to adhere to all Covid-19 healthcare and other directives.

We have strengthened healthcare systems and implemented measured policies to prevent, protect against, and curtail the spread of COVID-19. Of course, we recognise that we should do more and we will continue to do more to manage and eventually defeat COVID-19 in Sierra Leone.

In spite of the ongoing measures to address the pandemic, government is still running. The Presidency continues to oversee the operations of government, hold virtual cabinet meetings, oversee the fight against COVID, and maintain all aspects of public service.

Development projects across the entire country in the areas of food production, water, energy, roads, and education, continue apace.

Government has already implemented a Quick Action Economic Recovery Programme (QAERP) that is aimed at sustaining the supply of essential food and other commodities and bolstering the economy through the COVID period. We anticipate that with these common-sense measures, our economy will remain relatively buoyant through this period and be well-positioned for take-off in the post-COVID-19 phase.

Government has moved swiftly to contain and fully investigate recent spates of violence at Pademba Road, Lunsar, Foredugu, and Tombo. We take our responsibility for protecting the lives and properties of every Sierra Leonean very seriously. We believe that security sector reform and other well-thought-out measures to address structural imbalances will lead to a longer-term fix and greater security.

We thank civil society for condemning the violence outright and taking the strong view that violence is inimical to peace, stability, and development. We note the sundry concerns around the issue and we will work on recalibrating next steps accordingly.

As I look around the room, I see a diversity of interests and views represented – from governance to women’s issues, and from human rights to youth and disability issues. What we have here and beyond is a broad civic space and great opportunity for more citizen engagement and more engagement with a diversity of views and positions.

Government wants a stronger relationship with civil society. As a Government, we do not believe we should simply impose our own understanding of governance on citizens. We need the voices of citizens.

Our Government and Civil society want similar outcomes for Sierra Leone and for the future of Sierra Leone. We therefore want a relationship that is not one of mistrust and suspicion, not one of fear and dread, not one that is adversarial but a partnership built on mutual trust and cooperation; one based on a shared aspiration to ensure that the right things are done at the right times, for the right reasons and with the right impact for our peace and development as a nation.

We believe, as a government, that the partnership is good for consolidating and strengthening democracy and good governance. So, our motives are clear. We are looking to engage citizens who advocate ideas (not incite dissent or foment discord).

We are looking for what you bring to this room today – a diversity of public opinion, knowledge, experience and expertise that we can use as a Government to shape and support policy and decision making and implementation. We believe that governance is more agile, more dynamic, and more efficient when we broaden, deepen, and further enhance that shared relationship.

We believe a consultative relationship is right for our democracy. Civil society, we believe, should be involved in setting agenda, planning, implementation, monitoring, reviewing, giving feedback. So, for instance, we believe that for planning and performance contracts, we should rationalise and evaluate performance indicators and outcomes with civil society. More accountability in governance is always better for our democracy. An extra pair of eyes keeps everyone safer.

We also believe that civil society will help us test the Whys of our key policies and commitments as well as provide us feedback in structured and predictable loops. This will make it easier for civil society to test and support our commitments and policies.

Governance can be arduous. We were left with numerous structural imbalances either deliberately because the previous government gained a political advantage or just out of sheer incompetence. Whether it be in constituency allocations, the security forces, the civil service, wealth distribution, social protection, the fight against corruption, census and the allocation of parliamentary seats, decentralization and local government, justice mechanisms etc. All those constitute triggers of conflict. As a Government, we want to work with civil society to identify and resolve those structural imbalances and triggers.

Because we take the views of civil society very seriously and we want to close the feedback loop, I have asked the Honourable Vice President, who has a rich background and great depth of knowledge of the civil society space, to serve as a focal person. He has my ears in governance.

So, let me conclude by stating that this is a listening and relationship forming session today. But it is just the beginning of a long process of engagement and dialogue. I look forward to hearing from each of you. I thank you.

11 Comments

  1. Of course, the President is seemingly taking stock of the brilliant, logical and dynamic arguments put forward by some of the trully patriotic and devoted forumites on this prize-winning platform, for equitable and efficient democratic governance. It is a rare, good, encouraging and conciliatory speech from an aloof, but now repenting President. What do you expect when the International community’s arm (or lever) is exerting pressure to what is gradually deteriorating to a fragile, bankrupt and defunct administration.

    Nevertheless, the speech lost its value, when as usual, Maada Bio resorted to the FINGER! Unfortunately, most of the heads of the Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) handpicked by the President would be left pondering for for an answer to the continuous defeatist attitude of the government; and the lack of inspiration.

    Furthermore, there is an element of doubt, coupled with a threat component, synchronised or in tandem with Bio’s speech when he implied that, “So, our motives are clear. We are looking to engage citizens who advocate ideas (no incite dessent or forment discord)”. This is a very strict and ambiguous condition for joining this club. Does it mean that there should only be pro-goevernment or systematic dessent for government policies; even when the economy is being manoeuvred at ‘Full Ahead’ towards the ‘wrong direction’?

  2. As Father Of the Nation, President Bio who has sacrifice his life for our nation by joining the military should continue implementing the STICK AND CARROT approach. He has called the APC party leadership what exactly they are and now embracing the Civil Society leaders for their outright condemnation of any sort of violence against the state which the lifetime leader of the APC party refuses to come out and condemn.

    President Bio with the help of the international community conducted the first democratic election after almost 30 years of APC dictatorship and he is still determined to maintain this democracy that he sacrifice his life for.

    • Wait a minute Mr. Alusine Fallay. Am I right to say, that the men and women who fell in that senseless war and those who returned injured and sick, were the heroes, who actually sacrificed their lives for our nation by joining the Military? Send me a reply as soon as possible Mr. Alusine Fallay and may God bless you. God bless, protect and help our war veterans. May the souls of all those who died in that senseless war RIP. Never again should Sierra Leoneans, encourage anyone, to recklessly lead us to another Civil war, which I believe, the lawless tyrants are trying to do.

  3. That meeting was a complete waste of time – a mere PR exercise. Talking about “sustained dialogue” is nothing new, we heard that phrase at Bintumani 3 but we all know the outcome. Democracy is on life support in Sierra Leone. Let us hope our MORAL GUARANTORS eg the UK can timely intervene to resuscitate it.

  4. Sorry, but in this report there is only the speech of the president. Did any critical dialoque and an open discussion take place?

  5. Indeed he is a man of his words, fellow citizens, let us give president Bio our supports to help him build our nation. I strongly believe that there light after the tunnel, remember it takes only peace and unity to move a country, a country that we love our sweet SIERRA LEONE to the level that we want her to be. I know that it is not easy, but it is possible. Remember there is no place like HOME.

  6. It is great to hear from president Julius Maada Bio and his government that they’ve finally come to their senses and recognised they cannot impose their will on the people. Rather work with civil society and stakeholders that include every Sierra Leoneans to bring about a meaningful change to our country. Thats what everyone wants for our country. Indded we Sierra Leoneans should all work together tirelessly to preserve our hard won peace and stability in our country. As a president you cannot sit at State house, surrounded by ‘yes men’ and say to those well meaning Sierra Leoneans who like you are genuinely committed to development of the country – its either your way or the highway.

    Yes in a healthy democracy you will always have concerned citizens criticising your efforts. If as you stated the last APC government left the country’s coffers empty, surely the anti-corruption commission should be given the powers to trace these assets. Working with our international partners like the UK, USA, France and Switzerland, we should be able to recover and punish these people for stealing against the state. Nigeria has just received millions of stolen dollars once held in foreign accounts by former dictator Sani Abacha.

    I only hope by having this national dialogue you are now listening to the voices of reason. Maybe it is a sign you’ve started to ditch those elements whose only survival depend on breathing and preaching the oxygen of tribalism for their own selfish ends rather than the good of the country. The proof is in the pudding. President Bio the Buck stops with you. You are answerable to the people of Sierra Leone – not some of the hot heads around you that clearly have a different agenda to yours. May God bless Sierra Leone!

  7. I don’t think continuing listening all the time makes sense right now. We have been listening more than two years now, but things are getting worse. We must deviate from JUNTA ideology, tyranny and embrace democracy. Have they not still heard the message of no barbarity, no unlawful incarceration, no violence of human rights, no sidelining of parliament, no intimidation of opposition members and leaders, no Bastardisation of the constitution, give IG Sovula his independence to carry out his job etc, loud and clear?

    Bottom line, when the democratic and common sense heavyweights and champions weigh in, the tyrants start slowly to retreat into their shells. Again, God bless, help and protect Dr Sylvia Blyden, Rtd Major Paolo Conteh, Ms Isata Saccoh – Wife of the gallant Rtd Major Paolo Conteh, lawyer Ady McCauley and all the political detainees under unjust incarceration in my view. God bless the Civil Society Members, the British High commissioner in Freetown, the British Taxpayers and the people of Sierra Leone. What the hell of continue listening endlessly till 2023.

  8. Excellent initiative by the President. Next task for him is to get his most loyal lieutenants aligned around that message. The rationale for a Dialogue is to exchange ideas. This requires some level of humility to accept that other ideas can be good enough for accommodation.

    Ex-cathedra statements and decisions by heads of MDAs do not make for dialogue, and frequently result in missed opportunities at the expense of the country’s interests. I do hope His Excellency is passing the same message to his heads of MDAs.

    http://sierraleonesignposts.com

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