President Bio has spoken – but where do we go from here?

Mohamed Majid Kamara: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 11 May 2020:

Following our president, H.E. Julius Maada Bio’s address to the nation, as a patriotic Sierra Leonean living in Pennsylvania, United Sates of America (U.S.A.) – a neutralist, and a progressive, I thought that I should express my views.

I commend the president for making a statement; the citizenry has longed to hear from him amidst the turmoil. He delivered the speech with a clear and concise tone. The first segment of his speech was very effective in terms of uniting the country, and fostering peace.

He calls for the solidarity of the nation, asking the populace to join hands in the interest of our shared values. The later segment of his speech, the president highlighted his development agenda in a forceful and conciliatory tone. With that said, the speech is not devoid of flaws.

Above most, the president’s address came a little late. As the saying goes, “a stich in time saves nine.” Like many others, I believe if the president had come out immediately after the violent and deadly menace at the Pademba Road maximum prison, subsequent riots in other parts of the country may have been averted.

Also, the president’s speech failed to seize the moment to unify the country. In a segment of his speech, he castigated the opposition, the All People’s Congress (APC)’s failure to condemn the barbaric acts in their statement following the prison events.

The president questioned the opposition party’s silence in the face of the acts of terrorism, and violence perpetrated by the hooligans. He further went to the extreme length of accusing the opposition of supporting and financing the violent perpetrators.

Every well-meaning Sierra Leonean wished the president had continued to appeal to the opposition parties to choose unity instead of division, and to be on the side of peace instead of fanning the flames of fire. Literarily speaking, the president would have invoked the words of the former United States’ First Lady, Michelle Obama, “when they go low, we go high.” Instead, his attack on the opposition is one of the implications, “when they go low, we go low.” I don’t blame it entirely on the president, but his advisors, and his speechwriters as well.

In the interest of our fragile democracy, it is not just the government that should aspire to go high, the opposition party should be geared towards that goal as well.

To the APC, and the other opposition parties, your focus should be on objective and constructive criticism of the incumbent. Please refrain from the goal of making the state “ungovernable.” There are winnable arguments like the worse economic situation of our country that any opposition party could articulate.

Even before the Covid-19 saga, the economy of Sierra Leone has been in the tank. The exchange rate has been deteriorating to an alarming rate. As such, the inflation rate has risen more than 40% since the previous government. Sooner, or later, people may need a wheelbarrow to collect the Leones for a $100 bill exchanged. We fervently hope that we don’t get to that stage. I’m afraid to even state the percentage of the unemployed, or underemployed in our country, it’s nearly more than half of the country’s population.

The Covid-19 pandemic has certainly worsened the economic indices of even the most developed nations in the world, let alone developing countries like Sierra Leone.

As patriotic Sierra Leoneans, we should wish for the success of the government, for the betterment of our country. But the failure of the incumbent to put in place sound economic policies, should be a fair game for the opposition to call on them.

The opposition also has the responsibility of sensitizing the populace about the pervasive inequities, inequalities, excesses, and the economic imbalances. Studies have shown that in “free and fair elections,” most, if not all of the incumbent governments have failed to retain power when the economy is in shambles.

Protest votes are inevitable: people vote with their hands, but for their mouths, and for their stomachs – their welfare, so to speak. In as much as the opposition parties should support the incumbent, they are expected to wait for the people’s mandate in the next elections.

In view of the above, to meet the mandate given to them by the people of Sierra Leone, and to uphold the priorities of keeping the people safe, and to improve on their welfare, president Bio’s government should focus on governing. They should avoid falling into the trap of political distractions; they should ignore the social media detractors, and other activities that are incompatible to their government’s developmental agenda.

Detaining political opponents like Paolo Conteh, Sylvia Blyden, and others will not foster development, but a distraction aimed at derailing the government’s agenda. I am not a lawyer, but consulting legal luminaries in Sierra Leone, and here in the U.S., I was made to reckon that proving an accused guilty of a treason offence is perhaps one of the most herculean tasks in a court of law. We get it.

Owing to the Covid-19 situation, the courts are temporarily closed. However, in the interest of peace, and to save the government from such distractions, president Bio should follow through his promise in his speech. He should recommend a speedy and impartial trial of the high stake detainees. This could be done by any improvised means.

To the goal of an effective government, president Bio should consider restructuring his cabinet. The appointment of competent, patriotic expatriates; a well-diversified cabinet that is devoid of sentiments, cronyism, and regionalism is quintessential to the development of our nation. It could be recalled that cronyism contributed to the backwardness of our educational sector emanating from the previous government.

Because of his close relationship with the then Minister of Education, the former president, Ernest Bai Koroma, retained Dr. Minkailu Bah in the position as Minister of Education despite all the hew and cry from donor agencies, and well-meaning Sierra Leoneans like myself.

The then president served his personal interest rather than the country’s interest. With all due respect to Dr. Bah, someone I have great respect, and admiration for; he was one of our elderly statesmen when I served as Secretary General of the Fourah Bay College (FBC) Muslim Students’ union; I believed he was better suited for other ministries, the likes of Energy and Power as an engineer.

The Bio government should learn from such mistakes. In so far, perhaps the best cabinet appointment in the current government is that of the Minister of Education, Dr. David Moinina Sengeh. Like many others, I believe this young man is qualified, industrious, and ingenious. Hopefully, he will elevate our country’s educational standards as soonest.

On the other hand, president Bio’s pick of J.J. Saffa as Finance Minister, may be synonymous to former president Ernest Bai Koroma’s pick of Dr. Minkailu Bah.

That brings me to my next viewpoint. As an Economist, trained at Fourah Bay College (FBC), and at Temple University, in Pennsylvania, U.S.A, I thought as much that I should proffer my economic advice to our president, Bio in his quest to improve our country’s economy.

As a first step in solving the economic imbalances in our country, I recommend that the minister of Finance, and the Bank Governor be replaced immediately. Indeed, J.J. Saffa is an SLPP loyalist, and he did a lot to bring the party to the reins of power. He deserves to be compensated, but not at the expense of the nation.

Without any doubt, J.J. Saffa will deliver more when repositioned to other capacities. For some people that may not know it, J.J. Saffa has a background in Development Economics, a Macroeconomic branch that is lauded with literature, but very thin in quantitative analysis.

Yes, J.J. Saffa taught me Development Economics at FBC. His knowledge of Microeconomics, Quantitative Economics, and Monetary Economics maybe very terse, or limited if you like. At our current economic fiasco, we need economists that have the vast experience, and the astute knowledge in Monetary, Quantitative, and Fiscal economic policies to head the Finance Ministry, and the Central Bank.

One of the reasons for the exacerbating inflation rate, and the geometric deterioration of our exchange rate is the humongous Balance of Payments (BOP) deficit the economy has experienced under the failed leadership of the Minister of Finance, and the Bank Governor.

The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) or the Gross National Product (GNP), and the Net-Export (Export less Import) are constituents of the balance of payments. To boost these stochastic economic variables, I recommend that the government should go smaller or leaner.

The “free rider problem,” an economic phenomenon that says: “anything that belongs to government, belongs to no one, thus should be used freely.” As such, for government to realize more revenue via taxation, some of the government owned businesses, or state run services should be privatized. Imagine a competitive situation where private investors provide electricity in our country, the days of blackouts will be rendered to oblivion.

Opponents to this viewpoint will point at the possibility of exploitation of the masses when we allow private businesses to provide essential services or products such as electricity or water supply. To them, I say the government should allow an open, and competitive business practices.

Take the case of mobile cell phone use in our country. Just reflect on the comparison between the emergence of the amenity when very few mobile phone companies were in operation to the heightened competition now in the business. The prices have lowered or the services becoming more affordable; the services are better now, and the government’s revenue earned from the taxes collected from the mobile phone companies is higher than the seemingly monopoly days.

Hence, the government should cut the ‘red/green’ tape to local and foreign investors, reduce bureaucracy, and open the economy for a fair and competitive business. This will augment the government revenue via excise or sales taxes; it will improve  employment capacity, and it will help to correct the economic lopsidedness.

For instance, there will certainly be an increase in productivity (GDP) growth that will translate to an improvement in our balance of payments deficit. The BOP deficit will also be stemmed by the potential improvement of Net-Export, which will contribute to a favorable exchange rate that will account for a reduction of the inflation rate in the country.

Finally, president Bio should reconsider his Free-Education policy. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all in for this policy with the conviction that for a country to develop, the labor force, especially skilled labor, is pivotal.

However, the old adage, “There is No Free Lunch in Economics.” That is, expenditure must be matched by revenue/income received. Education is perhaps one of the most viable, but expensive commodities on planet earth.

This may attempt to explain why most of the developed countries are very wary of endorsing a Free-Education policy. Here in the U.S., Free-Education is limited to public schools, from first grade to high school level. Admittance to such schools is limited to residents of the school’s zip code. This is so, because, residents of those localities fund the public schools through the local, real estate, and sales taxes they pay to the local government.

In some cases, the local government’s income/revenue received exceeds the expenditures on the public schools. In essence, there is no Free-Education. The questions for the Bio government are: where is the money coming from to fund the Free-Education; what other essential government sectors may have been deprived of funds?

These are questions that assembled National Council of Economists should grapple with. A quantitative, and qualitative analysis of not just the short-run, but the long-run effect of the Free-Education policy should be done. Nonetheless, I think the emphasis should be on promoting vocational education.

Basic automotive technicians, healthcare aids, carpenters, commercial vehicle drivers, construction workers, and many more technician works of life that require short training, are in high demand, and will always be. The apprenticeship model that is very successful in developed countries like the Netherlands should be emulated.

Our youths are eager to be employed. Perhaps, introducing loan system to cover tuition and educational costs should be considered. The future in our country is not desolate, we shall return to the days of peaceful, united, healthy, and a happy country in the near future. Long live Sierra Leone, and Long Live Sierra Leoneans.

The author:

Mohamed Majid Kamara, MA, CPharmT, CESP, Pennsylvania, United Sates of America.

17 Comments

  1. Stargazer says—“ Although,I have been passively watching from the sidelines,i would like you to know that you are one of those brilliant individuals on the forum i used to pay close attention to on a regular basis.” Mr. Stargazer, with great humility and respect, I bow down with a sense of honor to be considered any remotely being one of the brilliant participants in this renowned intellectual forum. It’s even unfathomable for such a recognition to be ascribed by someone of your caliber whose intellectual, patriotism, and pragmatism didn’t go unnoticed the minute you appeared on the scene.Thanks to the great patriot Mr. ART for providing this platform now attracting some of the brightest minds and gradually serving as a mini-parliament.

    For those of you readers and spectators still standing on the sidelines, I will like to take this opportunity and invite you all to have a seat at the table. It’s obvious we all hold different view points and certain inclinations as to whose political party is good for our nation, however, what binds us all is the simple fact that, we only have one SWEET MAMA SALONE whose success and sustainability is paramount to us all. So it makes no sense to allow the few greedy, corrupt, and selfish politicians to drive a wedge between us all. The irony is that, most of these corrupt political leaders in both the APC and SLPP happen to have cordiality among themselves made possible either via collegian or secondary school alma-maters. In essence, they are mostly fooling those of us who couldn’t think for ourselves for their personal, selfish, political gains.

    I refuse to be used or be a victim to someone who in all practical purposes exhibit intellectual deficiency. Hence, I will criticize them when they fall short and applaud them when they perform to expectation. If it’s not already understood my some readers or participants, I will like to categorically state that I never said I am a NEUTRALIST. On the contrary, I have said on numerous occasions that, I have no attachment to a political party—I stand with MAMA SALONE and mama SALONE only. Hence, I will always support any leadership whose policies and visions are developing, uniting our nation, and will vehemently oppose/criticize any leadership that does the contrary.

  2. Young4na – I thank you for your kind gesture brother,and i want you to know that its never too late to welcome one of your own to any kind of gathering that promotes mutual respect,and understanding.Although,I have been passively watching from the sidelines,i would like you to know that you are one of those brilliant individuals on the forum i used to pay close attention to on a regular basis.There are others i greatly admire on this forum;some are still here,others are not.Its time for all of us to put aside petty sentiments,and work together as a team for the benefit of MAMA SALONE.Thanks once again,brother!

  3. “For some people that may not know it, JJ Saffa has a background in Development Economics, a Macroeconomic branch that is lauded with literature, but very thin in quantitative analysis” Well, a lot of people disapprove of JJ Saffa; possibly due to a tint of arrogance in his personal attributes, coupled with partisan reservations. However, his discipline in Development Economics, which is away from the intuitive and quantitative side of Economics, has nothing to do with his failure to revitalize and boost the economy. It is all about choice (or priorities) and a good mix of economic policies; with a determination to equitably serve a country, rather than a motivation based on regional and tribal sentiments, or REVENGE politics.

    One of the best and longest-serving Chancellors of the Exchequer (Minister of Finance) in British politics was Gordon Brown; who graduated from Edinburgh University with a first class honours MA degree in History. Also known as the Iron Chancellor (1997-2007), Gordon Brown never studied any Economics as such, but he was the brain behind the success of former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

    In today’s 21st century, all the quantitative stuff in Economics (metrics manipulation, econometrics or statistical analysis) is all done by Application Software by the press of a button. The main failure of President Maada Bio’s government can be attributed to a certain extent, to the group of advisers surrounding him. Until the President tones down the aggressive, tribal and regional temperament radiating from State House, his chances of winning ‘free and fair’ elections are non-existent.

    • Korthor Alimamy Turay,

      Your claim that President Bio is a tribalist and a regionalist can be true or false depending on who you ask. While you may be quite confident of the veracity of that assessment, an SLPP member will beg to differ. To SLPP members, president Bio is a patriotic guy who is doing a fantastic job as president. It is also important to note that the voters of the SLPP and APC are roughly equal in number. What this means is that the winner of the presidential elections is the party that can win over independent voters.

      Furthermore, voters are roughly divided over the ongoing clashes between the SLPP and the APC. Do not believe for a minute that there are more sympathizers of the APC than there are of the SLPP. Those that sympathize with the APC are APC supporters and those that sympathize with the SLPP are SLPP supporters. This tells you how polarized our country is.

      The problem with the APC is that it has a very sordid image both in Sierra Leone and internationally. You and I know that the APC is a lawless organization that believes in unleashing violence to have its way. But you cannot win elections by being at war with the incumbent government, the police and the military. On elections day in 2023, APC voters will likely clash with the police and the military. That will be the undoing of your party. Goodbye State House for another five years.

  4. Fatorma Gabba says— “You are a hypocrite by any realist ideology! Compare Bio’s Cabinet to that of EBK’s let alone Pa Kabbah”s appointees. By all indications, APC is not ready for peace“. Hey Fatorma, welcome to this glorious intellectual forum. Please do me a favor. I will appreciate it if you stick around and contribute to the debates pertaining to national issues of concern. Randomly showing up, taunting and acting like a clown will earn you no respect. Instead of ‘hitting and running’ please step out of the political buffoonery you have enmeshed yourself to debate me or anyone else in this platform. Until then, I am looking forward to enlighten you how tribalistic your so called POAPA demigods are.

  5. Most neutralists hide their political identity. The President is a straight shooter. He didn’t miss the point if you are a peace loving sierra Leonean. For 11 years of APC rule, SLPP supporters NEVER took a loaded pistol to the State House or expressed hate-war drumming ethno-regional divisive speeches. Why now? Give me a break!

    • Indeed. “For 11 years of APC rule, SLPP supporters NEVER took a loaded pistol to the State House or expressed hate-war drumming ethno-regional divisive speeches. Why now? Give me a break”; but, two years on, many Sierra Leoneans have lost their lives in political violence under the watch of President Bio and the Bio SLPP, than the entire 10 year rule of the most popular, former and exceptional commander in chief of the Sierra Leone Armed Forces and the most peaceful ex President Ernest Bai Koroma Sierra Leone ever had.

      Give me a break, for the straight shooter was busy straight shooting our prisoners and prison officers at Pademba Road Prisons recently. God help Mr. Fatorma Gabba with APC and Bio SLPP comparison.

  6. Those complaining about SLPP revenge politics must realise that people only ever resort to revenge to let their former tormentors know that as you make your bed,so shall you lie on it.

  7. Thanks Mr. Kamara for a well written, balance, educational, and patriotic approach. The sad realities is that, the highly polarized politics in our nation will never heed or allow patriotic Sierra Leoneans like your type to make any meaningful contributions toward the development of mama Salone. As you have alluded, rather than putting the nation’s interest at first, our country’s political leaders put more premium in compensating their political allies—putting square pegs in round holes. If you are not part of the cabal, your experience and technical know-how means nothing to these corrupt, tribalistic crooks.

    During the APC of EBK, the qualification requirements to obtain a government job was carrying an APC membership card. Now with the Bio SLPP, you must have a last name with origins from the South-East of the nation before you are considered in government jobs. So by all indications, there is not much different between these 2 parties; tribalism is at the center-core of their governorship.

    • You are a hypocrite by any realist ideology! Compare Bio’s Cabinet to that of EBK’s let alone Pa Kabbah”s appointees. By all indications, APC is not ready for peace. As long as Maada Bio is the President, Sierra Leoneans have a long way to go.

  8. The problems facing our nation are just too daunting for any leader to be able to measure up and deal with; we will need all hands on deck and a complete reorientation of the mindsets of our people. It is the first, urgent and most crucial step towards progress. Everyone must be prepared to wash their hands clean of tribal sentiments and partisan loyalties, otherwise no hope. Sincerely, it does not really matter if our President reshuffles his cabinet thoroughly time without number, like a deck of Casino cards, his government will still fail, because those he has put in positions of power, like Mr Leema, Mr Francis and JJ Saffa are men whose vision is clouded by revenge and unchecked arrogance.

    We need to make a radical decision in the interest of progress – we need to create a standard criteria for assessing the competence and abilities of our leaders. It is the only way to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat. It saddens me to say that since our Independence, State House has always be choking with stubborn, unfruitful weeds, thorns and chaff, being seasonally replaced by their own kind. Truly sad, those ruthless, annoying prickly thorns, once surrounding State House are now long gone, replaced by the most deadly, poisonous, suffocating weeds your eyes will ever see…When will fragrant roses ever bloom in State House?

    • Mr. Stargazer, although it might appear a bit too late, nonetheless, I will like to personally welcome you to this glorious intellectual platform. Your contribution in this platform is nothing short of patriotism and intellectual tenacity. Keep it up my Salone brother.

  9. This article jumps around quite a bit with inaccuracies. Seemingly, the erudite president has been distracted by two powerful developments. These are the covert reactions of powerful opposition forces to the findings of the Commissions of Inquiry and the arrival of the deadly corona virus. As the president himself has correctly noted, the spate of violence in the country has been inspired by malcontent opposition forces in the APC. Yet the president cannot allow himself to be distracted by a fundamentally violent and morally bankrupt group of folks that have nothing to offer Sierra Leone.

    Bio must also realize that there is no historical antecedent anywhere for a violent political formation that is at war with the incumbent government, the police and the military winning general elections. So, let the APC self-destruct. But the art of governing, which involves the conduct of policy, actions, and affairs of the state must continue unhindered. President Bio is at his best when he is focused on transforming Sierra Leone with the nation’s scarce resources. Indeed, the focus must be on socio-economic transformation. Corona virus might be hitting hard and leaving wreckage anywhere it goes, but there is evidence that it can be successfully contained. However, such a containment exercise requires effective leadership, a high level of focus and astute planning.

    • Mr. Editor, is there any way that you can be lenient relative to the two paragraph rule? Can you consider a three paragraph rule instead? Sometimes the editorial changes to comments affect the fundamental message that a writer wants to convey. Thanks.

    • Following Mr Coleman’s plea and other requests from forumites to increase the word limit to three paragraphs, forumites can now add an additional paragraph of 5 or 6 lines to their comments if they so wish. But please note that any more than that will be reduced in line with the maximum word limit rule. Thank you.

    • The spate of this reckless and dangerous incitement, click the link below, has been inspired by the APC too Mr Bilal Coleman. The blame game that will never end. The good thing is, the APC is still on its peace mission to unite the country. Read this link. Mr. Bilal Coleman and associates; sent to me by the most responsible SLPP party member I have ever known, Mr. P. K. Karimu.
      https://cocorioko.net/president-bio-speedily-suspends-resident-minister-for-threatening-to-shoot-and-kill-anybody-who-opposes-the-government/

      Is this spate of terrorism, recklessness and excellent irresponsibility inspired by the APC Mr Bilal Coleman and CO? This is what happens when a leader makes irresponsible and reckless statements to a nation and his party in particular. God help Mr Bilal Coleman and CO tell Sierra Leoneans who the actual terrorists are.

  10. Since APC took power from the SLPP between 1967/1968 Sierra Leone that was once the envy of Africa fell from grace because they practiced the ideology of GREED AND TERROR under one party dictatorship for over 25 years. Our country was redeemed by young patriotic soldiers through bloodless coups and those soldiers finally returned our country back to democracy without even building mansions for themselves. During the first term of the late President Kabba while the APC was in opposition, we had a jail break which resulted in destruction of our country, but the SLPP government rebuilt all the institutions without saying that the APC was behind it.

    For 11 years APC party were allowed to rule peacefully but unfortunately destroyed our institutions, our youths and economy. Within two years the APC party is executing their objective while in opposition” to make the country ungovernable ,” Now President Bio is bold enough to speak the INCONVENIENT TRUTH that some top members of the APC party are involved in some act of terror against our citizens and properties, which I personally believe will eventually change our country for the better.

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