Sierra Leone Telegraph: 12 May 2018:
In just under an hour today Saturday, 12th of May 2018, thousands of people in Sierra Leone will be seated at the national stadium in the capital Freetown, to witness the handing over of the presidential staff of office by former president Ernest Bia Koroma to the newly elected president Julius Maada Bio.
The ceremony will also be witnessed by dozens of international dignitaries, including presidents of West African nations, diplomatic staffs, development partners, as well as the country’s religious, civil society and community groups.
The pomp and pageantry of the event which comes once in every five or ten years, to mark the official handing over of the reins of presidential office from one leader to the next, is expected to include the military and police, parading and forming a guard of honour.
But after Thursday’s speech at the state opening of parliament by president Julius Maada Bio – presenting his five-year development plan for Sierra Leone, all eyes and ears will today be on former president Koroma who will present his end of office Performance Report Card to his successor – president Julius Maada Bio. (Photo: Former president Bio handing over the staff of office to the late president Kabbah in 1996).
President Koroma who was noticeably absent at Thursday’s state opening of parliament, is expected to be upbeat about his performance as president.
Koroma will speak about the state of the country’s economy, which most Sierra Leoneans believe has been abysmal:
80% of Sierra Leoneans are unemployed; adult mortality is at 47 years; most Sierra Leoneans are living on just one dollar a day; inflation – prices of good is over 20%; 30% of children under five years old, pregnant women and those at childbirth are dying unnecessarily; over 70% of Sierra Leoneans cannot read and write; the country’s debt has grown from just $200 million in 2007 to $4 billion today; corruption is rampant.
Sierra Leone is unofficially bankrupt. The outgoing APC government, led by Koroma had on several occasions been warned by the IMF of profligacy, poor governance, and its failure to diversify the economy and widen the country’s taxation base.
President Julius Maada Bio has inherited an unenviable task of first of all trying to piece together the mess left behind by the APC government. Government revenue has massively declined, as the IMF pulled out of a loan agreement just weeks before general and presidential elections were held in March 2018.
Ministers and public officials of the Koroma government have been accused of using the cover of election campaigning to loot millions of dollars from the state’s coffers, and today, several are also being accused of trying to sabotage the incoming Bio government by cutting off electricity and water supplies in the country.
Thousands of government property, including vehicles, are yet to be accounted for. President Bio has formed a Governance Transition Team that is conducting an audit of all state assets, with the hope of holding ministers and officials in the outgoing Koroma government to account.
But this task is proving most difficult, as vital records and documents are reported missing. So, what will the outgoing president Koroma say in his Performance Report today?
He will speak loftily about his exorbitant spending on new roads, costing hundreds of millions of dollars. But most Sierra Leoneans will show little appreciation for this, in a country where people are dying from poverty, poor health and poor sanitation.
President Koroma will speak about his perceived success in developing the economy, which he will describe as one of the fastest growing in the world before Ebola struck and the price of iron ore fell.
But again, few will cheer the former president for his economic performance. The truth is that the 30% economic growth applauded by president Koroma as his success in 2011/2012, was the result of a one-off surge in iron ore production – thanks to a massive one hundred million dollars investment by the Chinese owned company – Shandong Minerals.
What president Koroma could have been proud of today though, had he shown good leadership and clear understanding of how to prioritise against competing economic circumstances, is the sustainability of economic growth through diversification and investment in human capital.
But sadly, he missed a golden opportunity, choosing instead to focus solely on borrowing, so as to spend on capital projects – such as road construction, which gave him and his ministers substantial contract kickbacks.
Today, he will also tell president Bio that he has left behind a healthcare service that is free at point of access for pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five years old.
But what he will not say is that despite this initiative paid for by the British government, thousands of women and children are still dying of poor healthcare because of poor leadership and poor management shown by his inept government.
President Koroma will report on his so-called fight against corruption. But his report will not be expected to take more than a few lines, given his role and complicity in most high-profile corruption in the country.
He is reported to be one of the richest presidents in Africa, with estimated asset accumulation running into hundreds of millions of dollars, whilst millions of Sierra Leoneans go to bed hungry and dying of poverty.
So, in short, president Koroma’s handing over Report will inspire very little confidence in the millions of Sierra Leoneans who rejected his APC party at the polls last March.
Yesterday’s report of fire at the country’s international airport, which was being prepared to receive foreign dignitaries arriving for today’s presidential inauguration ceremony, has added fuel to the conspiracy theory that is being peddled by supporters of president Bio, accusing the opposition APC of sabotage.
Critics say that the airport fire is an attempt by the disgruntled APC to sabotage the ceremony, and create problems for the newly elected government of president Julius Maada Bio. What is not in doubt however, is the shocking evidence showing senior APC officials threatening to cause problems for Bio.
This is the statement issued yesterday by the airport authority, which is still under the control of APC party grandees: