Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 April 2021:
President Dr Julius Maada Bio has addressed a cross-section of citizens at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown, in what his media advisers describe as “the first ever presidential town hall meeting” to be held in the country.
The event was moderated by journalist – Umaru Fofana, with president Bio answering questions on the performance of his New Direction government after three years in power. But critics say that the audience was staged managed with mostly government supporters taking part.
In his pening statement, Umaru Fofana said the president came to power in 2018 with a vision to address some of the perennial problems that have beset the nation before and since independence on 27 April 1961.
“They include setbacks in ensuring law and order, governance deficit, increased poverty occasioned by a sliding economy and official theft, the steady erosion of the country’s human capital development, protecting the homogeneity within the diversity of our cohesiveness as a nation, and accountability – especially in the fight against corruption,” Umaru Fofana said.
“But how much has President Bio done in the last 36 months to mitigate these harsh realities?” asked the BBC reporter.
“As you rightly stated, you cannot run any country or any organisation with a battered economy. So, we knew we were going to meet with a very difficult situation, and we were equally prepared. We had planned for victory, so when we got the victory – I selected Jacob Jusu Saffa [the Finance Minister] to lead my team of economists for economic recovery.
“Have they done a commendable job? Yes, I would say. And that’s why they are still there, if not they will not be there. We have a lot of resources, but we have not managed them properly. And, therefore, we have been dependent on the support of donor partners to a very large extent,” president Bio replied.
Accusing the former APC government, president Bio went on to say that donors had left the country before 2018 because the former leadership was not listening to them and there was poor economic management.
He added that his government, therefore, had to work very hard to win back the confidence of development partners like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.
Umaru Fofana pointed out to president Bio the issue of government expenditure; and asked what is responsible for such huge increase every year since 2018. In reply, president Bio said that it is due to the growing government wage bill.
“If we are not doing exactly what we are supposed to do as a nation, we will never move forward. Development will never be realised in this country. In fact, as I speak to you, we still need more nurses and more teachers. We have taken in about 5,000 teachers and 4,000 nurses and that is still woefully inadequate.
“How do you want to be taken care of if you went to the hospital today and effective and efficient nurses are not there? A lot of them have been trained and they were not on the payroll. They were volunteering for the most part. And when you do that, you don’t expect a lot from them. We are talking about education and how do you want that to be provided without the teachers?” the president asked.
On the issue of national cohesion, the said: “Truly speaking, we have been a divided nation, mostly along political lines. We need to make more efforts. I can, as a leader, make my own effort to try to unite this nation, but I am just an individual. The government is doing what it can to actually keep us together.
“If we are serious about development, we cannot undertake that very difficult process if we are divided as a nation. Which means it is imperative for us to be together. When we came in, we drew up a Medium-Term National Plan. Of course, we sought the input of other stakeholders, right across the opposition.
“For me I say human capital development, I say education for development. We need to continue that path for a long time for us to realise something. So, we need unity. We need to get the buy-in of the APC, C4C and others for this to work. That is where the unity is. Former President Koroma is a senior statesman, and I treat him like that. He is a senior Sierra Leonean and should be treated with respect,” President Bio said.