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.
“Young people look for happiness, older ones for peace,calm and equilibrium”. My president,your president,our president Dr. Julius Maada Bio was calm and very patient in answering the questions put to him. It is indeed the right moment for such an event to be organized to help release tension and ambiguity from among members of the public. I want to thank the organizers and the president for taking up such a bold step to attend to such an audacious event. I in my opinion perceive H.E the president Dr. Julius Maada Bio as upright, peace loving and disciplined person. He was very honest to tell the nation that party politics and party colors fanaticism is what is affecting our nation and division in our Society. Our country needs to be United if we are truly ready for growth and development. To demonstrate that he is a peace loving leader, he mentioned the effort made by his government to put on payroll people who have been working as volunteers in all these years despite having the requisite qualifications to work.
Previous administration did nothing to give hope and raise the standards of these people when they themselves are Sierra Leoneans having the requisite requirements to work. This is a welcome idea that can serve as a recipe for peace. Meaning, his administration through his leadership has helped solved the issue of marginalisation in those sectors which previous administration weren’t able to solve. Remember that the Truth and Reconciliation report mentioned marginalisation as one of the route causes of our senseless war. The issuance of PIN code was done countrywide without party colors, but was considered as a national issue involving Sierra Leonean nationals. To demonstrate calm and quietness in the nation, he was very genuine to tell the nation and the world over that he has no plan to overturn the decision of the Commission of Inquiry (COI) for the former president adding that he recognized him as a statesman and should be treated as a statesman at all time.
H.E Dr Julius Maada Bio also mentioned about his flagship program – the free education for all pupil’s in Sierra Leone irrespective of their race, party colors, ethnicity, religion beliefs, region of origin, complexity etc. This program currently caters for all Sierra Leoneans who need it. This is amazing and something I refer to as equilibrium in the educational system that which stands for capital development. H.E the president answered so many questions put forward to him.
If President Bio was indeed speaking to a hand-picked audience, one that was already won to his cause, already predisposed to swallowing every word he uttered hook, line and sinker, then the Town Hall Meeting was nothing more than a venue for party political propaganda. In short, it was a meeting of friends with like minds; one where real hard questions were deemed out of place and where the questions asked and the answers given were choreographed to allow the President to come across as a people’s leader, open-minded and committed to change, progress and development – a true statesman who listens to those he governs and goes the extra mile to uplift the entire nation, fostering in the process unity and cohesion between its disparate components.
Interestingly, while the President zeroed in on issues of unity and cohesion, seeing them as a sine qua non of any lasting and meaningful development in a weak and battered economy such as ours, he seemed to shy away from taking very real, concrete steps towards their realisation. One would have thought that as the person commanding the greatest authority in our country right now, he would be the first to jump into action, using every means at his disposal to bring the nation together. What we saw instead was a President who on matters of unity and cohesion, condidered himself as being a mere individual, no more powerful than say any of the leaders of the opposition parties.
It is clear to me that the President was simply finding excuses for his inherent reluctance to do the right thing: putting partisan politics and ethno-regional considerations aside as the President of all Sierra Leoneans and paving the way for bringing everyone on deck to move our country forward. Sadly, it seems that in our country partisan divisions and ethno-regional cleavages are forever.
Gentlemen – I loudly applaud your forthrightness on this topic in discussion; It was as clear as daylight, the media’s Mr Umaru Fofanah threw away a golden opportunity to hold this President and his bunch of misfits accountable for their corrupt attitudes. Is it possible that Mr Fofanah was just scared out of his wits to ask our corrupt President a few candid tough questions or was he already bought by State House with wads of cash so that he could help this Dictator and his conmen sanitise and salvage their tarnished reputations? But why would anyone want to help a bunch of crooks appear as pious as religious monks to the rest of the world.? The Africanist Press stood their ground in the interest of transparency;What the hell happened buddy? (lol)
Strange is it not,that Mr Fofanah was handed strong long ropes to bind a bull raging out of control but failed to do so by scurrying away like a voiceless mouse that was totally afraid of its first encounter with a man dressed from head to toe in the garment of immeasurable SLPP darkness? Indeed excuses are the tools of dummies,dumbos and the incompetent; Now here’s an old delusional President that lacks the integrity and ability to take full responsibility for his inadequacies – pointing his inept tribalistic fingers at the APC appears to suit him just fine. Failure and this President are inseparable, stuck together like a turtle and its stony shell,like glue on paper and like a nail being driven inside a wall so also are they fastened deeply in love together.(lol)
Image cleansing will not work after such egregious crimes committed by your regime to quell peaceful protests, and abusing citizens of their human right to peaceful gathering.
Really president Bio seems to be frank in talking about realistic issues in Sierra Leone, like the increased wage bill. Some ministries and departments need to be harmonized; and the issue of division is also true. When it comes to religion we are tolerant but when it comes to politics we see ourselves as enemies.
He highlited a very important point by saying that his predecessor is a statesman and he needs to be respected. I am really urging president Bio to be careful with some of his henchmen who might think of revenge. He is really a man with a good heart; that is why God chose him as a leader for now; so your thinking must be different from others.
Town hall meetings are usually associated with American presidential candidates, or indeed sitting US presidents. The former is to sell your ideas and intentions, for when you are elected to the office of president. And the later, is when you are in office trying to drum up support for various development projects you are trying to implement for your constituents – like the Obamacare health care plan. Town hall meetings also act as venues where specific topics of interest like upcoming legislation are discussed. Like the cyber crime bill or the Africanist press accusations of Bio’s government of unchecked corruption. Unfortunately, such questions were swept under the carpet. They don’t want to annoy the “GOD FATHER” – In this case the moderator who was there to act as the title suggests, failed in his role to ask the difficult questions. The supposedly hand picked cross section of society in the room are there to ask questions of concerns to them to the president.
I wonder how representative the audience was of all political parties or regions in the country? Or better still given the chance to ask the question in the mind of every Sierra Leonean, where did it all go wrong for Bio? Once again Bio is engaged in a public relations political stunt. He might not just admit it, but I suspect he has launched his official campaign for the 2023 presidential election. By trying to once again fool the Sierra Leone public, by feeding them with false hope, he needs more time in office to fulfill his election pledges he made in the first presidential campaign back in 2017/2018. I don’t think anyone in their right mind will buy such false narratives.
If you want to know the true meaning of this first presidential town hall meeting or Bio’s circus, look no further. It might be dressed up as Transparency and openness on the part of Bio, but that’s fantasy on his part. This time around, I don’t think the people of Sierra Leone will allow themselves to be led by Bio to the slaughter house like sheep. We have seen what you are capable of, and we are not impressed.
Come my friends,its not too late for us to build a newer,better,progressive Sierra Leone. Ahoy! Its time to embark on a gallant quest in search of the ailing soul of our failing nation that has been lost beyond the horizons since Stevens sailed away out of sight like a kite towards the Everlasting merciful glittering shores of Hope and Promise. Ahoy! There goes the President’s battered ship once again,in search of material gain,gliding and sliding back and forth in the midst of raging menacing financial storms yet all in vain;Yup, they are on a wild goose chase without rudders that would’ve enabled him to maneuver easily in frothing turbulent waters and also without sails to propel forward.
Ask me not what is directing its course,because the Captain of that SLPP ship that hides and crawls in the shadows like a giant creature has been known to hand pick his mariners who are bandits,thieves and Pirates to chart her course furiously at full speed towards barrenness and in search of nothing of value to my struggling Sierra Leone.
And remember, my friends that the legendary Kwame Nkrumah was on these troubled waters long before we were born and he strongly believed that National Cohesion would eventually lead us to a United African continent with possibilities as countless as the sands on the shores of our Lumley Beach. Lift your oars high towards the heavens and ask in prayer like Lumumba and Mandela once did in tears of joy that the majestic sun that is solely responsible for our dark skins to never remove her warm,loving gaze from the African people.
Not sure what to make of this half-baked utterances by both the so called town hall mediator, Mr. Umaru and the president himself. After 36 months in governance with nothing to show for, why are we being told the former regime is still a factor here? Goodness gracious, do these people think every Sierra Leonean is as delusional as those diehards PAOPA in the fringes? Listen, just as the international community lost confidence in the former regime during its last days, the same was true for the previous SLPP government led by late president Kabbah. Corruption was so rampant in the latter days of the Kabbah government, the international community withheld some of the fundings until when EBK regime took over.
Nevertheless, the previous APC government never made that issue a jingle, blasting it across the nation’s airwaves as an excuse for their own failures. By all indications, at this stage of the game (36 months into governance), the former APC government was standing tall in a host of economic and infrastructural accomplishments. This is definitely not the case for the current regime. Pathetic!!