Sierra Leone Telegraph: 8 April 2021:
President Dr Julius Maada Bio and three of his most loyal and trusted ministers – basic education minister Sengeh, finance minister Saffa, and Information minister Swarray, appeared frantically on national television yesterday morning to defend the government’s three years record in office.
After months of allegations of rampant corruption across his government, accusations of tribalism and poisoning of the country’s political space, critics of the president say that president Bio sounded yesterday like a used car salesman trying to convince his discerning punter to have faith in him.
President Bio looked uncomfortable and sounded inarticulate and incoherent in his attempt to explain and defend why billions of Leones were withdrawn by his wife – the First Lady, from the government’s Cash Account held at the Bank of Sierra Leone to spend on her pet project, rather than on the country’s crumbling cashstrapped public service.
To many watching the president yesterday, it was evidently clear that the president was defending corrupt practices not just at State House but across government departments, and that his so-called fight against corruption is nothing but a sham and a cover-up for the aggressive looting of State resources by stealth.
Justifying the massive cash withdrawal made by his wife from the Bank of Sierra Leone, president Bio said that; “if the money was used for the purpose it was intended, then I don’t see anything wrong with that”.
In his own defence and that of his wife, president Bio said: “Our fight against corruption has been robust and we are making a steady progress. We are not there yet as a nation, but our collective work is helping our international reputation. For the first time in the history of this country, we have ranked the highest on MCC scorecards and subsequently we are now eligible for the compact programme. I, therefore, encourage all citizens to join the ACC to make corruption unfashionable”.
And what many would have found shocking was the president’s comment, that, his wife’s project is more popular than the government’s funded national programmes that are being starved of much needed funds.
Cleaning staff at the country’s main hospital in Freetown – Connaught Hospital have not been paid for several months, leaving hospital wards and corridors filled with uncollected rubbish, amid fears of deteriorating sanitation and risk of disease infestation.
But few are pinning their hopes on a positive outcome of the investigation, as the ACC has decided to widen its terms of reference to include investigation into the affairs of past First Ladies.
On the question of the Commissions of Inquiry into corruption in the previous government and the recovery of alleged stolen funds from the former president and his ministers and senior officials, president Bio without much conviction, said that the process in ongoing.
But there are serious concerns across the country that the Commission of Inquiry was all a waste of taxpayers’ money, as deals are being made at State House to hush-up the wrong doings of those accused of corruption, so that when president Bio leaves office he too will avoid the prospect of having his unlawfully acquired assets recovered by the next government.
Critics are accusing the president of hypocrisy and lawlessness, after last week’s decision by president Bio to hand over to the Speaker of Parliament – Dr Abass Bundu – millions of dollars’ worth of property that were confiscated – following due process decades ago, after Dr Bundu had failed to repay to the State, hundreds of thousands of dollars he had unlawfully gained from the sale of the country’s passport.
Questioned whether he will support a future Commission of Inquiry investigation into his governance and financial affairs after leaving office, president Bio said that it will be a matter for the next government.
Speaking about his so-called flagship free education project, president Bio said: “I introduced the Free Quality School Education to every part of the country. Every child must go to school irrespective of their origin and political affiliation. Government is paying fees for more than 2.5 million kids in the pre-primary, primary, junior and senior secondary schools in all regions. And we are making a steady progress by making sure that Sierra Leone regains the lost glory of being called the Athens of West Africa”.
Responding to accusations of tribalism in his appointment of ministers and senior government officials, president Bio said that his appointments to public office are based on ‘who he knows and what they can do, and not about inclusivity’.
This shocking revelation which evidently shows a president that cares little about national cohesion, in a country that is still healing from a brutal civil war that had its roots in nepotism, corruption, lawlessness and abuse of State powers, confirms the arrogance of the president and his dangerous pursuit of an ethnocentric policy of governance.
When questioned about the stalled Constitutional Review Process, president Bio was clueless about the direction his government is heading, suggesting that the much-needed change recommended by the Constitution Review Committee over a decade ago, is not a priority for his government.
President Bio commented on the idea of proportional representation and his desire to end 60 years of local democracy, by bringing in legislation that will remove multi-party elections from local government. This creeping move towards a One Party State, has been strongly condemned by opposition political parties.
Finally, the president was asked to reflect on his three years in office and what he could have done better. The president told the people of Sierra Leone that; “it is too early to tell what could have been done differently”, and that his government is very busy consolidating its policies and programmes that many people in Sierra Leone believe have failed to address the basic problems facing the country – mass unemployment, poverty, crumbling public services, and lawlessness.
You can watch some of the reactions by opposition politician Dr Femi Claudius Cole and TV presenter Rachel Bangura Davies: