President Bio’s ministers appear before Parliamentary Committee

Augustine Samba: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 May 2018:

The Appointments Committee of Parliament, yesterday met in Committee Room One of the parliament buildings, to interview the Presidential Nominees put forward by president Julius Maada Bio for approval, before they can become ministers of his government. The Leader of Government Business – Hon Sidi Tunis, is the Chairman of the Committee.

The criteria used for vetting the proposed ministers, include their asset declaration, educational qualification, work experience, proof of voter ID, and ability to perform the role and functions of a minister. The public are also encouraged to submit questions, so as to enhance the vetting process.

A Senior Clerk of Parliament – Mr. Peter Kulangbada, informed that members of the public should come forward with any information that could assist the committee in their vetting of the nominees.

Alhaji Kanja I. Sesay – the proposed Minister of Energy was the first to appear before the committee.

Hon. Martin Nyuma of the SLPP representing Kenema, described Alhaji Kanja Sesay as someone with a wealth of experience working at the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA).

The proposed minister informed the Committee that the energy sector is in a complete mess, despite the large sums of money spent by government. The total installed electricity capacity is less than 100 megawatts in the entire country. He said that only two areas in the country – Makeni and Port Loko, are enjoying uninterrupted electricity.

Alhaji Kanja Sesay also informed the committee that, as a government they would like to pay attention to provide dependable supply of electricity, as well as expand access. He encouraged the private sector to invest in developing the electricity sector.

Next to face the committee was Hon. Edward Soloku – the proposed Minister of Internal Affairs.

Hon. Veronica Sesay (MP), described Edward Soloku as ‘one of theirs’. She questioned him on the provision of adequate security for parliamentary and the country’s porous borders.

In response, Edward Soloku assured the committee that he will improve the dignity and security of members of parliament. He informed that his ministry will ensure that the police improve security along the borders.

The proposed minister said that it will not be business as usual for the state security. His government he said, will depoliticize the security sector. According to Edward Soloku, the law will take its course, if he discovers any politician using thugs for political motives.

With regards police corruption, he admonished the citizens to stop bribing the police. He implored the committee to have confidence in him to improve conditions in the prisons. Edward Soloku said that he will also improve the fire service by ensuring that more fire engines are made available.

In response to a specific question from Dr. Kandeh Yumkella, he said that the New Direction has no room for power from above. He informed the committee that all lawless will stop under his government.

Next to be questioned by the committee was the Retired Col. Simeon Nasiru Sheriff for the post of Deputy Minister of Defense.

Hon. Bashiru Sidikie of the SLPP, commented on the dilapidated conditions of the accommodation provided for the military, and the poor quality of their uniforms. In response, the retired army officer said that the problems faced by the military are the result of poor funding. He informed the committee that he has written a policy that could transform the military. The policy he said, focusses on welfare and peacekeeping.

Retired Col. Nasiru Sheriff highlighted several challenges facing the military and indicated how these could be addressed. He said the military does not get involved in politics, especially during the last elections.

Hon Lolloh Tongi, an independent MP from Buedu informed the Committee about the frequent molestation of Sierra Leonean citizens by Guineans. In response, retired Col. Nasiru Sheriff said that they want the Americans to construct the Koindu Market, which will serve as a meeting point for negotiations and dialogue among the security forces of the border countries in that area.

Jacob Jusu Saffa then appeared before the committee as the proposed finance minister

Dr. Kandeh Yumkella raised questions about the government’s wage bill, fiscal discipline, and interest rates. Responding, JJ Saffa said that any responsible government will work towards harmonizing the government’s wage bill.

He spoke about the need for using Biometric data for all workers and harmonising the structure of the public sector.

To sustain the wage bill, he said that the public service commission will have responsibility for recruiting public sector workers, rather than the ministers. He informed the committee that many people were recruited by the past government without due process.

Hon Veronica Sesay questioned JJ Saffa about the use of foreign currencies in the country for local transactions.

In response, JJ Saffa informed the committee that local transactions should not be conducted in Dollars; and that the country must export more to increase government revenue.

The issue of MPs carrying out their duties was discussed, and JJ Saffa commented that it is inappropriate for this work to be funded by the respective MDAs, as this could prejudice their investigations.

Next to face the committee was Emma Kowa – the proposed minister of Fisheries and Marine Resources.

Responding to a question from MP Emerson Lamina, Emma Kowa said that Sierra Leoneans must first consume the fish caught in the country’s waters before the rest is shipped off for sale abroad. Questioning was brief and shortly ended.

Dr. Alpha T. Wurie then appeared before the committee as the proposed Minister of Health

He told MPs that there is a need to drastically improve the human resources capacity in peripheral health units across the country. Government funding of the health sector he said, is low and international funding has been reasonable.

Recalling his experience of working in what became known as the Sababu projects, Dr Wurie told MPs that his intention, is to provide quality healthcare in rural areas to improve quality of life. Dr. Alpha Wurie now carries the popular name – ‘Sababu for Webodi’.

Kabineh Kallon – the proposed minister for Transport and Aviation was next to take the oath and faced the committee

He said that improving the transport sector is a priority, given the enormous problems facing the sector. Commenting on the quality of seats in most poda-podas, he said that they are less than ideal and uncomfortable. He said he will work with the private sector to make improvements by replacing the metal seats.

Mohamed R. Swaray – proposed minister of information also faced MPs yesterday.

Hon. Martin Nyuma raised the question about mobile phone tariffs and the quality of services offered by companies. In response, Mohamed R. Swaray said that penalties should be invoked on those companies that are failing to provide quality service to customers.

“We want to encourage the mobile phone companies to use the terrestrial fibre optics infrastructure,” he told MPs. He said that the use ICT as a catalyst for development is part of his government’s agenda.

Hon. Martin Nyuma then asked the proposed minister to comment on the thorny issue of Criminal Libel, to which Mohamed R. Swarray said that journalists all over the world are no friends of the criminal libel laws.

Describing it as a bad law, removing the criminal libel laws from Sierra Leone’s law books he said will encourage more investors. He said it will be repealed by his government.

Next to face the committee was Dr. Jonathan Tengbeh – the proposed minister for Water Resources

Hon Veronica Sesay asked Dr Tengbe about his plans for improving the quality and access to water.
In response, Dr Tengbe said he will be formulating his policy and strategy for tackling the problems facing the provision of water in the country. Structured planning, he said is needed, as outlined in his government’s New Direction.

Improving the quality of packaged water is a priority, Dr Tengbe told MPs. Access to water in urban areas is a big challenge, and there is a huge gap between supply and demand. The sector’s Infrastructure needs to be addressed, he said.

Children are dying including those in the proposed minister’s home town, said Hon. Lolloh Tongi, an independent MP from Kailahun, who informed that in the three Kissi chiefdom in Kailahun, where the minister hailed from, children are dying.

Baindu Dassama – the proposed minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children Affairs also faced MPs. She spoke about the need to improve on gender equality in the country.

Next to appear in front of the committee was Adekunle Joliiff Milton King – the proposed minister of labour

The chairman of the committee – Hon. Tunis questioned him about the rumours making the rounds regarding the management of the pension fund by NASSIT, to which Adekunle Jolliff Milton King responded that some investments done by NASSIT have not been in the public interest.

He told MPs that Pension funds are held in trust by NASSIT, and it is important that the funds are used for the intended purpose. He said as soon as he takes office, he will be looking into this issue.

Hon. Martin Nyuma Martin raised concerns about the cleaning of the pension payroll. In reply, Adekunle Joliiff Milton King he said he will ensure that this work is carried out by NASSIT.

The Deputy Speaker commented on the country’s labour law, which he described as archaic; and asked the proposed minister what he will do as minister to address delays in the payment of retirement benefits.

Adekunle Joliiff Milton King said will ensure that people receive their benefits immediately he takes office; and that he will work to expedite the passing of new labour laws.

Hon. Emerson Laminah asked him about how he will ensure the enforcement of local content policy, to which he replied saying, it requires a well-coordinated effort of all MDAs. This he said, must be done and will help in promoting indigenous employment.

Adekunle Joliiff Milton King told MPs he will prioritise the unskilled youth and will establish special projects to help them gain employment. He said that the ministries of agriculture, youth and social welfare, will work together to address the issue of youth empowerment.

The final candidate to face the committee before closing was Alpha Timbo – the proposed minister for Primary and Secondary Education

MPs put it to him that there are large numbers of community schools and less trained and qualified teachers working in rural areas. Responding, Alpha Timbo said there are many government assisted community and private schools.

He said that communities should take responsibility for their own schools; and those schools that are not meeting the standards will be closed. He informed MPs that he will be encouraging teachers in remote communities.

The proposed minister said the Teaching Service Commission will consolidate the efforts of government in providing remote allowance for teachers. The necessary infrastructure must be put in place, he said.

He informed MPS that it was the Retired Brigadier Maada Bio that gave the Sierra Leone Teachers Union (SLTU) a bargaining Certificate, when he – Alpha Timbo, was Secretary General of the SLTU.

He told MPS that conference marking of external exams will be introduced. He will not compromise on providing and ensuring good quality education, he said.

The Committee then brought their vetting to a close, and will resume today Friday, 4th May 2018.

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