Sierra Leone Telegraph: 7 December 2017
“I came in with clean hands and I leave with clean hands,” president Koroma said this afternoon as he delivered his final speech to the people of Sierra Leone, at the closing ceremony of the country’s parliament after serving two terms as head of state.
But his final appearance as president addressing the nation will come sometime between March 7th and September 2018, when he will officially hand over power to the winner of next year’s presidential election, taking place on March 7th.
Whilst today’s closing of parliament was expected to be a sombre moment for president Koroma, his ministers and members of parliament, it was a very noisy send-off, full of political banter, loud cheers from the president’s supporters and jeering from opposition MPs.
There were deafening shouts of “Your time is up – it’s time to go” from opposition members of parliament – all taken in good stride and good humour by the president..
As expected from the president, his speech was full of self-congratulation for what he kept referring to as a job well done by his government, after ruling Sierra Leone for ten years. “We promised the people and we have delivered,” was the theme of his final statement to parliament.
But the opposition MPs would have none of it, as they shouted for the president to hurry and go. In his speech, the president used every opportunity to lampoon the opposition SLPP’s years in government.
He reminded the nation of what he said was SLPP’s poor governance in office. “When I took over in 2007, Freetown – our capital city was known as the darkest city in the world,” an accusation that did not seem to have gone down too well with the opposition SLPP MPs, who in response shouted – “You tem don done” – meaning “your time in office is up”.
But president Koroma saved his knockout blow on the chin of the Opposition SLPP for his concluding statement, reminding the nation to think wisely about who they vote for in the coming elections: “Mr. Speaker, as I prepare to leave, I must admit that I am not a perfect man, I am not without faults; but I have worked to ensure that as I came with clean hands, I am going to leave with clean hands. (Photo: Brigadier Julius Maada Bio embracing the rebel RUF leader Foday Sankoh during peace talks aimed at ending the war).
“Mine is the only Government that has not hanged anyone; mine is the only Government that has never put anyone before a firing squad; mine is the only government without extrajudicial killing.”
Parliament erupted, with ruling party MPs cheering and opposition MPs shouting “you tem don done” – “Your time is up.”
“I am not a perfect person,” said the president; “and it is impossible to be a leader and not hurt people, every day I ask the good Lord to grant the spirit of forgiveness unto those I might have hurt, and I pray in the tradition of my faith to forgive all those who might have trespassed against us. And I also pray, that as we move into this testing moment in our country’s history, we find the courage to assert the better values of our magnanimity, our tolerance and our friendship.”
What the opposition SLPP will find most hurting and also many of their supporters across Sierra Leone, are these pungent words from the president: ‘During my time in office I never sent anyone to the gallows. I never lined up anyone to face a firing squad. And I never ordered any extra-judicial killing’, a clear reference and reminder of the awful and ghastly execution of 27 people by the Julius Maada Bio military junta in 1992.
But when president Koroma said that he never arrested any political leader, there was loud shouts of “Leema – Leema – Leema” by the opposition SLPP MPs, reminding the president of the arrest a few weeks ago of the opposition SLPP publicity secretary, whose trial has been adjourned by the courts.
The Clerk of Parliament, Ibrahim Sesay read out a proclamation signed by the Speaker of the House, SBB Dumbuya that Parliament stands dissolved as constitutionally obliged.
This, he said is in line with section 85(1) of Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution of Sierra Leone, which provides that the House stands dissolved following the date of its first sitting after the conduct of general elections. First sitting of the dissolved parliament was on the 07th December 2012, after the conclusive outcome of the elections conducted on the 17th November 2012.
Opening his statement to the House and the people of Sierra Leone, president Koroma was humbled. “Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, Thank you! Thank You! Thank you very much! Thank you to the people of Sierra Leone. You gave me the greatest honour a country can bestow upon a citizen, to serve as your President for two terms. There were many other Sierra Leoneans who could have served this mantle, but by God’s grace, you chose me twice above all others, and I humbly accepted the charge to move forward with the hopes of all Sierra Leoneans.
“For ten years, I have served our beloved nation to the best of my ability and today, I have come to say good bye to this Honourable House. Yes, I promised that at the end of my tenure I will honourably step aside, and this is why today, I have come to fulfil another constitutional requirement towards my final departure.
“I have had the support of people in government, and outside government. For ten years, this Parliament has also been my SUPREME FRIEND; performing its traditional roles in representation, in oversight and in legislation. Your steadfast support, your constructive criticisms, and even the not too constructive ones, gave me the impetus to continue to tackle the great development challenges that besieged our nation; and for this, I am grateful.
“I am grateful to our security forces for their tireless efforts in keeping us all safe and secured and who, through their discipline and professionalism as international peacekeepers, have helped in no small measure, in rebranding our great country. Together, we have earned the accolade of a model of democracy, of peace building and of peace consolidation owing in large part, to their gallantry.
“Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, I am grateful to our health workers, teachers and lecturers, pupils and university students, to our judiciary and to the rest of our civil and public servants, market women, who, throughout my tenure, have remained committed to the peace and development of our nation. With your dedicated service, we have been able to bend the arch of history, to restore the dignity of our beloved nation.”
President Koroma recounted the successes of his government in spite of many challenges, whilst thanking the APC party and all shades of Sierra Leoneans for the confidence reposed in him to serve the country, with sincerity, commitment and purpose.
He described ordinary Sierra Leoneans as the true heroes of his transformative drive in all sectors, including health, education, energy, agriculture, infrastructure, and appointing women to take responsible leadership positions in the country.
Recalling ten years of governance under his watch, he said that in respect of compromises, agreements, and disagreements in the wells of parliament – sometimes short-lived walk-outs that had been staged by the opposition, yet they were voting together with APC in the interests of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
He thanked Parliament for being supportive of his programmes and policies, by passing important Bills into law for the development of the country. He also said that the economy had grown under his watch, regardless of the reversals posed by Ebola and the drop in the prices of iron ore.
He said that under his watch, since 2007 foreign reserves has grown from $200 Million to $500 Million; that in 2007 a bag of rice was Le60,000 whilst minimum wage was a little over Le20,000, but now a bag of rice is over Le200,000, and minimum wage is Le500,000.
Koroma said that he has increased budgetary allocations to the education sector from a little over 3% of GDP in 2007 to 15% in 2017.
The president had a few choice words for his critics who say that his government has wasted ten years in power, especially opposition leaders – Kandeh Yumkella and Maada Bio, who are now poised to vote out the ruling APC next year. He said: “Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, while we were doing all these heavy lifting to bring change in our beloved country, others were either inattentive or too far away to see our vision of a better Sierra Leone. And now that our country has gained visibility and some respectability, they have arrived from their comfort zones with the false promise of change and a new direction. But in the final analysis, I trust in the wisdom of the people of this great nation to distinguish between the workers from the talkers.”
In conclusion president Koroma spoke about the gratitude being expressed by citizens in various parts of the country, whom the president said have appreciated the level of development they are experiencing in the country. This is what he said:
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, the gains my government has made over the last ten years are to the benefit of the people of Sierra Leone. From Alhaji I Kallon, dealer in electronics in Koidu, who says he now spends less on fuel because of the availability of electricity in the town; to Bockarie Sawie of Jawei Chiefdom, who feels very proud of his community because of the road between Kenema and Pendembu; to Mariama Jabbie, a grandmother in Kono who expressed great joy over the satisfactory free treatment her grandchild received at the Koidu Government Hospital; to Musa Kanu, a pupil in Konakri Dee Junior School, who says with the solar lights, he can now study at night till he gets tired; unlike before when the fumes from naked sources of light affected his eyes.
“From Samuel Gbla, a driver for ten years plying between Masingbi and Kono who says, now, unlike before, travel time has reduced, number of visits to the garage minimized and he is no longer covered in dust or mud throughout the journey; to the thousands of Sierra Leoneans whose dignity and rights we have restored through free legal aid; to PC Banya of Luawa chiefdom, and PC NGombu Clar of Kailahun district, to PC Adikali Mayla II of Maforki chiefdom in Port Loko district, all of whom believe that their chiefdoms are far better today than they were ten years ago – the APC government’s development agenda has touched every region, every district, and every chiefdom.
“The sheer breadth of our programmes, and the unprecedented reach of their impacts, show that we are on the path to attaining our national ambition of becoming a middle income country by 2030.
“The foundation having being laid, our task therefore is to sustain these great achievements for the ordinary man and woman; expand the range of our support; and overcome the remaining challenges.
“It is our responsibility to sustain the building of new roads; sustain the construction of new schools; sustain the opening of new universities, hospitals and power stations. It must be our commitment to move forward with the expansion of our people’s access to justice that uphold their rights; jobs that support their livelihoods; leadership positions that embrace their youthfulness; programmes that promote gender equity; and actions that integrate the physically challenged into the achievements of the promise of Sierra Leone.”
So, what does president Koroma want in return from the people of Sierra Leone? This is what he said:
“Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members, on March 7, 2018, our nation is going to the polls to make the important decision of electing its new leaders. In doing so, we must remember where we are coming from; the struggles we have undergone, and the gains we have made. In making that important decision; we must all remember that we do not have another Sierra Leone, and that elections are not, and should not be a life or death affair.
“In making that decision, we must remember that we owe it to ourselves and to posterity, to keep the peace and to prove to the world once again, that we are ready to move on to become a prosperous member of the world community.
“On my part, I will continue to provide the level playing field for every compatriot to participate in a free, fair and democratic environment. And I want to entreat all the aspirants to understand that Sierra Leone is bigger than every one of us; and to tone down the rhetoric, for in the end, we are all one family; related by blood, by marriage, or by affiliation. Let us go to the polls in peace and in harmony; and come out a stronger and a more united country.”
And finally, in his concluding goodbye remarks, president Koroma, though showing no sign of sadness or remorse had this knockout punch for the opposition SLPP:
“Mr. Speaker, as I prepare to leave, I must admit that I am not a perfect man, I am not without faults; but I have worked to ensure that as I came with clean hands, I am going to leave with clean hands. Mine is the only Government that has not hanged anyone; mine is the only Government that has never put anyone before a firing squad.
“I am not a perfect person, and it is impossible to be a leader and not hurt people, every day I ask the good Lord to grant the spirit of forgiveness unto those I might have hurt, and I pray in the tradition of my faith to forgive all those who might have trespassed against us. And I also pray, that as we move into this testing moment in our country’s history, we find the courage to assert the better values of our magnanimity, our tolerance and our friendship.
“Once again, thank you Sierra Leone, Thank you Mr. Vice President, Thank you Mr. Speaker, thank my Lord the Chief Justice, thanks to past and current ministers, thank you past and current Members of Parliament, thank you to our security forces, thanks to our civil and public servants, to our media and civil society, to our farmers, to our drivers, our motor bike riders, our carpenters, our builders, our electricians, our welders, our school going children, our university students, our teachers and lecturers, our market women; and to our international development partners, I thank you.
“I wish you all Happy Christmas. God bless the Republic of Sierra Leone”.
The Sierra Leone Telegraph will soon publish the full texts of president Koroma’s final speech to parliament.