Sierra Leone at 58 – president Bio speaks to the nation 

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 27 April 2019:

There are mixed feelings across Sierra Leone today, as the country marks 58 years of independence from Great Britain on the 27 of April 1961. The government is virtually broke. The president says there is no money for celebrations.

But with the high costs of basic necessities including foods affecting most households, many are questioning whether there is anything to celebrate about today.

Sixty-percent of the adult population are unemployed; inflation is running at over 17%, and poverty is rising.

The government says it inherited a bankrupt economy from the former APC government led by president Ernest Bai Koroma. But that was over a year ago.

Since then, hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into government’s coffers by the IMF and the World Bank. Donor funds are once again flowing into the country.

But the narrative remains the same – there is no money in the country.

There is growing feeling of despair in Sierra Leone.  “When are things going to get better?” is the question on most people’s lips.

Speaking today to mark 58 years of Sierra Leone’s independence, president Bio offers little hope of things getting better. The narrative remains the same: “There is no money”.

The APC government may have left the government’s coffers empty, but the people of Sierra Leone have waited twelve months to see the shoots of blooming green flowers appearing from the shadows of despair.

This is what the president said today:

Fellow citizens, on Thursday, April 27, 1961, our founding father, Sir Milton Margai, defined our mission as a nation. He urged his countrymen to “face up squarely to the problems which will confront” them. 

He argued that the success of the Sierra Leone Government would “depend very greatly upon the active support and assistance of each” Sierra Leonean. 

The ultimate aim then, as now, was to “make our country a land worth living in” and “a land worth serving” with “wholehearted service and hard work.”

In my maiden Independence Day address last year, I directed that in view of the dire economic challenges we inherited as a government, the Ministry of Finance make no budgetary allocations to fund Independence Day celebrations until generated domestic revenue makes up 20% of our Gross Domestic Product.

I highlighted the dire economic and financial challenges we inherited as a government and committed to working hard to achieve the 20% objective. 

We have made very significant progress in domestic revenue mobilisation over the last one year and we are collectively determined as a nation to achieve that objective. 

On this 58th anniversary of our independence, I want us to each reflect deeply and ask ourselves as individuals and collectively as a nation what we have done to make our country a land worth living in. 

Amidst the turmoil of our short history as a nation, some of our citizens have shown remarkable patriotism and selflessness in serving our great nation. I thank everyone of you who wakes up every day with the singular objective of working even harder to make Sierra Leone a better place.

But corruption, theft, fraud, waste, bad deals that have left us with huge debts, or connivance to sell off the country’s mineral resources to predators, have not added value to our determination to build a productive nation. 

Our failure to manage our environment and wildlife, protect our beaches and seas, and keep our living spaces clean and healthy at all times has not made our country a land worth living in. 

Lawlessness, nepotism, discrimination, greed, crass opulence, mismanagement, and bad governance at all levels have not made our country a land worth living in. 

Our disregard for our traditional values of deep faith and religiosity, respect, tolerance, justice, good neighbourliness and peaceful coexistence has not always made our country a land worth living in. 

Our callous indifference to the situation of women and girls, children, the disabled, the aged, the poor, our unemployed youth, and other vulnerable populations has not made our country a land worth living in.

“High,” we have not always exalted thee. “Great,” is not the love we have shown for thee at all times. “Firmly united,” we have not stood. “Singing your praises,” we have not. 

On this day therefore, I ask Sierra Leoneans to make a solemn pledge or prayer to do all they can to make our country a land worth living in again. Let us embrace those values and attitudes that make us patriotic Sierra Leoneans.

We have certainly made some gains. We have enjoyed  18 years of peace. We have had five successive democratic elections and three peaceful changes of government. 

Some of our brightest young brains have taken on the challenge of leadership and are contributing to national development. Our women and girls are taking their rightful place in national dialogue, leadership, and development. We must and we will continue protecting them and opening up opportunities for them. 

We have started salvaging the name and pride of our nation. Slowly, the world no longer sees us as the land of a cruel civil war, of corruption, of mudslides, and of Ebola. We are being seen as a truly inspired nation and a land of opportunity and great promise.

From a steep downward plunge of our economy, empty coffers, and endemic corruption that saw our development partners disengage our last government, we are closing leakages for fraud and waste, and increasing domestic revenue intake. 

We are continuing to clamp down on corruption because it is the right thing to do for the economy and for the reputation and future of our nation. We will also continue to live within our means. 

Multilateral development partners have reaffirmed their confidence in our competent management of the economy by re-engaging and supporting us in even bigger ways than before now. 

We have created an investor-friendly ecosystem by making processes, regulation, and incentives more favourable for win-win investments. 

We have expanded investment opportunities in tourism, renewable energy, fisheries, agriculture, and other sectors. We desire more investment and trade. Credible investors around the world are taking a favourable look at our country.

Our medium-term national development plan lays out our national development priorities in easily understandable clusters. 

We will continue to invest heavily in Human Capital Development through free quality education, quality healthcare, and food security initiatives.

We will seed and scale science, technology, and innovation in order to fast-track revenue generation, governance, service delivery, and for developing the private sector.

We believe that a skilled, educated, and healthy population is critical for expanding private sector growth and driving inclusive national development. Our goals remain capacity building and job creation.

We will continue institutional and governance reforms and relentlessly pursue national cohesion. As a government, we also recognise that our national constitution must be reviewed to reflect the rights and aspirations of all our citizens.

We thank our development partners for their continuing assistance towards the development of our country. We have agreed a principle of mutual transparency and accountability and together, we will plan, implement, and also assess the impact of their interventions.

Cabinet has passed and will soon submit to parliament progressive legislations that will promote accountability, expand democratic spaces, and protect vulnerable
populations. 

I expect that parliament will soon vote to support my government’s tougher anti-corruption laws, the amended Sexual Offences Act, and also strike the 54-year criminal libel laws. The Chief Justice has established Special Divisions of the High Court for corruption and sexual offences related cases.

Our investments in infrastructure will continue to be purposeful, beneficial for development and service delivery, cheaper, and not burden future generations with unreasonable debt.

Our foreign policy will be guided by the principle of mutual respect, economic diplomacy, and the peaceful pursuit of matters of mutual interest. 

We will continue to meet all our regional and international obligations and provide continental leadership for the reform of the United Nations Security Council. 

Fellow citizens of this our great republic, as we observe Sierra Leone’s independence at 58, let us remind ourselves that we have a unique opportunity to get it right again as a nation.  For the seemingly intractable questions and tasks facing our nation, let us ask “why not” and be inspired to do the very best for our nation. 

We all have an obligation to make Sierra Leone a peaceful, progressive, and pluralistic democracy. 

May God bless us all and may God bless our great republic.  I thank you.

8 Comments

  1. Common sense, if l inherited a bad government in good faith to make things right and for over a year northing good is happening,lets try another Sierra Leonean before it is too late. In politics you have to have the knowledge, and how to turn things round for the benefit of the country.

    Sierra Leone is far behind in everything. Ordinary basics like clean water, electricity and health care system we do not have. People talk about quality education, the word quality means something of high standard. Is this how best the quality is in terms of education?

    • Great stuff Seray. Thank you for your participation on this platform. Each time a lady says anything alongside men, makes everyone feel good. Women’s views are highly appreciated in modern day NATIONAL DEBATES. God Bless you.

  2. Its true…a bad workman always quarrel with his tools. Excuses are unproductive and meaningless, and will not suffice or appease a suffering masses surviving daily on scraps they have found, been given, or have hardly managed to afford! I couldn’t help myself but laugh!

    Its crystal clear from such a dispirited, dismal speech, that this President has finally chewed far more than he is able to swallow! It is fair to say the man is now wearing oversized shoes, impossible for inexperienced and inept self to fill. And he thought it was easy. Perhaps he forgot that these are new times and not a chaotic military era, where you can bully, impose your will, and get whatever you wish or desire.

    New and challenging times, these are! A whole new ball game altogether is what he is now facing. In case they are not fully aware, let them be reminded they are now like gladiators, locked securely inside an arena in chains, where economic treacheries and political manipulations are being controlled and supervised diligently by the worst and most heartless, unforgiving Super Power nations of the world.

    I ask you – Who are those advisers of Bio that are so clueless about the inner workings of government that they keep on making the silliest, most childish decisions on behalf of our dear nation? Are there no other credible, sensible avenues to seek and get financial respite than from the IMF?

    Those monsters will eat them alive! And why should anyone be so grossly irresponsible to allow a fragile nation to get lost in a confusing, perplexing, financial maze, where there are no exits but only deceptive entrances? Truly heartbreaking. Instead of finding solutions, they keeping singing the same old, tiring, sad songs and stories.

    My advice to them is this, since the baton is now in your hands, you have no other choice but to run towards your goal, towards the end…No complaints or silly finger pointing and excuses. Run SLPP run…It is now in your hands! Rising sun will rise again!

    • Saidu, please don’t forget answering my questions. They are long overdue.
      I am waiting for answers. By the way, my questions are very easy. But, have you the courage or guts to answer them? We shall see.

  3. A hopeful and positive speech was made by the President on INDEPENDENCE DAY for the future development of Sierra Leone. Not much for the present and the short term. Understandable.
    After respecting the late Prime Minister, The Present President and the Independence Day of our beloved country, it is time to digest the situation and give account.

    It is always a good idea to agree with the President and the SLPP government where they perform well and to disagree where mistakes are made. By reading the President’s speech, you can clearly see that the President was on the DEFENSIVE. That is a bad sign for a President and a Government that has just been one year in office. Such observations should be made when a government is preparing for an election. What a DEFENSIVE SPEECH indeed.

    First of all, the President should not have continued with depriving the people of Sierra Leone, especially the KIDS from celebrating a HISTORIC day as our INDEPENDENCE. Every child in Sierra Leone should be given the opportunity to celebrate INDEPENDENCE day. No matter what. But by depriving the children of Sierra Leone, by not providing the necessary funds to make them feel the importance of this all important day, is not only a very bad PRECEDENT, but also SAD and an UNFORGIVING idea.

    Last year the President partied with children in some areas of the country for CHRISTMAS. Was the money a donation from the President, from private individuals or from the GOVERNMENT COFFERS? Is CHRISTMAS more important than our INDEPENDENCE DAY or was it all just POLITICS? RESPOND.

    After one year in office, the President is still playing the blame game. This President and his Government were not elected to continue explaining the failures of the APC throughout their five year term. Everyone knows that the coffers were empty. They were elected to rule the country and FIX any MESS they inherited.

    The people are now tired of hearing the same music each time. They need results. THAT’S IT. The APC EXIT SHIP has long left the harbour and the SLPP SHIP berthed over a year ago. The SLPP SHIP must now OFF LOAD the GOODS they brought with them. Also, the LOCATION of the APC is no longer known. What is known, is the LOCATION of the SLPP SHIP with the GOODS ON BOARD.

    The SLPP government knows very well that, the AUSTERITY MEASURES taken by accepting the IMF conditions have started to bite. These AUSTERITY MEASURES are hitting hard on the VULNERABLE GROUP of people that the President wants to care for as mentioned in his SPEECH. Many people including myself warned last year that IMF conditions are very dangerous. They most times, from history, have lead to hardship and breakdown of law, order and society. Just imagine, even with the subsidies attached to the commodities, the people find it very hard to adjust, let alone the removal of the subsidies.

    For 58 years, Sierra leone has been on this road. A complete MERRY GO ROUND. Is the government waiting for Sierra Leoneans to say, they are going to stay silent until the Almighty God helps them? No way. We are going to say or cry louder till things change.

    The President himself admitted in his speech that the revenue collection has improve since he took office. That is a very good thing and success. The President and his government must be congratulated for that. I suggested last year that, there was no need to accept the conditions of the IMF. Because, it would be like selling your future to a foreigner. Our receipts should just be controlled to boost revenue and live within our means.

    The President and his Government should have left the government subsidies as they were under the APC government, and restructure the revenue system as he has done, so that, we can live within our means. Not everything was bad under the APC. The good policies should be modified or upgraded if need be. But not just nullifying them because of politics.

    The President referenced the NATIONAL ANTHEM to make a point in a way in my view was unacceptable. Referencing the NATIONAL ANTHEM in such a way may be interpreted by some people as unfortunate. Whoever must have written that speech must be thinking twice now. DISCUSS.

    As things stand, MONEY keeps pouring in from the IMF but, the situation is not changing. The price of essential commodities just keep sky rocketing and inflation keeps mounting. The LEONE is losing it’s value. People are feeling the pinch. It might not be the President’s fault but, this just shows that even with the money from the IMF things are not improving. I will leave that with the economists to explain why.

    Are there things that the President and his Government can do to help? Of course yes. The President can for example, reduce the budget deficit by reducing the size of his cabinet and embassies until 20% of GDP is reached. Simple Wage Control like reducing the salaries of highly placed civil servants including the ministers, parliamentarians and the President himself. Salary freeze until 20% GDP is attained, rather than pegging the 20% GDP with the INDEPENDENCE ANNIVERSARY FUNDS. Increase Income Tax on companies and highly paid individuals in a fair way. Introduce an effective PRICE CONTROL system. Increase interest rates etc.

    Fighting corruption is a very good thing. The president has done very well on that front. On the other hand, it seems as if the momentum of the COI is beginning to fade. We scarcely hear anything on the progress these days. EXPLAIN.

    Sometimes the President is to blame directly for failures of his policies; but it can also be from his advisers. If the President knows very well that, the problem is from his advisers, then he has a job which only he can do. But for the masses, the BUCKS stops with the President. He is accountable to the people.

    Finally, as I always say, let us all help this President succeed. One year long, things are not as good as one would have thought. So, let us all give ideas to the President and his Government on how to go forward. Helping the President succeed does not mean he will win in 2023 and we lose. I say no. Winning always depends on what you do to make the voters feel comfortable and resonate with your policies. You can be in the opposition and still win the general elections if even the President succeeds in implementing his agenda. No panic.

    So, Mr. President, all is not well. Only you can change the situation. Think about that. I wish I should have been in your CABINET or in PARLIAMENT to help you. Unfortunately, I am not.

  4. I have faith in Julius Maada Bio. He has tried a lot since taking over this great nation and has restored trust in the youth.

  5. Asking SIERRALEONEANS to remain hopeful on every INDEPENDENCE DAY, has been asked by every PRESIDENT for DONKEY’S YEARS now.
    When will this HOPE end and people’s daily lives get sorted in terms of GOOD LIVING (good food, good housing, good health care, clean water and sewage). And the list goes ON AND ON?

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