Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 May 2018:
MPs have yesterday Monday, 28th May 2018, began debating the New Direction Plan put forward to parliamentarians by president Julius Maada Bio in his speech at the state opening of parliament on the 10th of May 2018.
The president’s five-year plan for the development of Sierra Leone contains a plethora of initiatives and programmes, ranging from education, health, the economy, access to water and electricity, to anti-corruption and public sector reforms.
According to report from parliamentary press office, yesterday in parliament was an opportunity for the opposition parties, led by the All People’s Congress (APC) to assess and comment on the president’s five-year plan. And the debate was lively and good spirited.
Speaker of Parliament – Dr. Abass Chernor Bundu clarified what he said is in the interest of national cohesion and development – that “the APC established the Treasury Single Account (TSA), and the SLPP Government is responsible for its vigorous implementation under the watch of President Bio”.
He called on MPs to be factually accurate in debating the issues, especially as international development partners have great interest in the effective implementation of the TSA.
The leader of the opposition APC – Chernor R. M Bah informed the Speaker that he and the leader of government business – Mohamed Sidie Tunis, will keep a register of ministers and deputies that are witnessing the presidential debate, so as to gain first-hand knowledge of the issues raised by MPs during the course of the debate. Ministers and deputies, including professional heads and senior administrative staff of the public sector, were therefore encouraged to attend and on time.
MP Francis Amara Kai-Samba of the SLPP, thanked President Bio for what he described as the Speech he graciously delivered in Parliament as constitutionally required, explaining his policies and programmes as contained in the “New Direction”.
Speaking on what he referred to as the bleak economy inherited by the government of President Bio, Francis Amara Kai-Samba referred to corrective measures that have so far been initiated by the Bio led government to tackle the economic malaise, such as the operationalization of the Treasury Single Account, the ban on timber exports and tax exemptions, and the payment of salaries, without recourse to bank overdrafts.
He applauded President Bio for breaking up the Education Ministry into various ministries and criticised the APC regime for failing to recruit qualified teachers and following “ghost teachers” throughout. He also applauded President Bio for boosting the morale of teachers who had taught for ten years and above, in respect of enabling their siblings to access free university education, opening access to Government’s Grants-in-Aid and Student’s Loan Scheme.
On health, Francis Amara Kai-Samba called for an inquiry into the handling of Ambulances purchased during the Ebola epidemic, and decried the poor management of the FHCI, resulting in a lot of maternal deaths.
He criticized the APC’s much trumpeted road construction projects, which he referred to as bloated contracts without quality and value for money. He also reminded the government of President Bio to construct the roads in Kenema, which were neglected by APC because they are in the stronghold of SLPP.
He spoke about the need for improved and sustainable energy supply, coupled with strengthening the decentralization and devolution process, and the need for tackling water crisis, through an integrated management system.
APC MP – Abdul Kargbo said that the APC is committed to promoting the ideals of Sierra Leone and promised that they would bounce back to power after five years, whilst speaking on partnership in governance.
Kargbo referred to president Bio’s speech as an attempt to demoralize former President Koroma and the reputation of the APC. Speaking about debts distress and sustainability, from the perspective of the IMF, he also said that “the debts incurred by the past regime were widely used for development, citing the construction of the Matotoka-Sefadu Road”.
On revenue mobilization, he praised “former President Koroma for setting the infrastructure that has seen the operation of the Treasury Single Account”, and denied the APC using bank overdrafts to pay salaries, in spite of Ebola and the drop in Iron Ore prices in 2014.
He criticised the “New Direction” which he said aims “to promote primary and secondary education, with the view of strangulating tertiary education”, that is critically important for the development of the country.
MP Abdul Karim Kamara of the APC decried the president’s speech for “not capturing the atrocious activities after the conduct of the general elections, saying that our democracy is under attack”. Speaking about education, he called for SSS4 to be retained as a means of compensating for a lost term and other activities in the academic calendar, whilst speaking on youth empowerment.
On economic diversification, he called on government to “provide energy and food for ordinary Sierra Leoneans”.
MP Charles Osman Abdulai of SLPP criticised the inflated costs and quality of roads constructed by the former APC government. Speaking about the iron ore boom of 2013, he blamed the APC “for not making hay when the sun shines”, but instead engaged in excessive overseas travelling.
He described President Bio as a “realist” who inherited a bad economy characterized by huge internal and external debts, whilst referencing corrective measures such as discipline, professionalism and delivery.
On economic diversification, Charles Osman Abdulai spoke on the need for improving agricultural productivity, which according to him was hugely neglected by the APC, through ineffective tractorisation.
Adding his voice to the debate, MP Saa Paul Sam of the C4C, commended President Bio for his initiatives under the “New Direction” and promised to work with him, with the aim of achieving his objectives.
In the area of agriculture, he lauded the past government for creating good policies but which he said, did not yield good dividends for the people of Kono; instead mining was the main livelihood of the people.
He called on the new Ministers of Education to recruit qualified teachers for the successful implementation of President Bio’s free education initiative.
After several other MPs had contributed to the debate the session was brought to a close and adjourned to today, Tuesday, 29 May 2018.