Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 February 2018
The stage is set. The audience will soon be seated, and the lights and microphones will be turned on, as three giants of Sierra Leone’s national politics go head to head in what is being described as the most important phase in the forthcoming presidential and general elections, taking place on March 7th.
While there is no doubt, not everyone in Sierra Leone will be glued to their tv and radio sets to watch and listen to three hours of gruelling and grilling questioning of the top six candidates – Samura, Yumkella, Bio, Sumana, Tarawallie, and Kamaraimba, by the BBC reporter – Hassan Arouni, yet anticipation and expectations are high among their respective supporters.
Will the majority of Sierra Leoneans who are wallowing in abject poverty care to watch or listen to the presidential debate?
But what are the key issues that should matter in today’s debate? The Sierra Leone Telegraph believes that the debate should be about the following issues:
Sierra Leone has a population of about 7 million people. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with over 80% of its youth population out of work.
Average daily income has once again fallen to about $1 (one dollar) in just three years, as the economy which is largely dependent upon donor aid and international loans goes into reverse gear.
Inflation stands at over 20%. Food prices and general cost of living have risen to crippling levels for most households, that must make do with just one meal a day.
In 2007 a bag of rice was 60,000 Leones, the government’s minimum wage was Le20,000. In 2017 a bag of rice cost over 200,000 Leones with the minimum wage at Le500,000.
What will the next president do to reduce the very high cost of living, that is causing so much misery for millions of people across the country?
Adult mortality is much higher than the continent’s average, with most Sierra Leoneans dying before their 50th birthday. Likewise the statistics for child and maternal mortality are just as distressing.
In November 2017, a new national five-year strategy and a policy for Reproductive, Maternal, New-born, Child and Adolescent Health (RMNCAH) was launched in Sierra Leone, to help reduce maternal and child deaths in the country.
Sierra Leone has among the highest rates of maternal and child mortality globally, as well as high incidence of teenage pregnancy. Current estimates suggest that up to 9 percent of women in Sierra Leone will die from maternal causes during their reproductive life.
The country has an estimated under-5 mortality rate of over ten percent – 114 for every 1000 live births which means that 1 in 10 children lose their life before their fifth birthday.
It is now over 17 years since the signing of the Abuja Declaration, committing all nations in the region to spend at least 15% of their budget on healthcare. Sierra Leone allocates about 5% of its annual budget to the health sector.
According to the Chief Medical Officer (CMO), Dr. Brima Kargbo, “The government is still striving to meet the Abuja target of 15%. If we were to meet the Abuja target, the government should spend Le101,000 per person.”
In 2017, according to the Ministry of Health, the government allocated Le40,000 per person for heath care. In 2016, the government spent Le42,000 for every Sierra Leonean.
Spending on health was 6.2% in 2015 and 5.1% in 2016, in comparison with Rwanda – 23.8 percent, and Liberia – 18.9 percent.
What will the next president do to increase spending on healthcare and achieve the Abuja target of 15%? And what will he do to reduce early deaths in the country, especially child and maternal mortality?
More than half of the working age population in Sierra Leone have no formal education, compared with an average of one-third in sub-Saharan Africa.
One-third of school-age children in Sierra Leone were out of school, which was higher than the regional average.
In 2017, the government’s spending on education as a percentage of its total expenditure was about 12%, which in 2007 was about 3.5 percent.
Sierra Leone’s education spans across four stages; primary education lasting six years, junior secondary education of three years, three years of either senior secondary education or technical vocational education and four years of university or other tertiary education.
Will the next president increase spending on education, and if so, where will the money come from? And how will he improve standard of literacy, vocational and workforce skills development to ensure Sierra Leone’s economy can compete globally?
In 2007, the total monetary value of Sierra Leone’s economic and business activities was five trillion Leones or about 1.7 billion dollars. By 2013, government had increased it to 22 trillion Leones or 5.1 billion dollars. But by 2017, this growth had declined to an estimated 30 trillion Leones or 4.1 billion dollars.
In 2007, revenue generated within Sierra Leone was 502 billion Leones or $170 million; by 2013, it had increased to three trillion or $700 million dollars. But in 2017 it had declined slightly to about four trillion Leones or $550 million.
Foreign Direct Investment, has grown from 288 billion Leones or 96.6 million dollars in 2007, to 1.2 billion dollars in 2011; 650 million dollars in 2012, two trillion Leones or 362 million dollars in 2013, and five trillion Leones or 570 million dollars in 2017. Yet fewer jobs than expected are being created.
What will the next president do to diversify the economy and promote job creation, so that the millions of people that are out of work can find employment?
In 2007, total national power generation was less than 20 megawatts. Although the total installed electricity across the country is now valued at about 80 megawatts, in 2017 only an average of about 30 megawatts was produced.
Sierra Leone needs about 500 megawatts of electricity to power homes and public institutions, and an additional 1000 megawatts to power industry and commercial sectors if the economy is to grow and thrive.
Today, less than 20% of households in Sierra Leone have access to electricity. What will the next president do to increase electricity supply and distribution across the country?
Access to water
Currently, over 60% of houses do not have access to safe, clean drinking water. But the government says that “overall, we have increased nationwide access to clean and safe drinking water from 48% in 2007 to over 63% 2016”.
What will the next president do to increase access to safe, clean drinking water across the country?
It is estimated that corruption is costing the people of Sierra Leone over $500 million a year, which could be spent on health, education, and social care. Yet very little is being done to tackle corruption in the country.
Critics say that corruption in high places goes unchecked and that those in power are abusing their office with impunity, thereby perpetuating the culture and vicious cycle of corruption and graft.
What will the next president do to tackle corruption?
As the four main presidential candidates go head to head in a live television and radio debate today in Freetown, the Sierra Leone Telegraph is hoping that questions will focus on the economy, healthcare, education, water supply, sanitation, corruption, rising crime and general lawlessness in the country.
Whilst Dr Yumkella (Photo) and Dr Samura Kamara are tipped to take the lead in the debate tonight, it would be interesting to see how Julius Maada Bio – a former military leader and president of Sierra Leone fair; not forgetting also Sam Sumana – the former vice president who was unceremoniously sacked by president Koroma in 2015.
But on 7th March, the real people – not the TV audience, will decide the fate of those six men, as well as the future of Sierra Leone.
Here is a taste of what you are likely to get from Dr Yumkella tonight:
Please follow the link below to watch the Presidential debate live at 7:00pm GMT tonight – 15th February 2018