Mr. Chairman & Leader of the SLPP, Deputy Chairman & Leader, Current and Former Members of Parliament, Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic & Consular Corps, Other National Officers of the Party, Mayors and Chairmen of Local Councils, Elders and Members of our Great Party, Members of the Fourth Estate, Distinguished Ladies & Gentlemen
Welcome to my Maiden Statement as the Presidential Nominee of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) for the 2012 Presidential Election.
The triumph of internal party democracy
The SLPP recently completed the most successful intra-party elections ever held for both Flag-bearer and National Officers. Lower-level executive elections, ranging from regional to constituency, had preceded those higher-level executive elections long before. No other political party can boast of elections as free, fair, credible and transparent as the ones held by our Party. Whatever feelings one may have about the officers elected, no-one can deny legitimacy to the decisions of the National Delegates Conference or the distinguishing character of the SLPP as a truly democratic party.
For taking our internal democratic process to such great heights, Ambassador Allie Bangura and his colleagues on the SLPP Electoral Board deserve the highest tribute for a job well done.
Twenty-three of us went to the starting line of the flag-bearer election. The race was not only gruelling; it lasted for more than a year. No one suspected it would be a marathon. Our nerves got frail no less than our patience, as we moved in and out of the Supreme Court. Many a detractor mocked our show of respect for democracy and the rule of law as a recipe for our own destruction and wished for our downfall. That we didn’t self-destruct and instead are gathered here today bear the most eloquent testimony that the SLPP has indeed grown more resilient, more united and more energised than ever before, and it is well prepared for the electoral battle ahead. Of the nineteen who crossed the finishing line, I found myself ahead of the rest by sheer dint of good luck.
To all my colleagues, former aspirants, I pay special tribute. Not only did they put up a valiant and fierce contest, they have also demonstrated without a shadow of a doubt that their loyalty to the Party remains strong and they have all agreed to come on board so that our Party can bounce back to power in 2012. My victory, therefore, is not a victory for me alone; it is a victory for all of us, for our intra-party democracy and for our great Party, the SLPP.
Ladies and Gentlemen, may I kindly ask that you rise and join me to give a very big thank you to the National Chairman and Leader, John Oponjo Benjamin, to past and present National Officers, our former flag-bearer aspirants and the distinguished members of the Electoral Board.
May God bless you all for coming on board so willingly and so determinedly with all your might and support. With this spirit, I know the trophy is ours in 2012, Sharp 12.
Whilst we remain standing, may I also ask that we observe a minute’s silence in honour of the memory of the Founding Fathers and all other departed faithful of our great Party, not forgetting also the fallen heroes of the August 18, 1998, student revolt against the AFRC junta. May their souls rest in perfect peace.
The 2012 elections are going to be about issues, not about personalities. After my election as Flag-bearer, the APC leadership used the ploy of diverting public attention away from their appalling economic record by throwing everything in their kitchen sink at me. Disappointingly for them, the dirt didn’t stick, because the people of this country have become much too aware, much too discerning to allow the APC to get away with that ploy; instead they are insisting that the 2012 elections should be wholly about the national development agenda whether at the front, centre or at the back of that contest.
However, before we get to that, let me first say a word or two about the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC). The coup of April 29, 1992, that toppled the decade-and-half long repressive and corrupt APC one-party rule, was embraced overwhelmingly by the people of this country and recognised by the entire international community. That NPRC junta has been held collectively responsible by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) for the extra-judicial executions of 26 persons during its administration. For my part, I had made it clear, in my testimony to the TRC, that I bear neither personal involvement nor personal responsibility for those executions nor was I in any position to prevent them from happening. I was neither the head nor the deputy head of the NPRC junta at the material time. I stand by that testimony.
Nevertheless, as a member of the former NPRC junta, I feel morally bound to express, on its behalf, deepest regret for the wrongs committed by the NPRC and to also express profound apology and sympathy to the families of the victims concerned. It is my sincere hope that we, as a nation, can now consign that regrettable incident to history and agree to move on.
By the same token, with the help of the moral guarantors of our country’s peace, I would like to invite President Koroma to join me now in issuing a joint statement. In that statement we would agree to bury permanently in their tombs the horrors of past conflicts and past political misdeeds. There is no political capital for any political party from letting the ghosts of the horrendous human rights record of the 1970s through to the 1990s to return to haunt our body politic. We should set our gaze ahead of us instead of behind us. Second, that we also agree that everything possible would be done to ensure that the National Electoral Commission conducts the 2012 elections in a manner that is fair, transparent and credible. Lastly, once that condition is met by the NEC, that we agree to accept the results of the elections and ensure that power is transferred peacefully. This demands of all of us, as leaders of our political parties, a willingness to bury the hatchet and let the past be the past in the true spirit of national peace and reconciliation and of moving our nation forward.
The APC and SLPP: Is there a difference?
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, it is this common desire to move this nation forward that is often times taken to blur the fundamental differences between the APC and the SLPP, prompting political pundits to liken them to two identical twins whose look-alikes make their differences hardly recognizable. They say voters vote for these parties merely for reasons based on personality, ethnicity or regionalism, not on any real differences between them.
Make no mistake, personality and regionalism do matter in our body politic but they do not and can not dilute the fundamental differences between our two parties. If the differences are not too apparent now, they will become so after 2012, because we plan to return the SLPP to state governance as a democratic reformer. We have no illusions. Democratic reform is never easy, because there are always vested interests ready to use their power and resources to resist change; and villains ready to use lies to defeat change. But persevere we shall: we have the guts and intelligence and the right people and policies to make it happen.
In the coming weeks and months, the principles and programmes upon which we shall base our electioneering will be fully articulated and elaborated in our manifesto. Suffice it for the moment to state just briefly some of the important policy differences that the people of this country will see between President Koroma’s Government and the SLPP Government I propose to lead after 2012.
It is Time for a New Direction
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, after 50 years of independence, the elections in 2012 are about putting the youth at the centre of development and in the driving seat to seek a New Direction for Sierra Leone. We live in a country that started mining diamonds in 1930, rutile in the 70s and gold and bauxite for ever so long. Yet our heathcare and education are largely funded by foreign donors. For years our education was the pride of West Africa. Now 50 years later, less than five per cent of our children pass the West Africa School Certificate Exams (WASCE); while universities postpone exams for lack of paper. Many families are today not sure where the next meal is coming from; the low wages of workers, promised to be changed by the APC, have perpetuated poverty and hopelessness. Our youth continue to be the most deprived and unemployed in the world, just as our country is the most unsafe to give birth to children.
I know that Sierra Leone did not get to this state of misery by accident; it is rather the selfish decisions of some of our leaders that has taken our country to where it is today. The same State House that squandered opportunities from diamonds in the 70s and 80s is the same State House that has denied Sierra Leoneans the opportunity of scrutinising the Bills that touch and concern our natural resources. The same State House that widened the gap between the rich and the poor in the 70s and 80s is the same State House in 2011 that is dividing the North from the South and spending billions of Leones on the media and other unpatriotic individuals to lie about my persona.
I don’t think any Sierra Leonean is proud of the condition we live in. There is therefore every need for a New Direction for Sierra Leone. For the sake of the young men and women who finish college and go jobless for years, we need a government that cares. We need a State House that cares about the basic needs of our people. We need a leader who does not blame our economic woes on the global crisis but sits down and solves them. We need a leader who teaches our youth honesty and hard work and not bribery, intimidation and vote buying; a leader that works to give a secure and healthy future to our youth. And we need a leader who brings Temnes and Mendes, Fullahs and Lokos, Madingoes and Limbas, Krios and Sherbros etc, etc, to live and work together as one nation in one country. This is the new direction we need.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, let me start with the economy. Our country is resource-rich but policy-poor. We have a vast sore running through the population: five million people stuck in desperate conditions of poverty amidst the growing affluence of a few. Lifting them from those conditions is the struggle we must wage, and it is a struggle we must win. Various strategies for poverty reduction and for the other Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are in vogue. We talk about them every day. However, what the MDGs don’t get us to focus upon, is the rate of economic growth. True, growth is not a cure-all, but the lack of growth is a kill-all. This failure of the growth process over the past 30 years is, for us, the overarching problem that must be cracked if this country is to escape from the poverty trap.
Under President Kabbah, a great deal was achieved in promoting good governance. Also real economic growth rose significantly by war’s end in 2002 and throughout that SLPP administration it stayed at double digits. Under President Koroma, our growth rate not only declined to 5.5 per cent in 2008, it plunged to 4.2 per cent in 2009. Nowadays, stagnation and decline have become bywords for our poor economic performance. So whereas President Koroma pays scant attention to the issue of growth, we shall make it a core challenge. Development is about giving hope to ordinary people that their children will live in a society that will catch up with the rest of the world. And catching up in Sierra Leone can only mean raising growth radically.
Growth will not come to us from without; it has to come from within our own country and our own resources. Our international development partners have helped our development process a lot through aid. For example, aid is now in the civil service, in the military, in political institutions, in healthcare and education, and in infrastructure. In fact aid is now so endemic and so pervasive that it is inducing a mind-set of complacency and hardly do you see any incentives for long-term financial planning or for seeking alternative funding for development. The emphasis therefore has to change. We see our future as one of collaboration with our partners in designing systematic, co-ordinated and coherent policies and programmes that make our own development commitments more credible not just to investors but to our own people as well, and so get a surge in private investments. Of course, I am aware that the era of private capital in Africa is only just beginning, and we need to embrace and nurture it in a way that will bring forward the ultimate day when foreign aid will no longer be needed.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, not that we devalue the importance of aid, only that the impasse we have reached in our country’s development demands of us a new and higher level of consciousness, a greater degree of innovation, and a generous dose of honesty to acknowledge what works and what does not, as far as our development is concerned. So, therefore, the development roadmap we shall be crafting after 2012 is more in the realm of collaborating to build a modern market economy for this country along pathways that our development partners have themselves successfully traversed for their own economies. Together I believe we can create the positive environment necessary for foreign direct investment to flow confidently into the country, creating new jobs and new exports and helping the country to escape the mire of poverty and misery.
But why am I choosing this path for Sierra Leone? This question is perhaps best answered by remembering that just 30 years ago, this country, alongside Burkina Faso, Burundi and Malawi, were economically ahead of China on a per capita income basis. Today, foreign direct investment, not aid, has combined admirably with free-market policies and rapidly growing exports to record stellar growth rates and unprecedented poverty reduction in China and the other Asian tigers. All this is happening in Asia whilst sadly most of Africa has been dogged by steady economic decline, rising poverty levels and an even more pungent stench of rampant corruption. In this country, in many respects, we have again hit rock bottom in the past four years. Not only are we poverty-stricken, we are lagging further and further behind the rest of the world; in fact, we cannot go down any further.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, when President Koroma came to power in 2007, he promised to run this country like a business. We didn’t know then he was going to turn the country into a family business. Under his watch, the prices of most things have more than doubled – from rice, our national staple, to fuel, flour, fish and other essential foodstuffs. His cronies are making huge profits whilst the masses are suffering under the harshest conditions in living memory. We used to think that life in the 1980s was the harshest. For those of you who can’t remember that period, President Koroma has made life under President Momoh’s misrule look like Paradise.
Mr. President, the citizens of this country are crying; the economy is killing them and they are crying for a change of direction. Even more serious, there is a mounting crisis of confidence. The people are losing confidence in the ability of government to look after their welfare. Living conditions are deteriorating so fast they can’t bear the hardship any more. I say to them, just hang in there for a little while longer. After 2012 the SLPP Government I shall lead will definitely not run Sierra Leone as a family business. We shall lead Sierra Leone as one nation and we shall do many great things together. We shall improve the lives of our citizenry; provide for the education of our children; restore our pride as the Athens of education in West Africa; provide for the training of our young people in various skills to make them employable and to enable them to realise their fullest potential in dignity; and we shall create the enabling environment that would make Sierra Leone the most attractive destination in all of West Africa for foreign direct investment.
In other words, our policies and programmes shall be people-centred. We will not engage in dubious contracts to fleece this country and squirrel the loot away in foreign bank accounts or buy luxury homes abroad. Nor shall we pass mining and fiscal laws to be adhered to by some and not by others. Nor shall globalisation mean our natural resources shall be turned into an arena for bribery competition between foreign mining and oil companies. Under my watch, no mining company, big or small, shall be allowed to operate above or under the law.
Sierra Leone is greatly in need of private investors, especially investors who are genuine and are able to create new jobs and new exports. To them we shall open our doors widely. But we don’t just need investors who come only to make a profit on their investments and then go back home. We want genuine investors who are ready to take the quantum leap to become real stakeholders in the country’s economy. For our part, we shall pass the necessary laws to secure their personal safety and property rights sufficiently for them to establish here and to see Sierra Leone as home away from home. So the investors we seek are the real investors who come not only to invest but also to stay and build homes of their own here and raise their children here. This is our goal.
Another area completely skewed since the APC assumed power is in resource allocation and distribution. Appointments to public office, dismissals of public officers, distribution of limited resources, selection of projects and beneficiaries, have mostly been done along partisan, ethnic and regional lines. These are all anti-development tendencies, the stuff of which internal conflicts are made. Examples are legion. To select just a few, there is the biased distribution of agricultural inputs per district such as seeds, tools and tractors; biased selection of beneficiaries of projects; and biased distribution of contracts, often done through sole sourcing in violation of procurement laws.
President Kabbah came to power in 1996 in the midst of a brutal civil war. He successfully brought that war to an end in 2002 by way of a peace accord the pathways to which I had paved back in 1996. As part of that negotiated settlement, President Kabbah pursued a well-calibrated disarmament, reintegration and rebuilding programme. And, by September 2007, when he handed over power to President Koroma, primary school enrolment in this country had more than doubled; numerous medical centres had been rebuilt or built from scratch; roads infrastructures, including the highway leading to President Koroma’s hometown of Makeni, were either completed or near completion.
Even the much-trumpeted Bumbuna Hydroelectric Project was only 9.8 per cent done when President Kabbah’s Government inherited it in 1996. By then it had been in the works for over 30 years. By the time President Kabbah handed it over to the APC in 2007, it was over 95 per cent complete, a progress of 85.2 per cent in 10 years. APC merely completed less than 5 per cent of the Bumbuna Project from 2007 to 2011. Yet, they never tire of dishonestly trumpeting Bumbuna as their own and even claiming 100 per cent credit for supplying electricity from Bumbuna.
Rocketing Cost of Living
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, no problem has blighted the citizens of this country more than the bread-and-butter issue of the rocketing cost of living under President Koroma. The last SLPP Government left as reserve billions of Leones in the national coffers to cushion any possible shocks from global price increases of rice, fuel and other essential commodities. The Koroma Government wasted no time in squandering all this under the pretext of giving this country “clean and affordable electricity” in 100 days through bogus and dubious contracts. Now we see the result. Petrol has risen from Le11, 500 in 2007 to Le20, 500 a gallon in 2011, an increase of over 78 per cent, while the price of a bag of rice, our national staple, kept under Le70, 000 by the SLPP for the 10 years preceding 2007, has rocketed to more than Le140, 000, over 100 per cent in just four years of APC rule.
These price increases did not happen by accident. They are the direct product of a currency whose value has been continually eroding since President Koroma came to power. Whilst the last SLPP Government held the rate of exchange of the Leone to the United States dollar at Le2900 and under for over 10 years, even when the country was deeply in the throes of internal armed conflict, President Koroma’s Government has devalued our national currency to as much as Le4500, over 60 per cent, in just four years, and the situation is likely to get worse by this time next year.
This high inflation has triggered price rises of all other essential commodities. To mention just a few, prices have more than doubled or trebled since 2007 for items such as fish, meat, palm oil, cassava and cassava leaves, potato and potato leaves, cooking oil, onions, maggi, pepper, salt, bread, butter, sugar, milk, soap, charcoal and firewood, not forgetting house rents as well. And all this is happening while the real value of incomes of ordinary people is declining rapidly. An average family of 5 or 6 today needs over Le60, 000 a day barely to survive.
Ours is a small and poor country with no control over factors that affect the global economy. But we do have control over how we use our limited resources to protect our poor people. The SLPP did just that under President Kabbah. He even created a Social Safety Net in which he placed billions of Leones to cater for retirees and the aged. After 2007, in less than six months, despite all the promises and surveys conducted, the APC Government, with utter callousness, squandered all those billions and to this day not one cent has reached those poor beneficiaries.
Corruption as Enemy of Development
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the high rate of inflation in the country is producing another culture, the culture of corruption going unnoticed or unpunished. But if our long-term goal is sustainable economic growth, and the alleviation of poverty, none of this can occur in an environment riddled with corruption. Our fight against corruption, therefore, has to be robust, complete, transparent and non-political; and we must leave no stone unturned. This fight is about ending impunity; it’s about probity, about holding public officials accountable; about compelling them to obey the law and to do things according to the law. President Kabbah’s Government started it all. They passed the seminal legislation in 2002. To his credit, after 2007, President Koroma’s Government strengthened it. Between them, they have put in place the necessary legislative and institutional framework.
What remains to be done now is really very, very simple. Mr. President, you really have to get more serious in your efforts to tackle corruption. And you can start right now by removing the immunity you have placed around the sacred cows from amongst family, friends and business partners, and allow the anti-corruption laws to bite. Do this and you will soon see the difference in public attitude and perception about corruption in this country. Fail to do this, Mr. President, then nothing is going to change and it will all be business as usual.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, let me make this solemn promise. Where President Koroma fails to act to end corruption in this country, I shall act. So those involved in corruption, be they citizens or foreign nationals, be forewarned. The SLPP Government I shall lead after 2012 will not compromise corruption that harms the interests of the people of this country. Everybody knows that corruption is a two-way street: there is always a giver and a taker. If an investor respects the rule of law and acts in the best interest of the country as well as his own, he has nothing to fear.
It won’t surprise me at all if the mischief-prone APC leadership tried to seize upon this statement to mislabel the SLPP as not investor-friendly. Let me assure you all, Ladies and Gentlemen, that the policies of the SLPP shall always remain eminently investor-friendly, and we believe that both the investor, the government and the people of this country stand to benefit enormously if they make it a duty to respect and obey the laws of the land as an integral part of good governance. This is our stance. In the area of natural resource exploitation, for example, we would like to see investors insisting that any contracts, acquisitions or licences granted to them by public authorities are not shielded from public or legislative scrutiny, nor from the applicable rules of international competitive bidding. I say this, because our National Constitution says that such agreements, to be valid, require prior parliamentary ratification or authorization. The current Government’s penchant is to rush such agreements through the parliamentary process by way of a certificate of urgency. Whilst this procedure might quicken the parliamentary approval process, it has the serious defect of depriving parliamentarians of the opportunity to scrutinise such agreements thoroughly or to do due diligence. It also falls short of international best practice. All this generates suspicions of bad faith even where none might exist. To avoid this in future, and in keeping with our avowed policy of encouraging foreign direct investment flows into the country, we would urge all genuine investors to ensure that agreements, concessions and licences granted to them are fully compliant.
We give this advice as an essential aspect of the rule of law. We believe that where the rule of law takes hold, it creates stability, predictability, trust and empowerment. Rule of law stabilises government and holds it accountable. It creates a predictable environment for both government and investor. It creates confidence in the public to seek change, if necessary, within a framework of continuity, and empowers all economic actors to optimise their returns within the confines of the state.
Our Social Agenda
The Government I shall lead will invest heavily in the health care delivery. We will improve upon what exists now by providing the infrastructure, equipment and trained personnel necessary for a robust health care system. We will introduce a more sustainable heath care financing mechanism.
The next SLPP Government will progressively provide universal free and compulsory basic education to all and will endeavour to achieve 100 per cent primary school enrolment within the first years of my administration. We will reinstitute the girl child education programme which the present Government has callously abandoned. We will also ensure that teachers and lecturers are paid a decent wage and on time.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, it pains to note that our disabled have been left to fend for themselves in the most unsavoury manner. It is not uncommon to see our disabled compatriots hanging out at the gates of State House for crumps. This is most dehumanising and unacceptable. We shall move beyond the enactment of the Disability Bill and put in place a more effective mechanism to cater for the social and economic welfare of our physically and mentally challenged compatriots.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, the women of Sierra Leone have been asking for 30 per cent representation in state governance. I believe they deserve more than that. By affirmative action programmes we shall give women equitable access to decision-making positions at all levels. I am pleased to note that our Party was the first to develop a gender policy that received endorsement in 2010 by the highest decision-making organ of the Party. The National Executive is now poised to ensure that that policy is implemented. Under my watch, the next SLPP Government will pay full regard to the terms of that policy and improve upon it if necessary.
I turn now to the youth. Recently we have seen how the power of the youth in West and North Africa was harnessed and transformed into revolutionary fervour. The lessons from those uprisings are inescapable. They tell us that the plight of young people cannot be neglected by any government without dire consequences. Second, that without job opportunities to assuage the restlessness of the youth, no government, however despotic, can survive. Third, that there is no weapon in the hands of a government that is stronger than the will of the people freely expressed. Fourth, that the consequences of youth neglect affect not only the delinquent governments concerned but also the wider international community, especially those members of the United Nations responsible for maintaining international peace and security. That the United Nations and the members of its Security Council were able to take timely action to protect hapless citizens in those countries from excessive state violence and wanton destruction deserves high commendation.
But no country is immune from the whirlwind of youth power. Youth empowerment, therefore, will receive the utmost attention of the Government I shall form after 2012. I have already mentioned that attracting foreign direct investment as the engine for economic growth and for creating new jobs will receive high priority, But much more than that, ample provision will also be made for skills training, especially for the youth, to empower and equip them for meeting the challenges of a modern economy. Companies, more especially mining companies, will be encouraged to partner with Government in providing specialized training programmes where these are not available in the public sector.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, let’s now go down memory lane just a little. The election of 2007 has revealed something else about the youth, that they constitute the single largest block of voters. Their role therefore is most crucial in any future election.
Young people who are 25 years old today were born in 1986, just 5 years before the start of the RUF insurrection in 1991. Add 11 years of the RUF war, they were 16 years by war’s end in 2002: too late to return to school. By 2007 they were 21. Eleven of those 21 years had been spent under SLPP governance. Let us also assume that in most of those 11 years they had had little or no schooling at all on account of schools being dysfunctional in the towns and villages in which they lived. So, with practically no education, no skill and no money, they literally live on the margins of mainstream society. Not sure of a livelihood, one can understand if they become desperate.
For most of those 11 years, they blamed the SLPP for their predicament. No thanks to the SLPP for ending the war; no thanks for rehabilitating the country: building schools, building hospitals, restoring broken infrastructures and so on. To these guys living on the margins of mainstream society, developments such as these mean little or nothing. They don’t remember the APC, neither the misrule of earlier APC governments that precipitated the rebel war. So by 2007 they knew only the SLPP. In opposition the APC had been less visible, less scrutinized and less criticized. Their weaknesses, faults of character and shortcomings were also less well-known.
Whether out of ignorance or desperation, many of these young people voted against the SLPP in 2007. They are like a “lost generation”. Now that the APC they voted for will soon enter their final year in office, and are yet to deliver on their promises to them, the APC must be worried stiff. Given what the youth now know about the APC which they did not know in 2007, are they likely to vote for them in 2012? The answer is a resounding No.
To the young men and women of this country, I say help is on the way. I understand your problems better and can feel your pain more. So allow me to be your Redeemer. As young people, we gel better and together we can make a difference. If President Koroma imagines he has fixed the youth problem in this country merely by creating a Youth Employment Ministry, with no jobs, he had better do a reality check. Setting up a Youth Ministry alone does not solve the crisis; a great deal more needs to be done. And no political leader understands your problems better than I because I consider myself one of you and you can connect better with me than with any other. And this is why the next SLPP Government I shall lead is the one best able to address your problems.
One more thing. The history of elections in this country shows how under previous APC rule, elections and youth violence became not uncommon bedfellows, almost like inseparable companions. There was never an election under APC watch that was completely free of intimidation and youth violence. I hope and pray that the 2012 election, again to be held under APC watch, would be different.
For my part, I give to the youth of this country this solemn promise. I shall be the last Presidential candidate who would ever want to put your life or liberty in harm’s way. I see the 2012 election not as a battle to be fought or won by violence but as a contest that can best be fought and won by ideas, values and beliefs. The SLPP is the oldest political party in this country. It was founded on the pedestal of non-violence. Our abhorrence of violence therefore is both a sacred trust and a legacy. We can’t change that now, for to do that would be tantamount to betraying our sacred trust and our heritage.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, decentralizing state governance is another key policy area that has always been a tussle between the APC and the SLPP. Initiated by the SLPP after independence in 1961, the APC did not hesitate to decree the demise of local councils when it introduced centralized one-party rule in 1978. SLkPP again reintroduced local councils in 2004, abolishing unelected and unaccountable District Officers. APC has again passed a new law in 2010, reducing the decision-making powers of the elected local councils and reinstating once again the centrally-appointed, unaccountable and unelected District Officers to administer local communities which did not vote for them. Apart from this, we shall be watching keenly to see what role these District Officers will be given in the electoral process of 2012, for in the past they gained notoriety as election fraudsters in favour of the APC.
But decentralization is not just about local councils. The present location of certain central government ministries and agencies also needs to be critically examined and evaluated to determine whether the citizenry is deriving the optimum benefit.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, today we are living with the consequences of an electoral fraud committed in 2007 – the cancellation of the ballot by the National Electoral Commission (NEC) in 477 polling stations, mostly in SLPP-strongholds. Despite strong protests, those cancellations were made to stand with the final result of the presidential election going against the SLPP. The Supreme Court is now seized of the litigation that that cancellation has engendered. Whatever the final verdict of the Court, we know its value would be essentially for the record.
Looking at things from that perspective alone, one would have liked to draw a line on the past and focus only on what lies ahead of us in 2012. But, as if to add insult to injury, Miss Christiana Thorpe is now asking for a new law to empower NEC to cancel ballots in future elections. By inference she is admitting she didn’t have that power when she cancelled the ballot of those 477 polling stations. Now, if she was not afraid to cancel when she didn’t have the power, what if she is now given such a power? What safeguards do political parties have against the arbitrary use of such power? Perhaps it was time our international moral guarantors stepped in to ensure that any new rules for the electoral game are credible, fair and in consonance with universally-accepted democratic principles and agreed to by all parties. Otherwise, NEC, as referee, will not enjoy the confidence of all the political players.
We say all this because we have forebodings about any election held under the watch of an APC Government. Elections have been held for local councils, parliament and the presidency under SLPP watch during our 10-year rule from 1996 to 2007 without any cries from the opposition about “unopposed winners”; without any opposition party being prevented from holding peaceful meetings; without incidents of vandalism of opposition offices or brutalization of opposition supporters; without any allegation ever of rape or molestation of opposition women supporters; without ever hearing about “human urine and excreta thrown at opposition supporters”.
These shameful abuses of human rights were commonplace in the days of the old APC. But they have been happening again and again since 2007 under the watch of the so-called new APC. The new APC has been severally accused of unabated vandalizing, brutalizing, intimidating and victimizing of opposition supporters with deafening impunity.
Fellow Sierra Leoneans, against this backdrop, a question often asked is: if, like the old APC, the so-called new APC decides to lead the country in electoral violence in the run-up to 2012, should we in the SLPP follow suit? With respect, I say No. The strength of our Party lies in our capacity, not in trading violence with the APC or any other party, but in upholding the sacred values for which our Founding Fathers had fought so hard and which today constitutes our cherished inheritance. Eschewing violence as an instrument of political change, however, should not be misunderstood or misconstrued as cowardice or timidity. We fear no party and we are ready to protect our supporters at all times. Only that our creed is freedom, not despotism; democracy, not dictatorship; the rule of law, not the rule of the jungle; human rights, not power; inclusiveness, not alienation. Spreading these values is the bastion of our security, our first line of attack and our last line of defence. And if the APC decides to divide the country in violence, so our resolve to unite it around our common dislike of violence must remain unshaken and unbroken. And we must send this message out to the country now.
So my clarion call is to all the youth of this country, young men and young women alike. Come forward and join my campaign to take me back to State House in 2012. It matters not which political party you belong to or voted for in the last election; my campaign for the presidency is on behalf of all of you. We are tired of unfulfilled promises and fed-up with empty hypes – de Pa dey wok! We, the young people of this country, should now come together and empower ourselves and our elders through the ballot box in order to transform this country for the better. Wherever you are – in the country or in the Diaspora, in the farms or in the mining pits, on land or at sea, in the city or village, in the ghetto or ataya base, in the street or in the house, in college or in school – I beckon on all of you to come forward and let’s start a new direction, a new revolution, for a better Sierra Leone. Ernest is tired; Ernest has failed us; Ernest can simply not deliver. He must give way peacefully for a new person to take over the seat of power in State House in 2012. And that person is yours truly, Julius Maada Bio.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, we shall be ending this meeting here just when our Leone Stars will be getting ready to start their qualifying match against Egypt for the Africa Nations Cup. This match easily brings to mind the time when, under the watch of the then NPRC, this country won the Zone Two Football Tournament twice and 1994 when we qualified for the Africa Nations Cup for the first time. That is 17 years ago. I am sure all of you would like to join me on this auspicious occasion in wishing our national team the very best of luck and we pray that they bring us glory again by repeating the great successes of the 1990s.
Can we do it? Yes we can!
Can we govern this country better? Yes we can!
Can we deliver to the youths of this country? Yes we can! Yes we can!!
May God Bless Sierra Leone
One Country, One People
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