The most touted first year review of the current SLPP Government has indeed provoked an intense debate that is good and nourishing to our emergent democracy, which discourse had led me through the streets, public transports and social hang outs of Freetown to sense public opinion that has inspired and to some extent informed this Opinion Editorial (Op. Ed.).
Let me share two of those encounters as a prelude to this conversation:
On board a poda poda (mini-bus) from Regent Street in Central Freetown to Calaba Town in the far Eastern part of the city the conversation was between Sorie a passionate supporter of the main opposition APC party, Matilda a member of the SLPP and Harold a Civil Servant who appeared to be non-partisan but was not allowed by the other two to make an objective review of the situation.
Harold introduced the discussion as we approached the East End Police clock tower the boundary to East End Freetown by adulating President Bio’s bold and timely introduction of the Free Quality Education for all Sierra Leoneans and the expansion of the revenue base through tighter fiscal control. Before Harold concludes his argument he was crudely interrupted by Sorie with the words “De gron dry” (referring to the challenging financial times we face as a nation) followed by a tirade on what he perceived to be Government’s poor record on the economy and human rights cum constitutionality and current strides to fight corruption which he considers unnecessary and a deliberate political ploy to discredit and incapacitate his beloved APC party.
The discourse was now left with the equally irate Matilda who stipulated Government’s achievement in the economy, education, corruption, electricity, water and in laying the foundation to achieve all what the party sets out in its manifesto as the road map to a new direction with resolute precision amidst several attempts to distract her or intervene in the discussion by Sorie and other APC sympathizers on board the vehicle. She concluded her argument by stating that one year was too short a time to judge her government especially when they were given a five years mandate by the people of Sierra Leone.
Also on the eve of the one year anniversary of President Bio’s ascent to power on the 3rd April instant, I happen to visit a friend in central Freetown who was on his way to an ‘attire base’ ( a local tea shop) and I decided to join them. In that august gathering of the young and future of our motherland the dialogue centered on the economy and the plight of the youth who continued to languish in penury as a result of years of unemployment and marginalization even by their peers who are given the opportunity to serve. This particular experience was overwhelmingly discouraging as it brought home the growing desperation of our young people and the urgent need to address their concerns and needs or risk lawlessness and insecurity two vices we cannot afford as we open our country for business to the global community.
The desperation I saw at that ‘attire base’ (local tea shop) was replicated in every respect by the SLPP grass roots (who for over ten years (2007 -2018) were in the vanguard for change fighting a regime that humiliated and victimized them) as they welcomed their President who joined them to celebrate 1 year in governance on Saturday 6th April 2019. Their booing and jeering of the few Government Ministers and Party Officials that were present is a wakeup call that a lot is expected from
Government within a limited time. For our suffering masses time is crucially of the essence especially when it has to do with unemployment and their pitiable standard of living.
This brings me to the referenced topic above.
The Manifesto of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) “ The New Direction” which is also conveniently referred to as the “People’s Manifesto”, broadly promises to deliver in five key areas including transforming the economy, building and strengthening our human capital base, improving governance, constructing infrastructure and cultivating a more prudent and sustainable fiscal policy and financial management. Several goals are associated with each strategic area. For example, in transforming the economy, the manifesto promises to improve the macro-economy, develop private sector, strengthen the financial sector, develop the agricultural sector, improve management of mineral resources, introduce a more effective and beneficial management of oil and gas exploration, advance and ensure prudent management of marine resources, develop tourism, and restore the ailing manufacturing sector. To build and develop human capital, the manifesto promises to improve education and skills, improve healthcare, empower the disadvantaged, empower women, empower the youth, protect children, and protect and empower workers. In each of the five areas, the manifesto further promises various determined goals.
To deliver on these ideas, President Bio and his government have designed and should now implement the Medium Term Development Plan 2019-2023, a framework that should now transform the ideas and promises in the ‘new Direction’ into a clearly defined national management agenda with wide-ranging strategic plans that clearly sets out realistic and measurable goals that must be achieved at all levels of governance.
Both the manifesto and development plan of the SLPP Government stresses on prudent financial management and a diversification of the economy as a viable solution to our current and future financial misery. The diversification of our economy through private and public sector investment is vital and urgent as it will expand the economy making it more productive with more opportunities for the young in all areas of their development and sustenance.
However, such diversification requires huge investment both local and foreign direct investments in our chosen sector areas of mineral resources, agriculture, marine resources, tourism and manufaturing. To further attract investment in these areas in the form of private or public – private partnerships; investors would need certain guarantees that will protect their investment namely;
- Law and Order and the Rule of Law
- An Enhanced Public Healthcare System that can adequately cope with all forms of disease outbreaks, with the requisite infrastructure to manage such scourges.
- Tackling Corruption and promoting democratic accountability and
- Education and Skills Development.
For far too long our political elites who have walked the corridors of power have failed to adequately translate the ideas and undertakings in their manifesto to tangible and sustainable feats that improve our lives and prepare our future leaders; hence the desperation of our present generation of young people determined to turn around their wretched lives.
Law and Order and the Rule of Law
The reform and modernization of our judicial system and laws remains a challenge that should be stubbornly undertaken. This is necessary both to protect the rights of our citizens and ensure timely and effective justice for all and in protecting and attracting foreign and local investment.
In this regard Sierra Leone needs an Administration of Justice Act that will fully address current challenges in guaranteeing an independent, modern, credible and effective Judiciary that dispenses prompt Justice for all. The need for judicial review is imperative and far overdue. An Administration of Justice Act and a wholesale overhaul of the justice delivery system to reinforce its independence, impartiality, effectiveness and accessibility will change the current negative public perception of that institution.
Concurrently, it is also necessary to review with a view to repeal or amend the current Law Officers Act so as to reform that body to meet the emerging challenges of this era.
Also of equally great importance will be the legislation of An Investment Act that will promote and facilitate investment in Sierra Leone. Such an investment legislation should concisely set out the necessary guarantees, safeguards and incentives that will attract, encourage and sustain direct foreign investment in the key priority areas of the economy in the ‘New Direction’.
Democratic Sierra Leone remains relatively peaceful despite the normal challenges that results from unemployment and poverty especially among our teeming youth population. In this regard we must tackle corruption, enhance democratic accountability and promote law and order in our communities. We must fight to maintain law and order by addressing the socio-economic root causes of gang violence and armed robbery which are re-emerging in our neighborhoods at an alarming rate while legislating and enforcing stringent laws that will act as a deterrent and fight impunity.
Generally we must reform our laws the majority of which are obsolete and unfit for purpose taking current challenges into consideration.
An Enhanced Public Healthcare System
Sierra Leone is in dire need of an effective and modern Public Healthcare System that can adequately cope with all forms of disease outbreaks, with the requisite infrastructure to manage such scourges. We must ensure that in future our Healthcare Delivery System is able to cope with and effectively manage any disease outbreak or natural disaster.
We must overhaul the current Health Care infrastructure in the country and empower the sector to meet existing challenges that has inhibited quality service delivery in health care for decades.
Tackling Corruption and Enhance Democratic Accountability
The new leadership at the helm of the Anti – Corruption Commission (ACC) has restored some hope in the citizenry which must be sustained. Also, the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry is an upright move in restoring and reinforcing democratic accountability in public service today and in the future.
We must now ensure that future findings and recommendations in the annual audit report of the Audit Service Sierra Leone are adhered to and implemented to prevent the re-occurrence of wide spread corruption in public service and put in place processes and initiatives that will guard our resources and ensure probity in
governance while reviewing public service wages and benefits another root cause for the prevalent graft of the past.
Education and Skills Development
The adoption of free and quality education for all as the campaign mantra and flagship programme of the Bio administration is a move in the right direction as the education and skills of the young is an integral component in the engine of economic growth and future peace.
We must now lay equal emphasis in relevant skills training to complement the free quality education drive so as to engage both the in and out of school youth whose unemployment rate continues to pose a major threat to our development and national security.
Our future development into a middle income economy will only actualize with an educated and skilled population ready to compete effectively in the new global order.
In concluding, I agree with Matilda that one year is just too short a period to rate the current fledgling SLPP administration taking cognizance of the ambitious and essential socio-economic programmes it is undertaking and the current dearth of human and capital resources that is required.
A great consolation however is the political will and resolve to change. Change to a genuine drive to fight corruption, end impunity and promote democratic accountability. Change in the administration of our economy through fiscal discipline and diversification. Change in the health care administration and infrastructure to secure the precious lives of our compatriots. Change in the administration and dispensation of justice for all through an overhaul of the judicial system and wholesale reform of our laws.
In these areas of change the process have started and now needs to be expedited as our people are impatient for the promised change as they are eager to improve their appalling lives.
Most importantly, we need social cohesion as a nation to fulfill our common dream. In this regard we need to change the current rhetoric among our young and our future from partisan outbursts on social media to commentaries on how Sierra Leone can change the old negative narrative that defined our sad past to a nation that is ready to compete in an ever growing competitive global order. We can achieve the impossible as a united people but we can lose everything including our common dream as a divided nation.
Therefore as we celebrate 58 years of independence let us resolve as a nation to unite around the ‘New Direction’ proposed by Government to lift our nation from the brink to prosperity, unity, justice and social order. Together, we must address those national challenges that continue to hinder our progress as the threat of failing our youth again is huge and the consequences of that failure will be severe. To succeed in this endeavor therefore requires all of us to put on hold those differences that can and will further tear us apart until the next election cycle in 2023 and work together to put Sierra Leone in a ‘New Direction’.
HAPPY 58TH INDEPENDENCE DAY ANNIVERSARY TO ALL SIERRA LEONEANS.
MAY THE ALMIGHTY ALLAH/GOD CONTINUE TO GUIDE AND
PROTECT SIERRA LEONE AND ALL SIERRA LEONEANS.