President Bio’s message of hope for a better New Year

JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - DECEMBER 02: President of Sierra Leone Julius Maada Bio attends the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 at FNB Stadium on December 2, 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images for Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100)

Today, the world celebrates the beginning of a new decade with hope of a better future, driven by economic progress, new technology and increased wealth creation. But for the people of Sierra Leone, there is little hope of a better and brighter future.

The people of Sierra Leone have experienced ten years of economic struggle, with rising and chronic unemployment, low economic growth, alarmingly high government borrowing, rising cost of living, low investments in key sectors of the economy, and collapse of the value of the currency – the Leone.

Although successive governments promised to do all it takes to transform the country from a poverty stricken and foreign aid dependent nation, it seems the political will to take tough policy decisions, and put country before selfish, partisan interests is in short supply.

When president Julius Maada Bio was elected in March 2018, he too promised to end the suffering of the people of Sierra Leone. He promised to change how the country is governed. He promised to end impunity and lawlessness. He promised a New Direction.

But how much has changed in Sierra Leone since March 2018?

The country now has a free education programme for all state-run primary and secondary schools, which critics say is being crippled by lack of funding, low teacher morale, and growing household poverty.

There is also a new government mantra in town. Instead of the former president Koroma’s “attitudinal change and my government is running the country like a business” chorus from State house, president Bio’s mantra – “we are building the nation’s human capital” is yet to gain traction.

President Bio says investing in developing the country’s human capital is key to the country’s economic future, and its chances of capitalising and benefiting from the fourth industrial revolution pioneered by new advanced technology and innovation. Fine words indeed.

While many in Sierra Leone would agree with him, there are just too many hungry people in the country; far too many children are still dying before their fifth birthday; most adults dying before their 50th birthday due to poor health and poverty.

Access to clean drinking water and electricity, are posing immense difficulty for the vast majority of Sierra Leoneans across the country.

And with over 70% of adults out of work, including thousands of qualified university and college graduates, president Bio’s dream of taking the people of Sierra Leone to the promised land by investing in a technological revolution is proving hard to sell.

Far too many farmers are struggling to increase their production yield due to lack of investment finance, use of low productivity seeds, lack of modern farming techniques, and weak supply and value chain structures.

Far too many small and medium sized businesses are struggling to survive.

In his second New Year’s message to the people of Sierra Leone, president Bio is calling for the people, not only to be patient, but to be the change that they too would like to see in the country.

This is what he said today:

Fellow citizens, welcome to a new year – a time to   bid   farewell   to   2019   and   a   time   to   look forward to 2020. As   we   look   back   into   2019,   we   were   shackled with high domestic and foreign debt repayments, unfavourable   mining   lease   agreements,   low domestic   productivity,   high   youth unemployment,   high   inflation   and   currency depreciation.

Throughout   the   year,   our confidence   and   optimism   as   a   nation   were shaken   by   mild   economic   turbulence   and unavoidable shocks we inherited.

Typically, Sierra Leoneans have made light of the situation with the usual humorous jibe, “the gron dry”.

But in 2019, we also made huge progress. We   launched   the   medium   term   national development   plan;   increased   domestic   revenue mobilisation   by   streamlining   and   automating revenue   collection   and   deposit   processes; clarified and reduced the tax and duty burden on businesses; made it easier to establish and run a business   including   providing   aftercare   at   the highest   levels   and   provided   more   support   for small to medium enterprises. We do this with the firm belief that private enterprise is the engine for economic expansion.

As we look forward into 2020, our Country is at peace   with   falling   crime   rates,   lower   prison populations and no security threat. At Bintumani 3,   Sierra   Leoneans   suggested   ways   to   further lower   tensions   and   establish   a   permanent infrastructure   for   peace.

We   have   moved   to repeal   criminal   libel   laws   that   successive governments had used to suppress free speech. We   continue   to   open   up   civic   spaces   and   we encourage our citizens to speak up and make our democracy stronger and better.

In spite of the cynicism about foreign travel, we have,   through   those   travels   transformed   the reputation and image of Sierra Leone abroad by comprehensively telling our friends and partners who we really are and where we are taking our nation. And they have   watched our unrelenting and determined fight against corruption.

We passed the MCC’s “Control of Corruption” indicator with very high scores.   They   have   watched   us   crack   down   on fraud   and   waste   and   reform   public   institutions and practices. And you know what, the IMF, EU, DFID, World Bank and our international partners have all expressed   confidence   in   what   we   are doing and they have re-engaged fully.

We have actively promoted   business   in   Sierra   Leone through   various   investment   conferences   and foreign   delegations   have visited   our country   to explore investment opportunities.

The   fisheries,   tourism,   and   agricultural   sectors are   set   for   significant   foreign   private   sector investments in the near future. We are focused on   rice-sufficiency,   cash   crop   production   and agricultural value-chain addition.

As   we   go   into   2020,   more   than   two   million children,   especially   girls,   have   access   to   free quality   education,   free   teaching   and   learning materials, expanded healthcare services, school buses and free school feeding in some areas.

We have   intensified   our   national   campaign   against early   child   marriage,   introduced   robust enforcement   and tougher   sentencing guidelines for sexual and gender-based violence.

Teenage pregnancy, menstrual health and hygiene are no longer taboo topics. Our women are   at   the   centre   of   our   country’s   future development and security and we have recruited more women into our armed forces than at any time in our country’s history.

We   are   investing   heavily   in   STEM   disciplines especially for girls and through the Directorate of Science,   Technology,   and   Innovation,   we   are harnessing the power of data and technology to support   governance,   business,   healthcare, education, and agriculture.

We recently launched the   first   drone   corridor   in   West   Africa   and   the first   block-chain-based   national   digital   identity platform   that   will   improve   financial   inclusion among other benefits.

Soon,   we   will   convene   a   national   forum   on   the future   of   education.   We   do   so   mindful   of   our national   development   priorities   and   goals   and knowing   that   for   our   children   to   lead   and participate   in   the   Fourth   Industrial   Revolution and the global economy, they must be equipped with a 21st century education.

We enter 2020 in a Sierra Leone where mothers in   labour   and   critically   ill-cases   can   now   be rushed   into   a   nearby   hospital   or   community health centre by an ambulance they can call toll-free   from   the   comfort   of   their   homes.

We   will continue   work   on   lowering   maternal   mortality rates,   expanding   primary   healthcare,   training and   recruiting   more   healthcare   workers,   and refurbishing   or   building   new   health   centres   all over the country.

In 2020,   we will   turn   sod   for the   construction   of an   ultramodern   diagnostic health Centre using funds recovered from corrupt officials as seed money. Our public sanitation and waste disposal   investments have   yielded   public health benefits.

We enter   2020 with a renewed commitment to fighting climate change while improving clean energy access in off-grid rural areas and tackling energy poverty through the nearly-completed regional grid and other new initiatives.

We   enter   2020   with   extensive judicial reforms that have led to more access to justice.   Our social protection   programmes   continue   to support   vulnerable   families   and   we   have launched   a   $50   million   urban-mobility   project.

We are also rehabilitating key trunk roads from Kailahun to Freetown and building new bridges nationwide.   Big impact and high-value infrastructural projects will commence in 2020.

Our youth empowerment projects and our support for sports development,   especially the Sierra   Leone   Premier   League,   have been very significant.

Fellow   citizens,   together   we   have   started   an inspiring   journey.   The   challenges   are   huge   but they are not insurmountable. Your expectations are high but they can be met. Your aspirations are boundless but they can be fulfilled. Nothing is impossible, even the miracles you expect us to perform.

Therefore, I call for your relentless optimism and hard work to develop our nation. If you share my belief   that   we   can   make   Sierra   Leone   a   better place, I urge you to share the responsibility with me for doing so with a firm commitment to make, act and be the change you want to see.

My family and I  wish you all a happy  and prosperous New Year. I thank you.

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