Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Mrs. Nimatulai Bah-Chang, told the gathering that the essence of the State Dinner was to strengthen bilateral partnerships that would foster development amongst Sierra Leone and her international communities.
“We are here this evening to reflect on where we took this country from, to know where we are as a government and what we have achieved in just ten months of leadership under the New Direction of President Julius Maada Bio,” she said.
His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio profoundly thanked resident, non-resident and eminent personalities, on behalf of his government, for their diverse contributions to the national development of the country, reiterating the point that he inherited the worst economic situation since independence.
“This worst economic situation is characterized by double-digit inflation, low domestic revenue mobilization, high domestic debt burden, unsustainable external debt and huge arrears to contractors,” he stated.
The President, however, assured the diplomatic community that his government had pursued a disciplined economic management path, by tackling leakages and streamlining revenue mobilization. He added that those achievements were to ensure that there was a prudent public financial management and expenditure characterized by an aggregate fiscal discipline and resource allocation that were based on strategic priorities for effective governance.
“Despite all the economic challenges, which I inherited, I have prioritized investment in Human Capital Development as the bedrock for my administration. It may interest you to know that I have coined a new definition for Human Capital Development. For me, Human Capital Development means three things: feeding the brain through Education; feeding the stomach through Agriculture and taking care of the body through Healthcare,” he maintained.
President Bio continued by saying that before he launched the Free Quality Education Programme, he had committed his government to providing a historic 21 percent of the national budget to the education sector because the standard of education in Sierra Leone had fallen sharply despite formerly called the Athens of West Africa.
“Therefore, the role of the diplomatic community here and those accredited to Sierra Leone towards the success of this flagship programme, cannot be over-emphasized,” he said.
“As part of our government’s commitment to Human Capital Development, we are also scaling up investment in healthcare infrastructure services this year. My government is focusing on constructing well-equipped Peripheral Health Units, expanding free ambulance services to all districts of the country, rehabilitating healthcare facilities, providing healthcare personnel. Again, I encourage the diplomatic community to support us in ensuring that we make quality health care delivery both accessible and affordable to all Sierra Leoneans,” President Bio urged.
He assured of Sierra Leone’s readiness to open to business opportunities, adding that his government would particularly welcome foreign investors that were credible and transparent.
Responding to the statement of President Bio, the Dean of Diplomatic Corps in Sierra Leone, who also doubles as the British High Commissioner, Guy Warrington, said that as head of the Diplomatic Missions in Sierra Leone they were very pleased with the manner in which President Bio was governing the country, particularly in placing a premium on Human Capital Development. He affirmed that the Diplomatic Community welcomed President Bio’s key priorities areas and promised that they would work to support the government of Sierra Leone in achieving those priorities.
“We followed your campaign messages before you became president. We also followed your government’s priority areas as stated during the Cabinet Retreat. We welcome those steps as we have seen tremendous progress in just ten and half months of your leadership. We have seen fiscal discipline and financial management; most importantly, we have seen the fight in combating corruption. We have also seen good governance and the rule of law. We congratulate all of them, we will support those principles laid particularly in economic diplomacy because we have seen a lot of gains in that direction,” he assured.
He concluded by saying that they would work with the government in ensuring that Sierra Leone moved in the right direction and said they looked forward to a deepened dialogue.