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Wednesday, February 8, 2023

The State of the Nation – The First 90 Days of the Bio Government

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The State of the Nation – The First 90 Days of the Bio Government

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Sierra Leoneans had mountains of expectations from the new administration of President Maada Bio. The Bio presidency heightened the voters expectations when they declared that they would make education their top priority and would establish free education. They also made promises to tackle corruption, but yet allowed cabinet ministers and heads of parastatals from the previous government to leave the country with absolutely no consequences of charges being levied. So far, there’s not much the current SLPP government has done that seems to have changed from the previous APC administration. In fact, things seem to be getting worse. There has been no major policy announcement on revamping the economy; we have not heard a single word about incentives from the government to help businesses grow and create new jobs; the security situation continues to deteriorate as homes keep getting robbed and the average Sierra Leonean has to fend for themselves; Sierra Leoneans continue to struggle to pay their bills, feed their children and pay school fees; and, while this is all going on, our parliamentary representatives continue to fight each other and subvert our laws in order to get one over the other.

So far, President Bio’s government has yet to make a bold statement in outlining his government’s new direction and new policies. As a concerned citizen and a true son of the soil, I believe the following should be done:

Respect for the Constitution and Better Cohesion in Governance

We are all now aware of how the previous president and his administration violated our constitution by unlawfully firing the Vice President and instituting a replacement who had not been elected as mandated by the constitution. This was done with the rubber stamped approval of a parliament who spent their entire time looking the other way while president Koroma continued to violate our constitution.

The people of Sierra Leone grew tired of the gross constitutional violations and eventually voted the APC out State House.

Ironically, we now see a semblance of the same constitutional violations committed by the APC government now being committed by president Bio’s government from within State House and also within the corridors of our parliament. The firing of the ACC boss, Ady Macauley, the incident of the exclusion of the majority APC party in parliament from voting for the Speaker and deputy speaker (the genesis of the chaos in parliament) and the rushing through of Francis Ben Kaifala’s (the new ACC boss’) confirmation process through parliament to ensure that the APC and NGC representatives could not perform due diligence and question his eligibility for the position. We also now have this strange issue of David Francis, the Chief Minister, being sworn in as Acting Foreign Minister for strange purposes which most of us do not understand.

As a former military man and a democratically elected president, if president Bio would like to distinguish his government from the previous government, he needs to show that he respects the constitution of Sierra Leone. That means, regardless of how difficult he might find it and regardless of how much of an impediment it is to the progression of his policies, the Sierra Leone constitution should be sacrosanct at all times. He must not let his wishes, or those of other members of his cabinet and inner circle, circumvent the laws of our land.The president must always show that his government is above the Alusine-Alhassan APC-SLPP narrative espoused during the elections.

Also, Sierra Leoneans want to see better cohesion between the Executive and the Legislature. The failure of President Bio to show interest in the current chaos in our parliament wherein members of the majority APC party are being denied their rights to debate and vote on issues, has given people a sense of business as usual. Many Sierra Leoneans are desirous of seeing an end to the Executive and Legislature face-offs, to help bring the economy out of the doldrums. If they can settle their differences in the interest of the common good of all citizens, then harmony will occur and progress will be made in the governance process. This would, for instance, bring about a speedy passage of the budget, which is yet to be delivered, and will help the government in passing its policy initiatives into law.

We cannot allow our parliament to be converted to a zeitgeist that eludes decorum, diplomacy and, yes, even civility – a fervor not unlike the previous parliament.

Sierra Leoneans are suffering and the leadership needs to provide quick short-term interventions to keep the citizenry afloat before the long-term ideas they envision begin to manifest.

Revamping the Economy

From all indications, the defining struggle of Bio’s first year in office will be the country’s failing economy. Sierra Leone’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) looks set to shrink on an annual basis as Sierra Leoneans struggle with the expected increase of fuel prices and surging costs for almost everything else, including food. There is no doubt that falling revenue from precious minerals and other products and the alleged rampant corruption by the previous government have damaged the country’s economy. Throughout 2016, Sierra Leoneans particularly felt the effects of surging prices caused by inflation. Despite efforts by President Bio’s government to lay out the putrefaction of the previous APC government, all indications suggest that Sierra Leoneans will ultimately judge his performance based on his ability to diversify the economy, control inflation and promote job growth.

Cushioning effects of inflation

There is widespread belief that the Bio administration might be making a drastic mistake if it thinks that creating a buzz of small talk about fighting corruption is a substitute for putting food on the table of Sierra Leoneans. The refrain everywhere is that the two are not mutually exclusive and that prolonged starvation might even undermine the fight against corruption. Sierra Leoneans are hungry and are now more interested in seeing the President doing something to cushion the effects of inflation and unemployment on them. Sierra Leoneans have witnessed increases in rent, transportation, electricity tariff, costly mobile phone tariffs and costly data tariff. The toll booths continue to be an impediment to commercial activities and yet the Bio government has not done anything about them. The average Sierra Leonean has always borne the brunt of these costs while these companies and their supporters in government have continued to enjoy tax breaks and huge net profits.

Most Sierra Leoneans were hoping that the Bio government would rein-in on the mobile providers to reduce costs and ensure that consumers were no longer being fleeced out of their small hard earned money. The toll booths are not friendly to commercial activity and many were hoping that the Bio government would have reviewed the contracts for those booths and would have either arranged to have them removed permanently or would have had the contract revised to ensure that majority of the funds generated from those booths go directly to the government to be reinvested in infrastructural developed and in programs to generate local wealth.

Corruption

Bio’s election gave rise to a rare moment of hope in Sierra Leonean politics, stemming from the expectation that he could deliver free education and rein in the country’s debilitating corruption. While Sierra Leoneans are somewhat satisfied with the government’s performance against corruption under the Bio administration, the perception that corruption is still widespread in the government remains prevalent. There is a growing call for the President to prosecute and recover government funds stolen by members of the previous administration; however, many Sierra Leoneans are unhappy with the lack of progress in this area. Sierra Leoneans are hoping to see a speedy prosecution and conclusion of corruption charges to be levied on official of the previous APC government; to ensure that people perceived to have looted the treasury are jailed to serve as a deterrent to others.

 

 

 

 

 Good Leadership

Beyond the fight against corruption and the stalemate between the executive and legislative branches of government, governance problems persist, and the economic situation is worsening.

The country is still divided between supporters of the APC and the SLPP government. Many have been expecting President Bio to have made time to travel around the country to convince voters that they must put the election behind them and to come together as Sierra Leoneans to help him rebuild the country. It is Bio’s duty to convince the nation that he is not the president of the SLPP or any single tribe, but rather the president of the entire nation and of all tribes. So far, the appointments that have been made by the Bio administration have largely consisted of individuals from the South and the East of Sierra Leone, both SLPP strongholds. SLPP commentators have defended the action of appointing loyal SLPP stalwarts as being consistent with what the APC did during President Koroma’s two terms in office. The question then is whether the APC and the SLPP are then two of a kind. If the SLPP would like to represent itself as a party of change, it must veer away from that thought process and start distinguishing itself as a national party and Bio as a leader of ALL Sierra Leoneans. President Koroma’s APC was voted out of office because of their divisive and corrupt practices. So, for the SLPP to equate their policies to that of the APC, is rather suicidal.

In the view of observers, the Bio administration needs to demonstrate that it has the capacity to improve governance as promised. Bio will soon only have less than four clear years left in his term to achieve improvements in governance, as governance in the fourth year of a president’s term is overshadowed by politics and elections. What Sierra Leoneans have witnessed so far falls below expectations.

Increased Electricity Supply

The Bio administration has signed an agreement with the Turkish power company to increase power capacity to the national grid. After the handover of government, the scale of the country’s electricity deficit was daunting and even after the signing of the agreement, the government still faces challenges in ensuring the supply of 24 hour electricity across the Western Area. Sierra Leoneans are groaning as power remains a challenge. Minister of Energy and Power, Kanta Sesay, has attributed the power outage to sabotage at power plants by employees sympathetic to the previous APC government. This assertion is somewhat dubious as the SLPP government has failed to prove a single case of sabotage. However, the excuse has successfully removed the focus from the direction of the Bio government to that of the employees.

Previous administrations have always raised concerns about amidst increased capacity and even though their excuse was directed at the performance of the transformers,  power capacity was never at the present low level.

In spite of the fact that the average Western Area electricity consumer gets only a few hours of electricity daily at best, consumers are groaning under the weight of high power costs most of which is generated through prepaid billing.

Electoral Reforms

One of the greatest debacles to the last election was the question of candidate’s citizenship as Sierra Leonean born candidates with foreign citizenship were deemed to be ineligible to run for parliamentary and presidential offices. This affected good candidates from all parties. Sierra Leoneans were hoping that the Bio government would have made it one of their top agendas to push legislation through parliament to have our constitution amended in order to remove any doubt about the citizenship eligibility of all Sierra Leoneans, regardless of naturalisation in other countries, to participate in parliamentary and presidential elections. To date, not a single effort has been made by either the Bio government (who by the way have many members of the cabinet affected by this law) or members of parliament to push legislation in this direction. Sierra Leoneans are still waiting anxiously on this issue to be resolved. Past experiences suggest that the obstacles to genuine electoral reforms are deeply ingrained in Sierra Leone’s political culture. These, according to experts, are embedded in the winner-takes-it-all attitude of Sierra Leonean politicians, which is informed by the prevalent culture of using public office as an avenue to amass wealth.

Conclusion

Indeed, it is less than 100 days since President Bio assumed office; however, these issues are all urgent items that could have been actioned within his first 45 days. Our nation cannot afford to wait for leadership that takes too long to implement their strategy neither one that takes too long to make decisions. With every single day of delay, there are numerous families going to bed hungry; there are citizens being violently attacked because of their political association; citizens continue to be terrorized in their homes by armed robbers; the hopes and future of our jobless youths continues to wane; the law continues to favor the privilege; corruption continues to persist and those responsible for it continue getting away with it; and, our parliament will continue making a mockery of democracy if all sides are not given a fair chance to debate and vote.

Claude Meama-Kajue

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