As Debate On President Bio’s Speech Commences… Parliament On Fire

By Aruna Rashed Toma Bangura

Members of Parliament yesterday the 27th of May, 2019 started debating on President Rtd Brig. Julius Maada Bio’s recent state address during the state opening of the Second Session of the Fifth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone.

Hon. Francis Kaisamba of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP), who moved the motion for the debate, said that it is a norm that such speeches delivered by sitting Presidents are subject to debate in the Well of Parliament and therefore, he said, President Bio’s state address on Thursday, 2nd of May, 2019 should not be an exception.

He said, in his statement, the President catalogued what his government has done in his first year in office and what it intends doing, going forward. He said, the President, in his address stated that the economy was imbalance with bloated expenditure  superseding revenue collected and external debt at the highest peak of US$1.5 billion.

He noted that due to economic mismanagement by the former government, the Extended Credit Facility (ECF) was suspended by the International Monetary Fund (IMF), adding that the country’s economy inherited by the Bio administration was in complete shambles.

Hon. Kaisamba noted that upon assuming office, President Bio put in place mechanisms to turn the economy around, adding that before now the MDAs ran their own accounts whilst the central government went starving.

He said President Bio in one of his Executive Orders placed a ban on sporadic tax waivers and ordered that all revenues collected be deposited into the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF).

He maintained that through National Revenue Authority (NRA), government has been able to pay salaries without recourse to bank drafts. However, the MP observed that despite fiscal reforms there still remains daunting challenges in the currency as a result of the drop in the world market price of iron ore and dollarization in business.

Hon. Bash Kamara of the All People’s Congress (APC) maintained that with 52 pages and 265 paragraphs state address this year and 40 pages and 149 paragraphs last year, he is expecting more paragraphs next year.

He commended President Bio for choosing a competent Health Minister but said he failed to applaud former President Koroma for bringing 58 ambulances to transport patients across the country.

Hon. Bash Kamara said the President made two contradicting statements about the elimination of the two shift school system which, he said, he has failed to implement.

In his contribution, Hon. Mustapha Serry of the ruling party admonished colleagues that country cannot talk about development without strengthening the economy, as according to him, the government has made significant strides in the area of economic growth.

“We must commend President Bio for such gains,” he said, adding that Sierra Leone is the only country where the opposition prays and fasts for the ruling government to fail woefully. He said about Le101bn is collected monthly with 86% of revenue spent on salaries, adding the SLPP is ruling the country without any domestic debt.

Hon. Paul Sam of the Coalition for Change (C4C) said in his contribution that as a party, they are ready to wholly support the ruling government. He praised the President for appointing a robust Minister of Economic Planning and Development in the person of an internationally acclaimed administrator, Dr. Francis Kaikai to implement the eight planning economic strategies.

He said the subsidies given to primary schools are meager and therefore urged government to consider increasing them whilst he also called on government to revamp the iron ore sector and forget about ‘Di gron dry’ syndrome.

Hon. Abdul Karim Sesay of APC stated that government must ensure that it pays salaries on time. The single treasury account system, he said, was initiated by the former President, for which he said he should be given accolade.

He said the removal of tax waivers has driven investors which, he said, is the more reason why “Di gron dry.”

On the recently held Bintumani III conference, he said, it was not timely and that the people were not adequately informed about the entire arrangement of the conference. According to him, it was more of a talk session instead of making Position Papers. The free health care implemented by the former government, he said had no costs attached unlike that of the free quality education scheme introduced by the current Bio administration.

On his part, Hon. Foday Lamin Kabba of the APC commended the President for implementing some of the project initiatives by his predecessors.