Today, 4th April, 2019… Bio Clocks 1 Year …Successes, Failures & Challenges

One year ago on 4th April, 2018, a new state governance era was ushered into our beloved country, when the National Returning Officer of the National Electoral Commission (NEC), Mohamed N’fah Alie Conteh announced Rtd. Brig. Julius Maada Bio of the then main opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) as winner of the 31st March, 2018 presidential runoff election.

With one year having rolled by quickly since that day, when he promised the nation that he would provide efficient political and economic management of the state and its resources, it is proper that going forward, we take an objective, impartial look into the successes, failures and challenges facing the Bio ‘New Direction’ Government.

In the area of efficient management of the state and its resources, from inheriting what he told the nation was a broke economy, through taking certain tough decisions, the New Direction Government has succeeded in plugging gaping financial loopholes that have resulted in the saving of billions of Leones that otherwise would have continued to go into the pockets of corrupt, crooked public officials.

The biometric registration of all civil and public servants that was ordered by the Ministry of Finance and the Human Resource management Office (HRMO) to be done by the National Civil Registration Authority (NCRA), for example, removed about 9, 000 suspected fictitious workers from the government payroll – a huge success in terms of expenditure reduction.

At the same time, reform of the public procurement agency management has resulted in a rationalization of the public procurement process in terms of prudent management, transparency, accountability and value for money, given that about 70% of government expenditure is incurred in procurement.

Reform of the management of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) has also resulted in a dramatic increase in the collection of tax revenue on which the government depends to keep it running and at the same time embarking on development projects and programmes that benefit the citizenry without much dependence on donor support.

The Bio administration has also met its requirements by instituting fiscal management policies in the form of Treasury Single Account (TSA) which was rebuffed by erstwhile President Ernest Bai Koroma.

In addition, the government through the efforts of the National Revenue Authority (NRA) has increased revenue generation to over Le30 billion a day, thereby helping the government to pay salaries and wages of public sector workers without resorting to international begging, bank overdraft and domestic borrowing.

The fight against corruption was another very important national issue which President Bio promised to strengthen. There is no doubt that his Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) Commissioner has been doing the remarkable job of tracking down public sector criminals and bringing them to book or getting them to pay back what they took that does not belong to them. To date, in terms of recovery, the ACC has returned nearly Le13 billion to the Consolidated Revenue Fund (CRF) whilst it has succeeded in sending a strong message to public sector employees that it is very risky to engage in corruption under the ‘New Direction’ administration.

President Bio has made the cost of engaging in corruption in Sierra Leone very high to the extent that offenders of his own administration are not spared. In the past twelve months, the anti-graft body has focused on recovering stolen monies from past and present officials.

There have been huge gains in the recovery of the country’s stolen public funds from officials of the former Koroma administration. There is also accountability as the three Commissions of Inquiry established by the Bio administration are providing additional gains in the fight against corruption.

Today, President Bio stands as an example to other African Heads of State in the fight against corruption, with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) recently rating the country’s fight against corruption as 71%.

On the international front, under the dynamic, indefatigable leadership of President Bio, the government has been able to win renewed confidence from international financial organizations which the former government never enjoyed as indicated by the low ranking of the international anti-corruption index.

From a lowly score of about 40% in 2017, the country in 2018 rose up the ladder to 72%. This has enabled the country to attract funding from the World Bank, IMF, AfDB and other international financial organizations for both budgetary support and financing of key infrastructural development projects that would help boost economic productivity.

In terms of citizens’ welfare, the most notable success is President Bio’s Free Quality Education flagship project which the President described as a priority development issue aimed at improving the quantity and quality of the country’s human resource which, he said, is the foundation which all developed and developing countries stand on in transforming themselves from mass poverty to prosperity. President Bio’s decision to reclaim the country’s lost “Athens of West Africa” glory has seen his government investing 21% of budgetary allocation to education.

The outcome of the Free Quality Education programme that was launched at the start of this school year in September, 2018 has seen a dramatic increase in enrolment in both primary and secondary schools as parents and guardians rush to take advantage of non-payment of fees and other facilities provided by the government and its donor partners, including textbooks and, in some schools, free meals.

The success of the programme is also seen in the increased number of pupils that will sit to this year’s West Africa Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (WASSCE). According to the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education, it is the highest number of candidates ever registered for WASSCE with the government footing the bills.

Using the Singapore Model, the President realizes the urgent need to push Sierra Leone away from an unflattering 65% illiteracy rate. By improving the country’s education sector, thereby increasing literacy rate, human capital development will serve as the driver for economic and social progress, on the President’s belief that mineral resources can become exhausted but with an enlightened, skilled and educated population, Sierra Leone can become prosperous.

The New Direction Government has also embarked on improving standards by reviewing schools’ curricular with civic education intended to be reintroduced. There are plans to improve schools’ infrastructure across the country.

In addition, tertiary education has also benefited from this resurgence with free tuition for girls studying sciences, free university application forms. There is also the recent turning of the sod for the construction of a state-of-the-art Eastern University in Kono District, as well as securing of funding to rehabilitate government secondary schools in Freetown, Bo, Kenema and Magburaka.

Another area of related human development is the health sector. A realistic down-to-earth Professor Dr. Alpha Tejan Wurie, who heads the Ministry on assumption into office, did the most basic thing required for change: he called a meeting of all his professional heads to brainstorm on the challenges facing healthcare delivery in the public sector. From that basis, he went on to draw up a blueprint of how gradually, with the resources available, the Ministry can be gingered up to effectively deliver the services required by the people.

At the same time, President Bio’s “Thank You” tour of the entire country gave him the opportunity to identify regions that are without proper healthcare facilities and to also distribute state ambulances to different regions. The ambulances will help reduce maternal mortality rate with swift facilitation of women in labour. It would also save those in other emergency situations.

Furthermore, the Bio administration has increased the salaries of health workers in addition to a 15% pay increment across the board. An addition of three thousand health workers will be recruited with pin codes.

There are several other policy areas from which the health sector will benefit, including securing funding for the construction of a state-of-the-art cancer treatment centre, improving healthcare, attaining food sufficiency, promoting tourism, boosting investor relations, linking MIT with Njala University, increasing pensioners’ monthly benefits, constructing major roads and providing free tertiary education for students whose parents are teachers that have taught for ten years and above.

Also, in terms of the successes of the MoHS under Bio’s ‘New Direction,’ agenda, the people can point to considerable improvement in service delivery at the Cottage Hospital, Connaught and other government hospitals and clinics across the country in terms of staff commitment to duty and availability of basic cost recovery medicines and those for the free health care scheme that was introduced by the former government.

Success is also noted in the building of five new hospitals in the crowded Western Area, as well as installing of a TB lab at Lakka; plans to build a diagnostic hospital and another for cancer treatment underway, strong working relationship with the Chinese medical team at the Jui hospital, Community Health Centres in the 200 Chiefdoms with plans to have two Community Health Centres per chiefdom that can be able to diagnose diseases.

Energy is another sector were the ‘New Direction’ government has been praised for making meaningful gains in terms of increased generation capacity in the capital city, with strides made in beefing up production in the main provincial headquarter cities and some other important towns across the country that were dark as hell at night. In Freetown investments in distribution and transmission has seen thousands of people connected to the electricity grid.

The current Minister of Energy renegotiated a better deal with the Turkish Karpowership brought in by the Koroma administration without kickbacks in the agreement process. The government is set to save US$10 million each year from the deal.

The same Turkish power provider has been contracted for the supply of electricity to the east end of Freetown. Temporary electricity strategies have been sound, as they substitute Bumbuna until Phase two is completed.

Deepening of the decentralization programme that was initiated in 2002 by the Tejan Kabbah government and continued under the former government is a success of the ‘New Direction’ government as it has within the space of one year, succeeded in devolving 28 out of 36 central government functions to the local councils with the supportive financing to implement them provided.

Organising sporting events has been a huge challenge over the past five years for Sierra Leone. In football, all hope was lost for both players and sports loving fans as the Sierra Leone Premier League went into oblivion.

After rekindling the spirit of the game with a Three Billion Leones government funding (the highest government has ever provided to the Premier League Board) as a start-up fund, many youths have had their talents resuscitated; businesses are now booming, footballers are now yielding dividend from their labour and football loving fans are happy.

These huge strides made by President Bio in just less than one year in office have received great admiration and support from Sierra Leoneans both home and abroad, and have also brought renewed hope that Sierra Leone will rise once again.

However, in spite of the above outlined remarkable successes achieved by the Bio administration in this first year in office, failures have been pointed to a number of areas. One of them is that of President Bio failing to immediately upon his assumption to office tour the country to calm down post-election passions and to assure the people that felt aggrieved that he is indeed father of the nation.

Many people are of the opinion that he has not done enough to bridge the North/West –South East gulf that has existed in the country between his party and the All People’s Congress (APC). The removal from office of government officials deemed to be members of or sympathetic to the former government is another criticism against President Bio, as people believe, that too is another cause of political tension in the country.

There are others who opine that until President Bio ensures that there is true peace, unity, political stability and tolerance in the country, especially between Themnes and Mendes, implicitly – APC and SLPP, investors would remain hesitant to commit their resources to the country as they fell free to do in places such as Senegal, Ghana, Rwanda and Botswana.

Another downside the people point to is the Bio government’s failure to put a tight lid on inflation in the country and the continued deterioration in the value of the Leone against the major international trading currencies – the United States Dollars. The people note that he can achieve all the infrastructural transformation possible but if his government fails to tackle satisfactorily the crucial existential problems surrounding bread and butter, such as jobs for the youths and affordable food on the table, he risks going out with a bang come next national elections.

Generally, the people tend to have a wait-and-see attitude towards judging of Bio’s one year in power, only noting that there are several key challenges they expect him and his government to tackle sooner than later.

The first and foremost of these is stabilizing the economy, for which government has implemented all the recommendations of the IMF and World Bank aimed at turning the economy around. The second is ensuring food security; the third, economic expansion leading to job creation and incomes; the fourth is enforcing law and order, with the people stating that lawlessness and impunity are still rife in our society. Fifth is increased energy supply for both domestic consumption and the drive towards manufacturing and industrialization which activities depend heavily on a reliable supply of electricity. Sixth and most crucial is the availability of clean drinking water with many of the people saying they can live without electricity for many days but not without clean drinking water for a day.

On the business front, the people maintain that for the rule of law to be firmly established in the country that will give both citizens and foreigners confidence to do business in the country, the police and the judiciary need radical ideological and operational reforms in terms of their proper understanding of the crucial role they play and the responsibility they have in ensuring security and protection of lives, properties and fundamental constitutional rights that will ensure that peaceful, law abiding citizens go about their businesses without fear.

The desired reforms the people envision should lead to those two institutions of justice delivery been seen as upright, impartial defenders of the rights, liberties and freedoms of everybody living in this jurisdiction without fear or favor  in the bid to create an equal society standing firmly on the bedrock of Unity, Freedom and Justice as envisioned by our founding forefathers in 1961 when the country became independent and free to chart its own political, economic, social and cultural destiny.