HANDING OVER REPORT: KOROMA BLOWS HIS OWN HORN

By Andrew Keili

Much has been said about President Koroma’s handing over report and there have been all kinds of suggestions about the mode, manner and timing of the presentation. Expectations became more intense when in his speeches in Parliament and during his inauguration, President Bio lambasted the Koroma administration for what he termed the hopeless state of the nation. Presidential Executive orders especially on fiscally related matters have given the impression the Koroma Administration was running the country like a “Vampire state”. President Bio’s Ministers have further hammered the nail in President Koroma’s government’s coffin and blamed them for everything except perhaps the holocaust.

The APC amidst all of the criticism has uncharacteristically been caught flatfooted and the public largely is buying into this narrative. Everything was thus hanging on President Koroma to make a robust retort in his handing over report.

Yours truly feels compelled to review it with a dispassionate hat. I have tried to take out the rhetorical flourish meant for point scoring and concentrated on identifying real successes, spurious claims and perhaps cite a few statements that may almost tantamount to groveling or ingratiation.

SUCCESSES

It is no surprise that President Koroma started off with excuses. A significant part of the earlier section of the report is devoted to the effect of the Ebola outbreak and the commodity price drop from 2014 to 2016 Sierra Leone. He cites the “massive contraction of our economic growth from an unprecedented high of 20.8% at one point prior to Ebola down to a negative of minus 21.5% by the year 2015”.

President Koroma is proud of what he calls his success of building a “bigger economy”- “Government’s unprecedented development strides are reflected in Sierra Leone now having a much bigger economy than when I took over in 2007. Back then, the monetary value of Sierra Leone’s Economic and business activities was estimated at five trillion Leones. By 2017, this is now estimated at 30 trillion Leones. In 2007, the Annual Revenue generated within Sierra Leone was 500 billion Leones; today it is 4 trillion (4,000 billion) Leones. Foreign Direct Investment has grown tremendously from 288 billion Leones to five trillion (5,000 billion) Leones.”

The government restored judicial administration to all districts with resident magistrates and provided legal safety net for citizens through the formation of the Legal Aid Board.

He also claims correctly that salaries of public sector workers were also increased several times with the minimum wage increased to Le500,000 per month from Le21,000 in 2007.

Whatever reservations one may have about how funds were managed his statement that, “My Government’s direct development expenditure on roads, energy, health, education, tourism, communication, information technology and other areas has been way above what it was in 2007” cannot be disputed.

The claim of a larger number of international airlines also appears to be true. Lumley Beach has been enhanced with construction of beautiful hotels and entertainment spots.

His government made a few high profile appointments of women to top positions including Chief Justice, Auditor General, Heads of major Agencies and supported the appointment of women to top positions in the UN, AU parliament and Ecowas.

His assertion of a significant increase in power supply is also true.  He states that” In 2007, the entire country’s electricity production was 47million kilowatt hours raised from a mere 10 megawatts. I am handing over the country with 350 million kilowatt hours produced from over 280 megawatts (the correct figure is probably in the 100 MW range).  Whatever the current problems with irregular supply, this is a significant improvement on what existed when he came to power.

Roads is another area where he can claim successes. He has cited several roads constructed during his tenure in all parts of the country. Township/city roads have also been constructed with government funds. There have however been concerns about the government overextending itself with road construction and the value for money as well as purported corrupt practices.

Whatever its deficiencies the government introduced its flagship programme for Free Health Care for Pregnant Women, Lactating Mothers and Children Under 5 years.

SPURIOUS AT BEST

President Koroma attempts to tout his successes in the areas of ‘Safety & Rule of Law, Participation and Human Rights” and describes Sierra Leone as a country reckoned to be “a nation in Africa where democracy has taken root”. There are indeed several events during his tenure that would cast doubt on this assertion.

Surprisingly he also tries lamely to defend his record on inclusivity- “I resisted tremendous pressures for me to remove from key positions in the Civil and Public Service, certain citizens perceived to be supporters of your now-ruling SLPP party……..This was my style of inclusive governance so that the social and political fabric of the country could be woven in harmony as the Government served citizens.”  Many would dispute this and say that the poor practice of inclusivity may be what in fact affected his party in the South East in the recent elections.

It is also surprising that he could tout his success with “making the Auditor General’s report available to the Public until after parliamentary scrutiny”, much against President Kabbah’s advice. “However, I did not share his views and as a firm believer in transparency”, he claims. The wanton flouting of rules by MDAs and the ignoring of repeated recommendations of audit reports by his government would seem to indicate that his government cared little about resolving these issues and plugging the huge potential leakages uncovered.

He touts his record of  “institutionalizing transparent Performance Contracts across MDAs, universities and colleges” but does not refer to the fact that there were hardly any follow up actions. He also refers to “strengthening the participation of ordinary citizens in the budget preparation process” without stating that cooperation was sometimes spotty.

He beat his chest to praise his quest for transparency in the use of Ebola funds- “Government got a special public commendation from Transparency International when I requested the Auditor-General to undertake an Audit of how funds to combat Ebola were being managed right in the middle of the fight against Ebola”. The jury is still out on the Ebola funds with concerns that the “big fish” were largely left unscathed.

Subsidies to farmers, tertiary education students etc. were mentioned without recourse to their sustainability. The free health care scheme, though welcome was fraught with a considerable amount of difficulties.

He makes a rather contestable claim that “the claim that my Government could not pay salaries without resorting to borrowing is absolutely not true.”

He claims his government expanded education at all levels but does not mention the multifarious problems faced in the sector with teacher verification, lack of infrastructure, teacher disaffection and the disastrous introduction of the 6344 system as well as incessant strikes in the higher education sector.

We have yet to see tangible dividends from the introduction of the National Health Insurance Scheme and the National Ambulance Service.

With health statistics published by international partners in the sector indicating the parlous state of our health system, he surprisingly takes aim at them-“However, despite visible indications of marked improvements, our international partners consistently report that there is no improvement in dire statistics of death and sickness amongst mothers and children.”

Many would dispute his claims that he has “strengthened the protection of the drivers of the economy –ICTs, fisheries/marine and mineral resources” and “the laying of the fibre-optic cable across the country is almost complete.”

A NEW KING WHO KNEW NOT JOSEPH?

Perhaps what is surprising is his going overboard with his deference to President Bio (a new King who knew not Joseph) almost to the point of groveling.

He praises President Bio’s patriotism in returning home to help in the Ebola fight-

“Your Excellency, at this point, let me mention your Statesman role when you left your important Ph.D studies in the United Kingdom to come and join us towards the tail end of the fight against Ebola. Many Sierra Leoneans, including myself, appreciated the personal efforts you made to help combat Ebola; an enemy so vicious that it brought Sierra Leone to its knees. May God bless you for your patriotism you showed during those very low points for our Nation.”

This had been seen by many in the SLPP opposed to President Bio who were not given permission to have public gatherings as grossly unfair.

He even goes to the extent of identifying himself with the “paopa” philosophy-

“Government’s subsidies in various sectors cushioned the effects of poverty in a prompt manner that can be likened to your own ‘Prompt Action On Poverty Alleviation’ (PAOPA). This means my Government had already been on a pathway which you may now be comfortable to emulate as far as poverty alleviation is concerned.”

President Koroma of Tolongbo fame praising Paopa?-Lord now lettest thy servant depart in peace!

He obviously wanted to encourage President Bio to follow in his footstep of subsidizing fuel, rice, transportation etc. He goes on to say-“For my Government, there was nothing to debate; we saw no reason to remove the subsidies and we preferred to incur the wrath of Development Partners than place more burdens on our poor citizens”

He even had something in common with President Bio in his insistence of the Treasury single account (TSA) in his Executive orders-

“My Government ensured that one of the final Acts passed through Parliament in 2017 was the Fiscal Management and Control Act which I assented to shortly before my tenure ended this year. This action of my Government now fully compelled MDAs to immediately deposit all collected revenues into the Consolidated Revenue Fund; all in furtherance of the implementation of the TSA. I commend your Executive Order which sought to follow my implicit directives………”

He was very conciliatory and humble at the end of the report, leaving one in no doubt as to who the new King was-

“I however wish you all success in your positive plans for our country as you take over from me. I am now under your leadership. You are now my national leader.”

And he even wished him a happy birthday:

“I understand May 12th is your birthday so please accept my wishes for a Happy Birthday and a joyous celebration of your Inauguration.”

A FEW MORE THOUGHTS

His parting advice to President Bio was a mixed shopping bag. He should be guarded in all dealings with international partners and investors, consider continuing with the Sierra Leone Foreign Service Transformation Strategy, watch the propensity for many of our compatriots to cut corners and lead by exemplary hard work, increase agricultural activities and create jobs and strengthen environmental protection.

POSTCRIPT

As with all President’s, President Koroma scored his successes, though tainted with caveats especially in the infrastructure arena. His government also could be credited for laying the roadmap with legislation is several areas that the new government can use as a guide-this includes some relatively good pieces of legislation, new policies on lands, mining and a roadmap for the energy sector-all of which he did not even cite in his report. Whatever successes are touted however, our economic situation remains dire and we are still a very poor nation. His failures could probably be attributed to the inability to control corruption, the slow erosion of our democratic values and the poor commitment to separation of powers with accompanying negative effects on democratic institutions of state and the sometimes-unbridled use of his “supreme executive authority”.

Everyone has now had his own report or speech out. President Koroma has blown his own horn  and we should get back to work. Meanwhile history will be President Koroma’s judge and President Bio’s in the long run.

Ponder my thoughts

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