PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS: THOUGHTS, WORDS AND DEEDS

By Andrew Keili
This year’s Presidential address at the State opening of Parliament, as with previous ones outlined progress made by government over the past year and its plans for the next one year. It is difficult to dissect all aspects of the speech in a short article. My analysis will therefore be based on the main issues, being mindful of the fact that the efficacy of implementing previous plans will go a long way towards bolstering the confidence of the populace in what can actually be achieved.

First let us dwell on what can legitimately be said to be achievements, over the past year, however meagre some may be. The President’s opening salvo made it quite clear his government has placed human capital development at the centre of our development imperatives. The Education and Health budgets have been increased to 21% and 10 % respectively. On the education front considerably more children are now accessing the Free Quality education programme with its numerous facilities, including the building of schools and training of teachers. More healthcare workers have been recruited, trained and the compensation of healthcare workers reviewed and hospitals built and refurbished.

The Directorate of Science and Technology (DSTI) has led and implemented projects that provide data that informs or drives policy, and supports government service delivery and has several achievements under its belt.

The Sexual Offences Act has been strengthened and tougher penalties introduced for rape and gender-based violence. Energy access throughout the country has been increased and more roads and bridges constructed. The government also launched the medium-term National Development Plan.

It is also true that there has been increased domestic revenue mobilization. The government claims tax administration reforms, taxpayer education; monitoring of taxpayer compliance among other reforms account for increased domestic revenues. The government also claims that its Quick Action Economic Recovery Plan may have ensured the provision of essential commodities and support for SMEs and vulnerable populations.

The development and maintenance of a Permanent Civil Register, the award of provisional petroleum exploration licences to two oil companies and the start of implementation of $50m Integrated Resilient Urban Mobility Project are all welcome news. Achievements in the water and sanitation area have included new water and sanitation facilities across the country, rehabilitation of water points and construction of gravity flow schemes.

The government’s fight against corruption has yielded impressive dividends, as reflected in its good performance in global corruption indices. The Anti-Corruption Commission continues to pursue corruption investigations vigorously recovering nearly Le21 billion in the past 18 months under the Non-Conviction Asset Based/Asset Recovery scheme. A new Anti-Corruption Amendment Act 2019 was also passed.

The increase in revenue in the Marine and Fisheries sector to an unprecedented Le 100.5 billion is still considerably short of what is expected from the sector. There seems to be considerable activity in the Youth employment and Youth entrepreneurship areas with several schemes being implemented. Their efficacy will no doubt be better assessed later.

Claims about improved economic performance appear sketchy and not surprisingly, the current downturn is blamed on COVID-19, which has thwarted the “impressive economic performance” claimed, with rosy future projections, had COVID not occurred.

The speech also alludes to many things which are planned, with some at varying stages of implementation. They will obviously be better assessed over time, as there are many planned projects in the past which have floundered and have not been well implemented.

New projects include the establishment of the Wages and Compensation Commission to address inequities in pay and compensation and the harmonization of the various pension laws in the Public Service. The Government also claims it has secured support from the Government of Kuwait to fund the construction of six Technical/Vocational Institutes. The announcement of the plan to establish an ultra-modern diagnostic facility, with Cabinet approving $19.8 Million for this is welcome by many citizens.

The finalisation of several plans by The Ministry of Agriculture to develop Cocoa, Coffee and Cashew Policies to support the advancement of the tree crops sector, and plans for promotion of animal production are on the cards.

There are several plans afoot for Improving the productivity and sustainable management of fisheries and the marine sector. Claims about improving the monitoring, control, and surveillance of our territorial waters and of engaging the EU Directorate–General for Health and Food Safety in order to facilitate the export of fish and fisheries products have not yet borne fruit.

Many claims about the tourism sector of attracting more tourists would have to be better assessed post COVID when we will see the impact of the measures undertaken by the Ministry. Claims that the mining sector is set to attract new investors, with various projects completed or in the throes of completion would also have to await the end of COVID-19 to see the effect of the actions undertaken. We will then see if the plans to provide jobs for over 15,000 Sierra Leoneans in the sector will be realized.

The establishment of a Floating Storage Regasification Unit Terminal at the Freetown Harbour, the development, construction and commissioning of a 160 Megawatt hydro at Bikongo in Kono District, the implementation of a National Vehicle Fleet Policy, a master plan for ports and harbours throughout the country are all at a planning stage.

Although a new National Water Resources Management Agency (NWRMA) to monitor and regulate our water resources, is now fully operational, it will take some time for its effect to get felt. Plans for improving Guma’s and Salwaco’s performance through various donor funded projects are said to be on the cards. The Reconstruction of Water supply systems in Bo, Kenema, and Makeni is said to be nearing completion.

The speech also mentions plans by SONOCO, a Guinean based Company to invest over 20 Million USD in establishing a Flour Mill in Sierra Leone with a capacity of 2,500 metric tonnes a day. Plans to involve the army in agriculture and for the Army to have a full-scale Army Engineering Unit and to expand the mandate of the Armed Forces Technical Education College (AFTEC) to integrate a teaching corps; and restructure and establish an expanded Joint Medical Service appear ambitious.

There are a few projects that are holdovers from the previous government. These include the Energy Sector Utility Reform Project by which government is improving the transmission and distribution network in Freetown, various donor funded solar projects in several communities, projects to improve the Transmission and Distribution system in major provincial towns and several plans to electrify rural communities and the major TRANSCO project.

Other issues like extensive public sector and governance reforms, including merit-based recruitment of Civil Servants, without regard to tribe, region of origin or religious beliefs could be disputed by some.

These plans are many and ambitious. Perhaps before one could pass judgment on the government’s ability to deliver on these promises, it would be worthwhile to examine the President’s speech to Parliament in 2019.

This was also quite ambitious and included the following:
 Plans for spending US$220 million, mobilised from various partners for the development of the agriculture sector and an additional US$ 45 m.
 Engaging foreign private sector players to invest in large scale farming in the Torma Bum-Gbondappi areas in the South and in the Rhombe and Samu areas in the North.
 The signing of an MOU with the Chinese Government for the construction of a US$70 million fish harbour.
 The signing of a partnership agreement with Iceland for a US$3.2 million project to construct improved fish smoke ovens and other facilities.
 The Drafting and adoption of a new Port Act to replace the 1964 Port Act.
 The feasibility study and preliminary design for the Rokel River Water Supply and signing of an MOU with a Chinese firm for the construction phase of the project to supply water to Freetown.
 Transferring the EPA to the Ministry of Lands, Housing and the Environment.
 The establishment of a school of diplomacy to train career diplomats
 Repealing the obnoxious Section of the Public Order Act 1965, which criminalizes defamation and seditious libel.

It is also worth noting that in his 2019 speech the President stated that Government has prepared for the establishment of the Independent Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. More than a year later, the Peace commission has still not been set up. The President also stated that “to enhance national cohesion, my administration will work with political parties to develop bi-partisan programmes on critical development challenges in the country”. This has not happened.

This laundry list of promises, most of which were not kept makes many a discerning person wonder whether the central hub, touted in the President’s 2019 speech for coordinating and supporting the implementation of the Government’s Strategic Priorities is functioning well.

The speech is also notable for what was excluded or given short shrift. The justice system and law and order which are germane issues of the day were given short shrift. It is also surprising that no mention was made of the two new Ministries recently created-Gender and Children’s Affairs and the Environment and of the flagship Lungi Bridge project. The speech also does not wade through the current pandemic crisis and how we will position ourselves to deal with its outfall and post COVID issues.

In the final analysis, the President’s speech will be judged one year down the line on deeds and not thoughts and words. We all look forward to these deeds.

I agree though with the President’s appeal in the last paragraph of his speech “to wield the best in us for making Sierra Leone what it ought to be” and to “embrace peace and lend our unconditional support to ensuring that we leave behind the dark days of strife and hatred”.

Thanks you, Mr. President. Though there may have been some impressive gains in the human development arena, it would appear that many promises are not being kept. Indeed, when deeds speak, words are nothing.
Ponder my thoughts.

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