That State House Press Conference on COVID-19!

Members of the Fourth-Estate were invited to a hurriedly convened Press Conference at State House on Thursday 20th March, 2020 with His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio.
The idea was laudable especially against the backdrop that the epidemic as declared by the WHO was already ravaging Europe and Asia challenging the economies of most great nations.
President Bio has taken a personal leadership approach at the prevention effort and has assessed facilities within the country while also visiting border community towns like Gblamuya Customs Post in Kambia to emphasize on hand washing, social distancing and reporting the sick.
With the recording of cases in Guinea and Liberia recently, the government of Sierra Leone intensified effort by cancelling all flights into the country, closing schools and increasing troops’ presence in the Guinea and Liberian borders.
The Ministry of Finance has also disclosed that it will be spending Le1Bn weekly to support various quarantine facilities in the country and to support contract tracing effort.
The State House Press Conference which provided an opportunity for the Ministers of Finance, Information and the Military to showcase their preparedness plan was necessary since it availed the press the opportunity to meet President Bio and raised more other serious issues with him with regards the government preparedness plan.
Pressmen were happy that they would have got an opportunity to raise issues of accountability and transparency especially when government is spending around Le 1Bn weekly on the response.
This was thwarted by the Head of Strategic Communications at State House P. K. Muana who limited the questioning to only one for each journalist.
Why was he preventing the press from posing questions? It is the desire of President Bio to see every Ministry playing its own role with him in charge.
Even though we salute government for the robustness of the preparedness effort, but we also call on the President to strengthen accountability mechanisms over the management of funds for COVID-19.
The Ministry of Finance is slowly losing its credibility owing to the revelations of the Auditor General’s Report, 2018 and the Africanist Press. This explains why we should we be very mindful when we have a situation where they would have to expend government monies more frequently.
The unholy marriage we are seeing between the Ministry of Health and Finance is suspicious and we should be very much concerned.
The Anti-Corruption Commission as part of its own contribution to the preparedness effort should be able to work side by side with the relevant ministries.
It is to assess what is happening on the ground vis-à-vis measuring government resources as against what is trickling down. The tendency for corruption and mismanagement wherein we have relaxed rules on procurement is very great.
We will not want to see a situation wherein we will have to witness another Special Audit Report on the management of funds meant for COVID-19 preparedness or if not envisage a situation where in the Africanist Press would begin to publish how such monies meant for the Preparedness are diverted elsewhere.
We welcome the move to utilize the allocation of the Ministry of Health and Sanitation for 2020 even though the MOHS has gotten other competing priorities like the Free Health Care, supporting Primary Health Services and other major interventions.
It should not be a field day for squandering monies made available for the preparedness efforts as government amidst all of these efforts still has to fund the FQE and its other human capital developments portfolios like health and agriculture.
It is better to prevent corruption now than waiting to investigate it.
Please be warned… Lonta!

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