FLASHBACK September 25, 2010 : The OGI in New York – It was a night to remember

By Leeroy Wilfred Kabs-Kanu -New York, Saturday September 26, 2010 :

The Riverside Church Conference Centre in Harlem, New York, literally shook  with rapturous cheers and ovation  from a massive crowd of Sierra Leoneans yesterday ,  as President  Ernest Bai Koroma presented the report card of his amazing achievements in just three years of governance,  during a memorable and successful Town Meeting staged by the Open Government Initiative ( OGI ).

With Civil Society Leader, Mrs. Harriet Turay,  moderating the non-partisan and non-political event, the crowd also got their efforts’ worth for attending the program as President Koroma took his time to respond to the questions of  Sierra Leoneans in a masterful manner that drew more applause from the crowd.

If there were Sierra Leoneans in the crowd who had previously been swayed by the propaganda of lies, deceit and alarm being peddled by online opposition newspapers, they left the hall with different perspectives about what was  actually going on in Sierra Leone. Already encouraged by U.S.President Barak OBama the important acknowledgement last Wednesday  of President Koroma’s commitment to encourage  business in Sierra Leone leading to his pledge to partner with Sierra Leone to promote investment , Sierra Leoneans streamed into the hall to hear for themselves  from President Koroma how their nation was faring and to ask questions about matters of concern. They were never disappointed. President Koroma delivered once again.

THE HIGH TABLE AT THE TOWN MEETING : FROM LEFT : FIRST LADY MRS.SIA KOROMA; PRESIDENT KOROMA AND OTHER OFFICIALS

In his address  to the mammoth crowd, President Koroma told them that when he campaigned to the people of Sierra Leone in 2006-2007, he did so on the agenda for change. He told Sierra Leoneans  to vote for him because as they too acknowledged, Sierra Leone needed a change .  “Indeed, the people voted me  to power because they wanted  a change in the direction of their country and in the way Sierra Leoneans did things . ”

OFFICIALS OF NEW YORK STATE INCLUDING COUNCILORS AT THE TOWN MEETING

President Koroma said that when he assumed power ,  he also  promised the people that he will turn around the nation in 36 months . This, he told the crowd, he has achieved. “ And we are here today to report to you the turnaround we have brought in the country within three years. ”

The President enumerated his achievements  to  the crowd , amidst cheers

” When I came to power, there were two things that needed serious consideration : The promises we had made and the aspirations and hopes of the people. ”

He said that when his government looked at the aspirations of the people, it discovered that they were many and as a result of the lack of resources to address all at the same time, government decided to prioritize certain areas capable of bringing results. This, he said, led to the formulation of his AGENDA FOR CHANGE , which placed emphasis on energy, agriculture , infrastructure and social services as the areas that must be quickly tackled.

A CROSS-SECTION OF THE CROWD AT THE TOWN MEETING

PRESIDENT KOROMA’S SISTERS AND A GUEST IN THE FRONT ROW

The President spoke about that Freetown was the darkest capital city in the world through the lack of electricityand stressed the urgent need for light.  ”We decided that whatever  it takes we shall confront the challenge “. The President said that within 100 days, the APC Government brought light to the capital  through the thermal energy project . The government improved capacity from the existing 10 megawatts of electricity to the more reliable 20. The government then turned attention to the HYDROELECTRICTY PROJECT. The Bumbuna Hydroelectricity Project had been abandoned and a lot of commitment and $45 million dollars  were needed to complete it. President Koroma said that the government went all out and in no time, it was able to generate the money and get the dam completed. Bumbuna with only 50 megawatts , he disclosed, was however still not able to satisfy the  energy needs of the people and the government is now working on Bumbuna Phase 2. President Koroma promised that within the next 5 years, Government plans to extend electricity to all the major towns and districts.

 

President Koroma also discussed the Infrastructural developments his government has embarked upon. He disclosed Government’s plans to hook Sierra Leone up with the trans-African highway , through the Freetown-Conakry and Freetown- Monrovia Highways being constructed. He spoke about how his government has completed the construction of the Freetown-Masiaka, Masiaka -Bo and the Makeni- Matotoka Roads. The President drew more applause from the crowd when he told them about the commencement of the  4-lane highway from Kissy round the hills and peninsular  that will ease traffic jam in Freetown and the Kenema-Kailahun-Koindu Highway  .

The President taunted the Sierra Leone People’s Party ( SLPP) obsession with the claim  that what his government was accomplishing were inherited projects. President Koroma, amidst derisive laughter from the crowd, toyed with the SLPP  by  drawing  a distinction between inherited and abandoned projects .He said the projects had been abandoned by the SLPP and jokingly asked the crowd to explain:  How can  abandoned projects  become inherited projects ?  “How can you call   something you had abandoned an inherited project ? ”  The  satirical mode with which the President asked  the questions  sent the hall rocking with laughter.  Sierra Leoneans  burst their sides laughing.

A CROSS-SECTION OF THE GUESTS AT THE OGI BANQUET

President Koroma said some of the projects had been abandoned because funding had been stopped .He stated that his government decided that to complete many of these projects, Sierra Leone had to do it herself as it was not expedient to always depend on foreign aid. As a result, the President continued, all the projects were funded by his  Government. This again drew wild applause from the crowd.

The Government, President Koroma disclosed further , has also started rehabilitating access roads and constructing feeder roads.

In the field of Agriculture, the government decided to revolutionize and commercialize farming because it is the mainstay of the nation. When the government came to power, only 1.7% of the national budget was allocated to agriculture but under his rule, the allocation had been increased to 10%. Last year, the government launched the National Agricultural Development Program through which farming implements, seedlings and extension services had been provided. President Koroma drew more cheers when he announced that the government had begun establishing agricultural centres and within the next year 150 such centres would have been completed throughout Sierra Leone.  The President also told the crowd about the launching of the Smallholders Commercial Agricultural program which has brought together 10, 000 farmers into farmer-based organizations and the provision of subsidized inputs, machinery and training . The farmers will also be able to plant 2-3 different crops per year, instead of one.  ”These are the projects we inherited” , President Koroma joked again with a glint of sarcasm in his eyes and people rolled on each other ‘s laps laughing again.

President Koroma optimistically said  that he was working very hard for the Sierra Leonean people and the results were all there for people to see, and because of this, he said he is not going to be a one-term President . Amidst applause, President Koroma told the audience : “I am not a one-term President. I am going to get a second term during which I will accomplish many more achievements for my people” .

President Koroma next told the crowd about the poor results students achieved in public exams as a result of which he set up the Gbamanja Commission of Inquiry to find ways of improving education in the country. The Commission recommended the rejection of the 6-3-3-4 system of Education for the 6-3-4-4 system which would help improve the quality of education. The government has also hired 4, 000 teachers and put structures in place for the construction of over 70 more schools.

In the area of health , the President disclosed that he had significantly reduced Sierra Leone’s once-alarming infant and maternal mortality rate through the construction of more health centres, improvement of hospital facilities , provision of drugs  and improvement in the conditions of service of the doctors and health professionals and the recent free insurance scheme for pregnant and lactating mothers and children under 5.

Another achievements the President discussed with the crowd was the creation of a national broadcaster , the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation which now provides the opposition the opportunity to use the national radio freely to broadcast . The President boasted that Sierra Leone now has one of the most free press in the world with over 70 newspapers writing whatever they want .He said that since he came to power, no journalist has been arrested by his government or jailed and said that he was very proud of his government’s record in the promotion of freedom of speech and freedom of the press in Sierra Leone.

The President also spoke about his zero tolerance for corruption and how his government revolutionized the Anti-Corruption Commission. Before the APC came to power, the President explained, the ACC was a toothless bulldog .In 2008, the President said his government repealed the 2000 ACC Act to give the Commission power to investigate and  prosecute and offences under which one could be charged were increased from 14 ro 27.He also spoke about the freedom and leverage to operate given the Human Rights Commission , which commission recently gave the government a pass grade in the area of the promotion of the fundamental human rights of the people.

President Koroma recalled the days when Sierra Leone was the country that provided training for civil servants in West Africa. He spoke about Public Sector reforms being undetaken by his government which will include the building of a Public Sector Acasdemy which would provide civil sevants once again for the sub-continent.

THE OGI Banquet later in the evening was also highly successful. An appreciable crowd paid the $200 per plate to be able to attend the Banquet .

President Koroma left before the wining and dinning but not before an impressive side show where two state officials each gave him a Proclamation on behalf of New York City .

A  STATEMENT BY SIDIQUE WAI AT THE OGI

His Excellency President Ernest Bai-Koroma; Honourable Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Board of Directors and Trustees of the United African Congress, Government Officials of the City of New York; Leaders of the African Diaspora in New York; Members of the North American Branches of the All People’s Congress; the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change; Non-Governmental Organizations; My Fellow Countrymen and Women; All protocols observed:

Welcome address in honour of His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, President, Republic of Sierra Leone, West Africa.

Riverside Church

Saturday September 25th 2010.

By Sidique Abou- Bakarr Wai, President and National Spokesperson, United African Congress and Administrative Community Relations Specialist to the Hon. Raymond Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police, Department, City of New York.

His Excellency President Ernest Bai-Koroma; Honourable Ministers of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone; Distinguished Members of the Diplomatic Corps; Board of Directors and Trustees of the United African Congress, Government Officials of the City of New York; Leaders of the African Diaspora in New York; Members of the North American Branches of the All People’s Congress; the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, and the People’s Movement for Democratic Change; Non-Governmental Organizations; My Fellow Countrymen and Women; All protocols observed:

As I was preparing my speech for this event, a friend, an old friend that I have known since I came to these United States many eons ago, asked me where I was going to deliver the speech. When I told him the occasion, he asked perhaps bewildered, but why, aren’t you an American after all these years? My response was, yes, but you see, some of us may have left Sierra Leone, but Sierra Leone never really left us. You see Mr President, I am one of many of your compatriots who have, in spite the fact that we have been very privileged and lucky to find success in these United States, still see ourselves as Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora, and thus remain mindful of our responsibilities and obligations to that country which never left our spirits, minds and souls. Indeed consistently, I (we) hear the roar of the Lion Mountains, the call of the Bintumani mountains and the green vegetations; we picture the sandy white beaches, and hear the flow of the Kolenten, the Rokel, the Sewa, the Wanjei and most of all, the voices of the beautiful and resilient people of that beautiful country, who despite the adversities, the trials, and the vicissitudes of life, never give up, never lose their courage or will to breathe, to survive and like a tree, find a way to reach the sun.

It is precisely because of this call to duty, this constant nostalgic and burning desire to honour the summons of the motherland, Mr. President, that I accepted, with a great sense of pride, the honour and privilege you have accorded me and my family in your personal invitation for me to make these welcoming remarks. Needless to say, sir, that I am humbled and thankful for such an historic opportunity, especially given that I am a non-member of any political party in Sierra Leone (though I must recognize the fact that both my paternal and maternal parents are registered bona fide members of both the APC and SLPP parties). Indeed your invitation signals your willingness to recognise the role that every Sierra Leonean can play in the affairs of that state, irrespective of party affiliation, ethnic and regional origins, gender or whether they were living in Sierra Leone or not.

Before going any further, may I invite all here present to rise and help me in formally welcoming, to a thunderous applause, the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, His Excellency Ernest Bai-Koroma and his delegation to New York City, the greatest and safest city in the United States.

[Can we also observe a moment of silence for all our compatriots who lost their lives during the country’s civil war and also those who died during the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York?

May their souls and the souls of all departed rest in eternal peace]

Mr President, I think it was the German novelist and poet, Johann Von Goethe who once remarked “Treat a person as he/she appears to be, and you make him/her worse, but treat them as if he were what they potentially could be, you make them what they should be.” The same applies to any society, community or country. For many of us diasporic Sierra Leoneans, despite the many tribulations, the difficulties, and problems that have characterised the post-independence experience of that country, the potential of what Sierra Leone could be is very strong and shines through whatever problems it is faced with, and that is what we see, when we think of the “land that we love, our Sierra Leone.” You only have to look at the many success stories that many of us could proudly tell you of feats we have accomplished outside of Sierra Leone: a good number of us have achieved great things and successfully hold prominent positions in Academia, Law, Business, medicine and Health services, Religion, Science and Technology, Non-Profit and yes, in government and Law Enforcement in not only these United States, but anywhere Sierra Leone diasporic Sierra Leoneans can be found.

In my own personal situation for example your excellency, I have been blessed to humbly serve as the President and National Spokesperson of the United African Congress, the Pan- African Umbrella organization serving the interests of 3.5 million continental Africans residing throughout the United States, with chapters in 5 states and one in the Kingdom of Morocco, where I was recently invited to deliver three major policy speeches on Public Safety at the Mohammed Hassan II Graduate School of Law and Economic and Social Sciences in North Africa. The United African Congress has partnered with the Give Them A Hand Foundation and Earth Rights Institute to create the first Eco-Village project in Haiti, following the recent Earthquake in the nation and is also currently working with government and private sector leaders in producing the first and most historic African Diaspora Arts, Culture and Trade Fair that will help market and promote the African diaspora business and cultural interests in these United States in 2011. Additionally, I presently serve as the Administrative Community Relations Specialist to the Police Commissioner of the City of New York, the Hon. Raymond Kelly. In that role, I serve as the principal police/community relations policy adviser covering 76 police precincts, 9 public service areas in the five boroughs in New York City with a combined population of 9.3 million people. I should add that I am the first and only tenure of that position in the New York City Police Department, a credit that could be rightfully be attributed to the Hon. Raymond Kelly, Police Commissioner of the City of New York and New York City Mayor Hon. Michael Bloomberg. These two leaders have provided me with the unique and unprecedented opportunity to serve the people of the City of New York. In a recent Town Hall meeting with the Police Commissioner in the Bronx, the Commissioner stated that “Sidique is an asset to the NYPD”.

I consider such a tribute coming from the Police Commissioner of the City of New York as an honour to not only my personal self, but more importantly to my country of birth, the Republic of Sierra Leone of which you now have the honour to serve as President and democratically elected leader. I am sure there are many Sierra Leoneans inside and outside this meeting tonight that are making extraordinary contributions to the growth and development of not only the United States of America but anywhere they find themselves. That our country has a great potential to be what it should be, that is, become a great, prosperous and peaceful democracy, taking care of the needs of its citizens and its rightful place in the world, is not beyond Sierra Leone, especially given the achievement of its citizenry all over the world.

Despite all of this potential, and the progress we have made over the past years, you will agree with me that the country is still faced with many difficult challenges. Many of our compatriots still struggle with the very basic necessities of life. Poverty, disease, hunger and starvation are still an everyday reality for many of our compatriots. As such, the test of our progress, as US president Franklin D. Roosevelt once said in relation to these United States, should not “be whether we add more to the abundance of those who already have much; but whether we can provide enough for those who have too little” or nothing at all. Our challenge as Sierra Leoneans both home and abroad is to partner with you Mr President, and members across the political divide to lift our people out of poverty and create to a land of prosperity, where everyone regardless of ethnicity, gender and regional orientation is provided an equal opportunity to excel and contribute to our beloved country Sierra Leone. In this regard we may take examples from my grandparents, namely late Paramount Chief Maada Jabaty Wai of Korigboma, Barrie Chiefdom in the Pujehun District reigned from 1860-1870 and my late great grandfather PC Alimamy Bangura Bangura 1st, and now succeeded by my grandfather PC Alimamy Bangura 2nd of the Kafe-Simiria Chiefdom in the Tonkolili district, with perhaps the largest Gold deposit in Sierra Leone still serve as Paramount Chief in the region. These leaders among many others Mr President, helped to lay the foundation for our nation, which you have rightfully inherited as the nation’s chief executive and commander-in-chief.

Mr President, since your election as President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, our country has experienced some encouraging signs of developments for the better. Under your capable and determined leadership, you have;

1. Insisted, like the government before you, that the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the International Criminal Court in The Hague, continue its prosecution of Mr Charles Taylor, former president of Liberia, to the fullest extent of the law, for war crimes that he helped to perpetrate against vulnerable populations in our country.

2. You have completed the rehabilitation of the Bo-Freetown highway that has now cut travel time between the two cities to only two hours, instead of the all-day travel that people had to suffer in yester years. In addition to this, and the other on-going road projects in the country, we hope that the Freetown Peninsula expressway would be completed soon, to free up traffic in and out of the capital.

3. Transparency, Accountability and prosecutions of corruption in government is at an all-time high. You are the first President to openly require “Performance Measurement, Accountability, and Appraisal” of senior officials, as well publically declare your assets.

4. You have kept a performance Report Card on government ministers that are reviewed every 3 months, on the basis on which you have not only evaluated the performance of your ministers, but also decided whether to remain their services in their respective ministries.

5. You have made significant improvement in providing electricity in the capital, while vowing to make electricity available in every region of the country by fast pacing the completion of the Bunbuna hydro-electric project, which past governments were unable to complete.

6. You have embarked on political pluralism by establishing the office of Government Initiatives to solicit ideas and proposals from Sierra Leoneans across the political divide.

7. You have invited me this afternoon, a non-party affiliated Sierra Leonean from the diaspora to make this welcome remark, which by the way my family and I take full responsibility in composing.

8. You have encouraged press freedom, while insisting on responsible reporting that appeals to the high standards of journalistic excellence in our country.

9. This afternoon, you have invited Sierra Leoneans to an open public dialogue with you in the presence of the world community.

10. You have insisted on creating a business friendly environment in Sierra Leone, with the ultimate objective of creating gainful employment and opportunities for Sierra Leoneans under the rule of law. To that end, you have invited experts to locate our enormous and untapped mineral reserves that could help the local communities around the country.

11. You have opened an office for the Diaspora in order to harness the potentials, talents, experience, expertise and resources of the Sierra Leone diaspora for purposes of national development.

Mr President and friends, haven’t we come a long way? It was only a decade ago that a most debilitating and brutal civil war raged in our country. No one would disagree that that was the darkest moment in our country’s history, as the war needlessly killed and maimed tens of thousands of our compatriots, badly brutalised and traumatised the entire nation, devastated our economy, destroyed its infrastructure and wiped out most of the gains we had made as a people and country, including those of our forefathers.

Though the war fractured our nation, tried our spirits and tore communities apart, we have managed to still arise from the ashes of that tragedy like the phoenix, and putting our lives and country together. We have successfully conducted two post conflict elections (the second of which you and your party won in 2007) which have been internationally acclaimed to the envy of the entire African continent. To move so quickly to put that dark moment behind us, Mr President, is a testament to the resilience, the courage and the determination of the people of Sierra Leone, who have always remained steadfast and gracious even in the most difficult and trying of circumstances.

Freedom and peace are reigning in Sierra Leone Mr President, but we have to keep it that way. We have to be uncompromising in our demand for civility in our political dialogue, and among our nation’s leaders inside and outside government. We have to be accountable to our people and transparent in our actions. We have to genuinely strive to unite our country and listen to one another, (not talk past each other). Even when we disagree on policy and issues, as US President Barack Obama is fond of saying, “we can disagree without being disagreeable.” While we commend and thank you and your government, as well as your predecessors, for your tireless efforts in ensuring that justice is done against Charles Taylor, a move that also equally sends a powerful message to any copy cats that such behaviour has no place in our country, we still have to heal the nation, provide jobs for the jobless, feed the poor, shelter the homeless, clothe the naked and cure the sick.

But to meet these challenges we have to be united, we have to pool our collective energies together, irrespective of ethnic, gender, political party, regional or class status. Only through such a means would we be able to rebuild a country that is fair, and just and prosperous; one that will listen to the collective aspirations of all its people. Moreover it is only through such a practice that the sons and daughters of Sierra Leone, either home or abroad will be inspired to answer the call of the motherland and contribute to national service, which I believe you will be challenging each of us this afternoon to assist you in addressing. Some of these problems include:

1. improving our crumbling and aging infrastructure;

2. improving women’s health and reducing infant mortality in the country;

3. improving our education system, which was once the envy of the continent;

4. strengthening and preserving the role of our paramount chiefs, including faith-based institutions in our nation;

5. leveraging our natural resource in the international market to benefit all Sierra Leoneans, as a God giving right to all its citizens;

6. effectively tapping into the incredible reservoir of human capital that exists inside and outside Sierra Leone;

7. creating an effective training and jobs program for our unemployed youths through private sector investments into Agriculture, arts and culture etc;

8. increasing the role and appointment of women in cabinet and department level positions in your government;

9. encouraging and promoting a free and responsible press; and

10. supporting our diplomatic corps serving in foreign countries, while insisting that they serve their nation’s interest in their countries of residence, while carrying out their diplomatic duties in those respective countries

You could also consider empowering the Office of Government initiatives to conduct an independent national satisfaction survey of nationals in those countries, regarding the effectiveness of those diplomats residing in those countries where we have embassies. I volunteer my assistance in working with OGI in improving diaspora engagement with our beloved country, Sierra Leone

Mr. President, permit me to conclude my welcome remarks by throwing a principled and open challenge to my countrymen and women by asking the following questions;

*** Brothers and sisters, are you going to join the President and help in the fight against poverty in the Republic of Sierra Leone?

Audience response—– Yes or No.

If they say no, which I doubt——- Send me!!

*** Brothers and sisters, are you going to join the President in attracting credible and responsible business partners/investors to create opportunities and gainful employment for Sierra Leoneans?

Audience response——— Yes or No

If they say no, which I doubt—— Send me !!

*** Brother and sisters, are you going to accept the President’s invitation for each of us to become partners and soldiers of good governance practices in our country, where we could also hold him, the President, his government, and every political leader (ruling or opposition) accountable and responsible for things going wrong in our country?

Audience response———-Yes or No

If they say no, which I doubt—— Send me!!!

Mr. President, Send us. Mr. President, Send us when you are able and ready. We have been ready all along. The ball is in your court.

Let me conclude with powerful voice of reason of our people. Our people say: “a society grows great when people plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in.” May we be that society!

God Bless you and Long live the peoples and the Republic of Sierra Leone.

By: Sidique Abou- Bakarr Wai President and National Spokesperson United African Congress and Administrative Community Relations Specialist to the Hon. Raymond Kelly, Commissioner, New York City Police Department, City of New York.

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