By Dennis Kabatto
The Government of Sierra Leone Spokesperson, Mr. Abdulai Bayraytay will be very busy in the coming weeks meeting with his compatriots in the United States of America and Canada.
Mr. Bayraytay made the announcement of the impending town halls during a preliminary, informal meeting with members of the ruling All People’s Congress – APC/New York Chapter executives on Friday in the Bronx section of New York.
He emphasized the town halls are part of President Ernest B. Koroma’s strategy to highlight his administration’s accountability and transparency but most importantly a recognition of partnering with the Sierra Leonean Diaspora is vital to the country’s development.
The sparsely attended meeting was chaired by Sierra Leonean born Samuel “Gbalo” Koroma, President of New York Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA Local 413) and President of APC/New York Chapter.
“The importance of Friday’s meeting is to strengthen the Sierra Leonean population in New York not particularly the All People’s Congress but the entire Sierra Leonean community. As a leading party, we are organizing town hall meetings to be inclusive and to channel relevant information on government policies and actions to the Sierra Leonean population in terms of development and the underdevelopment of the country as a whole. ’ Mr. Koroma said in a statement after the meeting.
Meanwhile, in a related phone interview with Mr. Bayraytay on Sunday, he shares details of the newly launched Social Safety Net Program and repudiates any association of his trip with recent protest against President Koroma in New York and Washington.
This is a transcript excerpt of the interview:
What is the essence of your visit to New York? Does it have anything to do with recent protest rally against President Ernest B. Koroma in New York?
My visit to New York has absolutely nothing to do with recent protests against the president. We are encouraging the people if they have any issues contrary to the president’s action as well as the government, they can air their alternate views as long as those views are within the confines of the law. It will continue to enrich our democracy and good governance, which is President Koroma’s hallmark as someone who believes in constitutional rule of law and order.
This visit basically, over the years I have always been doing town hall meetings in Canada and the USA. Therefore, it is a strategy by President Koroma instead of waiting for the people to always come and ask questions it is better to take the government policies to the people recognizing that the Diaspora is key to the development of our country as well.
Therefore, this is a continuous process and we are moving forward with it. That is we are doing engagements, I have done many media engagements including TBN in Arizona, VOA in Washington as well as a couple of radio stations. All of this is to further showcase that as a government, we have nothing to hide and leading to be accountable and transparent. And, the only way we can ensure that is for the government to come out and do outreach to our people who have the right to know of what is going on back home.
That is a strategy by the government, a $50 million program by the World Bank and the Government of Sierra Leone because we realized that many families have been affected as a result of Ebola. Therefore, we did a pilot study relying on Statistics Sierra Leone, which identified certain districts including Moyamba, Tonkolili, Kono and the Western Area that can benefit from the project. We looked at the poverty level of these areas based on the survey, which we used as criteria for eligibility.
As for the requirement to be eligible as a beneficiary NACSA undertook a survey of the districts and we also rely on data from Statistics Sierra Leone report of demographic survey of household poverty, which were used to identify the people who are more vulnerable in the districts so these are the groups of people we are targeting.
So we are using this as a research and opportunity to find out if this intervention if it could really improve the lives of the people in whatever modest way then could expand in other districts all as a strategy to find if it could alleviate poverty in the country and find out its effectiveness.
How much cash benefits does each beneficiary receives monthly?
This is just a pilot – first phase, we are paying direct cash transfers of $15 per month to the families, which is about Le 75 – 80, 000. This amount is to compliment whatever income they have so that at the end of the day…as evidence-based research we would know if our intervention with direct cash transfer can change the lives of people in whatever modest way then we could factor that as part of our poverty alleviation strategy as a country.
Since most of the people that the government is targeting are without bank accounts, how does the direct cash transfer works?
Well the government will make sure that the people are paid directly. The World Bank and Sierra Leone Government’s National Commission for Social Action (NACSA) will implement the project and the funds are provided by the World Bank and the Government of Sierra Leone.
What measures has the government put in place to prevent fraud and corruption that was exposed with the Ebola funds?
The Government continues to support all the state institutions that are fighting against corruption particularly the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC). If you could recall prior to 2008, before the government could prosecute a case it has to obtain consent from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice. But government empowered the Commission with the 2008 Anti Corruption Act to be independent and does not have to channel its cases or obtain consent from the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to prosecute. We received a lot of commendation for that.
With the fight against corruption, the government continues to strengthen the ACC, the president’s policy of zero tolerance to corruption and to reduce our dependency on aid. So that’s why over the years the agenda for change and prosperity we were able to embark on many road constructions through our own resources and funds from government coffers without depending on any foreign donors.
That only happened because we were able to put control mechanism in place to control corruption. And of course, in 2012, one of the reasons we passed the Millennium Challenge Corporation qualifying from threshold to compact was because we passed the corruption indicator requirement with a clean slate which added value to our Good Governance Index.
The president, parliamentary oversight committee on corruption, the ACC and the judiciary, all of these branches are very serious in the fight against corruption in this post Ebola recovery. Part of the reason of my trip is to sell the four points the government has identified including health service delivery, education, infrastructural development and the economy – private sector recovery for service delivery. All of these will only be possible for us to get investors to go to Sierra Leone if they continue to hear that the government is making conscious efforts in the fight against corruption. We are assuring the people in the words of President Koroma that ‘we are not entertaining any sacred cows.’
So why up until now the government has not prosecuted any of the culprits who defrauded the Ebola funds?
Well, the president had told the public that Ebola funds is blood money and that everybody involved will have to account. That is why we together with the ACC support the Audit Service Sierra Leone with their transactional audit of all Ebola funds.
At the end of the day, the parliamentary provision as per the Audit Service of Sierra Leone Act requires the audit report and all the people named in the report be submitted to parliament.
It is now parliament’s responsibility to summon the people indicted in the report to account for everything they are indicted for in the audit service report.
So we will continue to support the Audit Service Sierra Leone, with the ACC and parliament as well as well as the government. So that we can make sure that, everybody just as President Koroma said who stole money from the funds meant to implement any program for Ebola should be ready to account on how they spent the money.
After New York, where are you heading for?
I am currently in Virginia, from here, I am heading to Canada to do a similar engagement of community town hall meetings, radio discussions etc. CBC (Canada Broadcasting Corporation) is ready to host me; this is a continuous effort that I have been engaged in for the past two years.