Government Spokesman Abdulai Bayraytay speaks to Sierra Leoneans in America
in an interview with SoftBall Publications…
FREELANCE JOURNALIST AND FORMER PRODUCER AND EDITOR AT THE SIERRA LEONE BROADCASTING TV AND RADIO IN FREETOWN – NEIL AKMID MANSARAY INTERVIEWED ABDULIA BAYRAYTAY WHO IS IN AMERICA ON A GOVERNMENT POST EBOLA SENSITIZATION TOUR
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Welcome to America! As we speak, the time in Sierra Leone is 2:00 GMT. And the temperature is 80 degree… I guess you are experiencing some similarities and differences in the atmospheric pressures of both countries.
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: Indeed there are similarities in terms of the weather getting better with spring almost here in the U.S. Back home. We started getting rains thereby subsiding the humidity that usually characterizes the dry season, which we normally call summer here. The differences are not that marked presently unlike in the summer here when we will be in the thick of the rains in Sierra Leone.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Mr. Spokesman, you are on a meet-the-people’s-tour… You call it socio-political outreach to Sierra Leoneans living in the United States of America and Canada. Will you explain briefly the purpose and expectations of your mission?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: At the end of my tour, the expectation is that Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora would have been better engaged in articulating government policies and programmers rather than some just relying on what is being posted on the social media, most of which is, rather unfortunately, very much stereotypical and politically skewed…
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Your purpose…
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: The purpose of the visit is part of President Koroma’s of taking the government to the people so that our democracy can be participatory thereby promoting the twin concepts of democracy and good governance. Over the past two or more years, we have been undertaking a meet the people tour whereby we engage them in town hall meetings in the diaspora with a view of having their invaluable input into the development of the country. This time round, it is particularly crucial that we engage Sierra Leoneans in the diaspora as the country is now on the path to zero Ebola and the government bracing itself for the post Ebola recovery plan. Everyone matters, particularly recognizing the unfettered role Sierra Leoneans continue to play in mitigating the Ebola virus for its eventual eradication.
You may recall that last April, His Excellency and his colleague Heads of State in the Mano River Union presented an economic blue print, a kind of Marshall Plan, for the post Ebola recovery strategy in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. However, as a country, recognizing that we have our own specific needs, the focus of our post Ebola recovery plan is centered on strengthening our health system, education, promote the private sector for rapid economic recovery, and above all, putting in place effective and robust service delivery mechanisms that will promote real time economic growth.
Government has already started this with our social safety net program by jointly implementing 80million United States dollars program with the World Bank and UNICEF through the National Commission for Social Action (NACSA) that is targeting 13,000 vulnerable households in Kono, Moyamba, Western Area Rural and Bombali District with benefiting about 2,720 people. Similarly so, working again in tandem with the World Bank, ECOWAS and our development partners, we have just had a 3 million USD Rapid Ebola Seed Distribution Project that will benefit 23,000 far holds in all the 14 districts of the country. This initiative, undoubtedly, is to help farmers harvest more this year to compensate for the loss they experiences as a result of the Ebola epidemic.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: In the interest of your readers, can you say something about program of events in America and when do you hope to travel to Canada?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: With the support of the Sierra Leone Embassy in Washington and the UN Mission in New York, I plan to conduct town hall style meetings in Metropolitan Washington, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania ( Philadelphia ). I have stated series of radio and TV interviews.
I will travel to Canada on June…
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: I guess you would be facing a critical audience. Are you concern… Especially in town hall style meetings…
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: No… [ laughs ] I will be speaking to my countrymen and I am confidence they will listen and process the information I will give to them. Isn’t it great?
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Oh yes… Next. You were in the delegation of President Ernest Bai Koroma when he was in America last April to attend a meeting hosted by the World. Bank and White House in Washington at which support for the three sub regional countries ( Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea ) who suffer from the Ebola pandemic was discussed. Can you outline what was achieved in those meetings.
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: indeed, I was part of His Excellency’s delegation to Washington, DC to attend the World Bank Spring Meetings. As you may recall, this year’s meeting was exclusively on Ebola targeting the three most hit countries of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Collectively, the three Heads of State presented a common economic recovery Marshall Plan that was endorsed by the international community. As a country, we are particularly gratified that the four-point economic recovery plan of improving the health sector, education, private sector and service delivery was publicly endorsed. In fact, immediately after the meeting, President Koroma received standing ovation because of his sincerity that even though we have started recording zero cases, we are still not out of the woods of the Ebola scourge.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Lots of new developments…
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: Indeed. However, we must be mindful of the fact that before Ebola struck, Sierra Leone was on a sound economic footing with the country enjoying the status of being the second fastest growing economy in the world. We as a government have been exploiting that status by continuing to create not just the congenial environment for economic growth through direct foreign investment, but also to empower local entrepreneurs through the full implementation of the local content policy.
Overall, one can conveniently, or rather optimistically indicate that the road to economic recovery is going to be rapid because of government’ renewed commitment to revamp the
economy and curb corruption so that our development partners can continue to have faith in us and the country can continue to be the Mecca for direct foreign investment so that more jobs can be created for the youth and women, two groups that are mostly affected as a result of the Ebola epidemic.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Looking back, what would Sierra Leone Government could have done differently at the outbreak of ebola in Liberia and Guinea before the people of Sierra Leone began to contract the virus. Why, as it seem, we are now behind our neighbors in the control and total eradication of the ebola epidemic?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: Various theories have been postulated in terms of our preparedness in the wake of the Ebola virus disease in the sub region vis a vis what we could have done to mitigate its entry into Sierra Leone. The reality is, Ebola itself is a new disease in the sub region and, as such, we largely depended on the World Health Organization for guidance for a rapid response. Within the circumstances, the theory that we should close the border ended up being an unrealistic approach in dealing with epidemics like Ebola because closing the official border crossing points would only give leeway for people to utilize the many unmanned crossing points within the Mano River Union Countries. It is for this reason that we are more or less coordinating and collaborating a robust regional approach in combating the virus. We are getting there with Liberia already off the hook and very soon we will also be celebrating with the country recording uninterrupted zero cases during the past couple of days and some districts being Ebola free for over hundred days or more.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: The ebola pandemic has been a great setback for Sierra Leone, a country once labeled by the United Nations Security Council as “the storehouse of lessons” to learn on how a country can rise off of the ashes of war and become a model for regional development. Is there any hope for a quicker economic recovery post ebola?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: Sierra Leone is a progressive nation with resilient. We will recover very soon.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: In a presentation by a Sierra Leonean with… the last name Bert-William on a Utube video asserted that Sierra Leone is the largest depositor of iron ore in Africa and and the third largest in the world. She counted as many as five precious minerals including diamonds embed in the landmass of Sierra Leone. My question is, has the Sierra Leone government formulated a strong policy to overseeing the effective and efficient management of those mineral resources for the good of all Sierra Leoneans?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: We have set up a National Minerals Agency that has the mandate to monitor mining operations in the country so that there will be transparency and accountability. The good thing is that, all activities of mining companies including royalties paid to government can now be accessed on the website of the NMA.
I must however indicate that the passing into law of the right to access of information and the establishment of the information commission therein is to promote open information for good governance and accountability. This means, we will continue to encourage everyone to utilize the systems in place so that we will achieve the collective access we desire for transparency and accountability, concepts that are very dear to President Koroma.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: As government spokesman, can you tell us what the Ernest Koroma government has done or is doing to solve the problem of water and electricity shortage, especially in the city of Freetown. Also, is overhauling the health system of Sierra Leone with emphasis on sanitary and preventive health now a priority?
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: We are addressing the water and electricity situation in the country. You will recall that when we came into governance in 2007, President Koroma made a firm promise that he would deliver electricity to the people in the first 100 days and he did. Within that period, we improved electricity supply from a meager 10 megawatts to about 80 megawatts and we are way ahead now. To complement what the Bumbuna Hydro Power is generating with challenges most times in the dry season, government continues to construct community dams and bring in thermal plants so that in the dry season we can continue to enjoy electricity supply when we would have experienced low water levels at Bumbuna.
Indeed, water is key that is why HIs Excellency created the ministry of Water Resources with a view to provide a more focused strategy in addressing the country’s water needs. On an interim basis, we have installed water tanks in hard to pump water areas and continue to deliver water through the recently acquired bowsers in areas that experience water crisis. So far, SALWACO and Guma Water Company are now implementing projects that will provide pipe-borne water not just in Freetown, but the country as a whole. I can authoritatively say that there will be a marked improvement in both electricity and water supplies within the next couple of months.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATION: Can I digress a little from the main purpose of your tour and talk about the constitutional crisis looming in Sierra Leone. The president had let go the former Vice President, Sam sumana, but not without trepidation. Most believe the former VP’s removal is unconstitutional. Should they believe otherwise?
SPOKESMAN BARAYTAY: Let the supreme court decides. I would rather not speak on an issue that is before the Supreme Court. However, for us as a government, it is okay for people to express dissenting views from those of the government. What we will however not encourage is that fact that some people wanted to use the ongoing constitutional issue to ferment chaos. As a government, mind you, we have the constitutional responsibility to protect the country from sliding into any chaos. I will therefore encourage everyone to respect the rule of law and wait for the Supreme Court to give its ruling as provided for in Section 124 of the 1991 Constitution that clearly indicated that any issue that warrants an interpretation, it should be referred to the highest court of the land.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: There are range of issues confronting the government of President Koroma . Sources say there is dissatisfaction amongst the youth population in Freetown because of lake of employment opportunities. Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora who will like to return home also find it almost impossible to find a job.
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: The president thinks every hardworking Sierra Leone deserve the opportunity to contribute to his country’s national development. The government is working to attract foreign investment and businesses from abroad; a way to creat employment opportunities for the people of Sierra Leone. President Koroma’s government has increased its investment in education. It is the hope of the government that the economy will improve rapidly after the ebola pandemic.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: I will like you to end this interview with a message to all Sierra Leoneans living in the diaspora.
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAT: I ask all Sierra Leonean to please be supportive of their country and government. The government is doing all within its reach to make sure that the Post Ebola Economic Recovery effort succeeds. It is in the interest of us all as Sierra Leoneans to participate fully in nation building.
SOFTBALL PUBLICATIONS: Its been a pleasure talking to you. Thank you for your revealing answers. I wish you a successful tour. I hope you will arrange for an interview with CNN before you leave for Canada. My former boss at SLBS/TV should still be working at its headquarters in Atlanta Georgia. Thank you, Mr. Abdulia Bayraytay…
SPOKESMAN BAYRAYTAY: Thank you very much for the opportunity and I look forward to continue future engagements with Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora.