By Umaru Jah :
During the launch of the Citizens´ Report Card (CRC) on the performance of his government, President Ernest Bai Koroma urged all Sierra Leoneans to broaden the scope of their thinking when it comes to the development of their country. The President has a point: if you think within a narrow perimeter, your achievements are certainly going to be limited. On the contrary, the first step to achieving great things is to frame your mind around thinking about those great things and then formulate great strategies regarding how you want to go about achieving such great things.
For instance, five years ago, a lot of us would not have imagined that by 2012, Freetown, like other modern capital cities in the world, would boast of a four-lane street. But the president had thought about that and he didn’t stop there – he put the right programmes in place to ensure that it becomes a reality. Today, as we enter the era of what I will call “multiple lanes” infrastructural development, the president is already thinking about flyovers!
The immense infrastructural development which is changing the face of our capital city is part of the “Agenda for Change” initiative instituted by our President when he took over five years ago. That project has turned our country around in several areas including: Massive roads construction and rehabilitation (the largest ever in the history of Sierra Leone); increased energy and power supply including the completion and commissioning of the Bunbuna Hydro Plant; a robust fight against graft by giving the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) additional powers to bring to book corrupt officials; major health care reforms including the free health care policy for lactating mothers, pregnant women and children under five; interventions in the education sector which has seen the establishment of the University of Makeni and the relocation of the Njala University College; the implementation of the National Sustainable Agricultural Development plan; increased national revenue collection; women/youth empowerment programmes, etc.
Although some of the work is still in progress such as the rebranding of the Lungi International Airport and the proposed plan to construct a new airport, the construction of the twenty-one km Tokeh-Lumley road, in the Agenda for Change, the President and his able lieutenants have certainly laid the foundation to move the country into a more secure and progressive future – the Agenda for Prosperity! As we complete the era of change, we are now poised as a nation to enter the era of prosperity.
Let me give an overview of the direction our country will head in the next five years (because I am pretty sure the president will be re-elected based on his records) as spelt out in the impressive 2012 APC Manifesto.
Since economic growth is essential in order to reduce poverty and to improve people’s living standards, one area the APC-led government will focus its attention on will be to continue to improve the country´s economy by strengthening macroeconomic and financial management. The APC led government intends to put policies in place to ensure peace and stability, boost investment in productive sectors, improve the business climate, institute more measures to control inflation. The government also plans to invest more in Education, Agriculture, Infrastructure, Energy, Manufacturing, Tourism, Housing, Information Technology, Solar and Bio-Fuels. The government will also be working towards promoting job creation and self employment. This will be accomplished by, among other programmes, establishing career and employment advisory centres across the country, identify and set up well targeted Special Schemes for employment creation at regional and district levels, establish a reliable unemployment tracking mechanism, work with partners to support training in employable skills and encourage re-training of job seekers. In the agricultural sector, the government will continue to build on the gains it has made so far by putting programmes in place to scale up productivity. These will take different forms from providing incentives to farmers, construction of more feeders roads to link production areas to market centres to expanding the tractor hire purchase scheme and broaden agricultural research institutions and capacity building schemes for stakeholders in that important sector.
A major problem our country has faced in the last decades has been how to utilize our natural resources to benefit all Sierra Leoneans. In fact when it comes to natural resources, Sierra Leone is among the richest countries in the world. But because previous regimes have not been able to transform those potentials from minerals to actual wealth, many have questioned whether in fact our resources are a blessing or a curse.
In realization of the huge potential of our natural resources in transforming our nation, the Ernest Koroma led government among other interventions has since re-negotiated agreements with key mining companies including Koidu Holdings, London Mining, Sierra Rutile etc. in order to earn more from our resources for the benefit the people of Sierra Leone.
To move the country to the next level of development, the Ernest Koroma government intends not only to make dealings in the extractive industry open and accountable but also introduce other initiatives that will encourage wealth creation for the people of Sierra Leone including also the communities where these minerals are extracted. This will include among other things the creation of a “Sovereign Wealth Fund” to enhance socio-economic development and reduce poverty. It will as well ensure that environmental safeguards are adhered to in order to protect such communities. The development and protection of our forest and marine resources for the good of the people of Sierra Leone will also be fostered.
Tourism is another sector that has a huge potential of contributing immensely to the growth of our economy. Attentive of this fact, the government of Ernest Koroma has already scaled up budgetary allocations to that sector and also offered appropriate tax incentives to genuine investors. The administration hopes to build on those changes to ensure that the huge potentials of the tourism industry are tapped to contribute to the prosperity of our nation. This will include rebranding the country overseas through advertisements, make capital out of Sierra Leone´s beautiful landscape and beaches, culture and climate and the friendliness of its people. It will also enhance human capacity development in that sector and promote change of attitude towards tourism and ecotourism.
Effective delivery of essential services during the last five years has been one of the hallmarks of the Ernest Koroma administration. The President and his competent team have received several accolades including the excellent rating scored in the Citizens´ Report Card for the manner in which they have been striving to provide for the citizens of our beloved country.
However, as a responsive and proactive government, the APC administration is very well aware of the fact that there are challenges that still hang about in the delivery of essential services to the people not withstanding the progress and reforms that have already been effected. It is against this backdrop that in the next five years, “through a step-wise modernization of the systems, processes and structures of service delivery,” the government will continue to work tirelessly to make delivery more effective and responsive to the needs of the people of Sierra Leone.
Key among the new agenda is to continue to improve on education and health systems in the country. To better the quality of education, the government first of all will increase budgetary allocation to the education sector. Other measures will include but are not limited to upgrading government schools, instituting a system for the maintenance of educational infrastructure, procuring and distributing teaching and learning materials to disadvantaged and poor children and to support research in colleges and universities nationwide.
Correspondingly, cognizance of the fact that no nation can develop without a healthy population, the government has programmes in place to build on the successes it has scored in providing health care for its people by improving on health and nutrition in Sierra Leone. Interventions will take the form of more budgetary allocations for health and nutrition services, improving conditions of service for health practitioners, refreshers´ training opportunities and strengthen regulatory functions of the Sierra Leone Medical and Dental Council and the Pharmacy Board. Additionally, bettering water and sanitation services, delivering affordable housing, improving transport, communication and information services, promoting sports and recreation are also areas the government will be paying great attention to move forward with the gains already made.
It is an overstated fact that without peace and security, development can never take place. Being a nonviolent party, the APC believes that “peace and security are the essential bedrocks of progress and development.” The government therefore hopes to continue to put programmes in place to ensure that the country remains peaceful and stable. It will continue its sensitization programmes on political tolerance and peaceful coexistence, dissemination of the attitudinal and behavioral change, improve conditions of service for security forces and maintain peaceful relations with neighboring countries – Liberia and Guinea. Strengthening law enforcement mechanisms to ensure a society built of fairness and justice will also continue to be a primacy of the APC led government.
Having already scored high marks in the Mo Ibrahim Index of African Governance for its democratic and human rights records, the Ernest Koroma administration will carry on with the deepening and strengthening of the country´s democracy in a manner that will pay close attention to women and youth empowerment and participation, political inclusion and tolerance and the protection of the less fortunate and vulnerable.
All of these programmes including the unrelenting respect for the rights of its citizens including that of expression and association, progressive implementation of the TRC recommendations and the sustained fight against corruption will help create a secure and stable society.
Sierra Leoneans have realized after five progressive years that the Ernest Koroma-led APC government is one that delivers on its promises. It has successfully implemented the “agenda for change” project which transformed the manner in which government provides and cares for its people. We have seen meaningful advances taking place in various sectors. Under the “agenda for prosperity” these gains are going to be advanced and transformed to move our country into the era of prosperity.
With Ernest Bai Koroma at the helm, I have no doubt that Sierra Leone is all set to move into that era!