By State House Communications Unit
President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma in his capacity as Chairman and Leader of the All People’s Congress party Tuesday night swatted aside social media reports on the ongoing constitutional matter involving the former Vice President, and urged members of the party’s USA branch to close ranks and focus on Sierra Leone’s post-Ebola recovery efforts.
“The unity of the APC is very important at this time and some of the decisions taken by the National Executive Committee had been done to protect and stabilize the party. So the issue of succession is a matter for God to decide,” the president said, amid rapturous applause.
He made this call during a meeting with party execs and members of the APC USA branch at the residence of Sierra Leone’s ambassador to the USA, Bockarie Kortu Stevens in Washington DC.
President Koroma noted that the APC government is the government that strengthened the powers of the Anti-Corruption Commission to make it more effective, and the Auditor-General’s department is now more proactive as a result of government’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Before now, he said, nothing was heard of the audit department. He also informed that he was the one that blew the whistle on Ebola funds, saying that he had warned the public during his social mobilization drive against meddling with Ebola funds, so it was ludicrous for anyone to now try to take credit for the Auditor-General’s report which is being looked into by the House of Parliament.
Explaining the impact the epidemic has had on the country’s economy, the president stated that the Ebola outbreak created lots of difficulties but “we have tried as hard as we can to improve on the situation.” “We had only one medical doctor versed in viral hemorrhagic fevers at the time and we had only one lab to test for Ebola, and that time was the toughest considering the fact that our people had to shelve their traditional practices. We say thanks to the resilience of our people and the support of the international community,” he stated.
President Koroma said the support from the international community helped to strengthen the country’s capacity to deal with the disease, and highlighted efforts and steps government took to tackle and contain the situation. From about 500 cases per week now we are recording less than 10 cases per week. This, he said, is a big achievement in the fight against the receding virus.
Before Ebola, Sierra Leone was among the fastest growing economies in the world and among the first ten earmarked by the World Bank as the topmost reformers in the world in terms of doing business.
He lamented the fact that the Ebola outbreak dismantled all of that as some companies closed down while others scaled down operations such as mining and agricultural companies. “We thank God that we are now almost on top of the situation. We have to get to zero for 42 days before we can be declared by WHO as Ebola free.”
On the issue of post-Ebola recovery, the Head of State said that government has put together a national post-Ebola plan that was in sync with the MRU post-Ebola strategy to first of all get to and sustain zero new infections, and said that Sierra Leone can only be Ebola free when the other MRU states of Guinea and Liberia also affected by the epidemic are free of the disease.
The president outlined government’s plan to reopen schools, strengthen the health sector, improve the educational system, ensure social protection for orphans, survivors, widows and widowers and also promote the private sector to make it more robust in terms of stimulating growth.
He expressed the need to decongest class rooms in schools to make them more conducive for pupils and maintained that the numbers in class rooms should be dropped to the teacher and pupil ratio of 1-45. This, he said, means government has to train more teachers and improve on infrastructure.
To motivate pupils to return to school, government will expand school feeding programmes, waive tuition fees for two years for government run and assisted schools, provide uniforms and also provide water and sanitation facilities to make schools safe for school going children. “Before Ebola there were children who were not going to school. Now we want every child to go to school,” he maintained.
President Koroma also touched on teenage pregnancy and said the issue is very important to government even before Ebola, and observed that the situation was now compounded by the epidemic. He assured that pregnant girls will go back to school after they had given birth. “A survey on teenage pregnancy showed that almost all those who were pregnant who took exams failed because of their state of mind.” The president noted that it would be a bad example to allow girls to return to school when they were still pregnant. “We are not stopping them but I think it’s not right, ” he reiterated.
He reaffirmed government’s commitment to engage the major agricultural and mining companies to resume normal activities in the country, and said that getting to and staying zero was the immediate focus of government and its development partners. This is why we are here to engage with the world Bank and IMF during their Spring meetings and also to meet with President Obama to discuss progress on the response to the Ebola epidemic in the sub-region, he reiterated.