The Presidential Spokesman, Mr. Abdulai Bayraytay, on Friday September 22, 2017 lived up to expectations once again as he authoritatively debunked all the misbeliefs Sierra Leoneans have been harboring about recent events back home.
In a well-attended Town Hall meeting , organized by the Government of Sierra Leone through the country’s Embassy in Washington DC and held at the Holiday Inn Hall in Somerset, New Jersey , Mr. Bayraytay point by point addressed the concerns of Sierra Leoneans and fake news that had been peddled about Sierra Leone through the social media.
Keeping faith with his belief and his government’s policy that the diaspora is not only an important component of the country but in fact the 5th region of the country , President Ernest Koroma sent Mr. Bayraytay to America and Canada on a public relations assignment to update citizens about events in their country and in the process also correct the plethora of wrong information bestriding social media.
The first fake news on social media Mr. Bayraytay addressed was that President Koroma did not attend the 72nd Session of the UN General Assembly in New York this month because the U.S. Government denied him a visa. Mr. Bayraytay said that nothing was further from the truth because if anybody commands the respect and goodwill of the international stakeholders, including America, it is President Koroma. Mr. Bayraytay explained that one of the reasons that President Koroma unavoidably did not attend the UNGA was the August 14 mudslide disaster in Sierra Leone. Outlining the severity of the disaster, Mr. Bayraytay stated that even during the civil war in the 1990s and the Ebola outbreak in 2014 , never did 0ver 500 citizens of the country die in one day. But it happened on September 14.” Not only did more than 500 people die in one day, hundreds more are still under the mud and thousands of homes were swept away. The problem was so serious the government declared a Level 3 Response and President Koroma is in direct control of the leadership of this Response and cabinet meetings are held on a daily basis. Therefore, President Koroma could not come for the UNGA and he delegated Foreign Minister Dr. Samura Kamara to represent him.
With reference to the mudslide disaster funds, the Presidential Spokesman disclosed that government has received a little over U.S. $4 million cash donations and over Le. 6 billion. This time, Mr. Bayraytay informed the meeting, government has brought in a fiduciary agent, BDO, that is being paid by DFID of Britain, to manage the funds. This decision was taken to avoid a replication of the rumours and suspicions that attended the Ebola funds. Since Government is part of it through NacSA, every requisition will go through BDO, including relief items collected and taken to the Murray Town Command Post, where the military is in charge with Brigadier Allieu leading the logistixs pillar of the disaster response. Camps were built for the victims , though many of them opted to live outside these camps. Victims went through rigid verification . As for disbursement, Mr .Bayraytay said that no payment will be made over the table, but through biometric identification.
About the amount being doled out to victims, Mr. Bayraytay informed the meeting that Le. 870, 000 leones was given to every victim identified . In addition, for each of the months of October and November, Le. 217, 500 leones will be handed to each of them, on top of food and non-food items . Those outside camp received Le. 2 million 175, 000 as rent support. They signed consent forms to stay outside the camp. There are also long term plans . The Office of National Security (ONS) has identified 29 disaster-prone areas mostly along the riverine communities in the western area.
Mr. Bayraytay intimated that the government did not want to play blame games about causative factors presently. He said that though many people would point to the facts that permits may have been issued to those who constructed homes in restricted areas, there was the fatal example of the employee of the Environmental agency , Mr. Kenneth Moore, who went to enforce the building restrictions. The very people turned on him, beat him mercilessly , took him to the bush and mutilated and lynched him horridly. Mr. Bayraytay also spoke about the event of two weeks before the mudslide disaster when officials of the National Protection Agency went to the Sugar Loaf Mountain and community at Regent and warned residents to relocate because they wanted to reforest the area but were chased away.
Speaking on the country’s preparedness for the multitier elections slated for March 7 next year, the Presidential Spokesman debunked false information in the social media that the government was planning to abort them in order to give itself more time in power. Mr. Bayraytay reminded listeners that when Dr. Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General for West Africa and the Sahel, paid President Koroma a visit at State House on August 25 to console the country on the mudslide disaster, the president imported a discussion on the elections and said that “We as a government are looking forward to the March 7, 2018 elections so that the transition I will preside over will be smooth and peaceful”.
About the 709.41carat rough diamond, Mr Bayraytay told his eager audience that the Government has not misappropriated it as detractors are claiming on the social media. Sierra Leone has a National Minerals Agency and the diamond is presently being kept at the vault of the Bank of Sierra Leone. Nobody met the government’s reserved price in a public auction held in Freetown last May. The Pastor who discovered it continues to trust the government. As a matter of fact when he found it and people were instigating him to smuggle it abroad to sell it, he had resisted such pressures, asserting that after looking at all the development and road projects the government had completed, even in his native Kono, he was confident that by handing it over to the government, it will used to further develop the country. “A very respectable diamond auctioneer in Belgium, Rappaport, has volunteered to auction it so both the Pastor and the government could get a better price”, the soft -spoken Presidential Spokesman said amidst thunderous applause and cheers.
This was followed by a question-and-answer period.
The meeting was attended by distinguished personalities who included Sierra Leone’s Ambassador to the U.S, H.E. Bockarie Stevens, the former Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador Rupert Davies, Government Spokesman Mr. Agibu Jalloh, the President of the APC-NJ, Mr. Alimamy Turay and the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Community of New Jersey ( SLCNJ ), Mr. Lamin Alharazim.
Mr. Bayraytay has also held town hall meetings in Staten Island , New York, Philadelphia and Maryland. He also met with a cross section of Sierra Leoneans at tge famous Pizza Pizza parlor at Sheridan mall on Jane and Wilson in Toronto, Canada.
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