John Baimba Sesay
Beyond the outright display of mendacious propaganda by a certain few in the opposition, Sierra Leone has beautiful stories to tell: from her commitment to tackling graft, building on her democratic credentials and sustaining those values of good governance, to being able to properly use domestically generated revenues for development projects, a long way we have come.
The most disingenuous political ploy by the opposition is to present Sierra Leone as a nation not progressing. It is worth celebrating, when one looks at where we were, and where we have come so far. A comparative look at events and development efforts by the former regime to the present will be too depressing, noting the failures of the former regime to have met those basics they had promised. Let us look at few issues here:
Tax Revenue: A nation’s growth depends largely on her ability to be able to generate revenue internally. The tax base of a country goes a long way in determining her development path. It was with this sense of reasoning that when this administration was elected, it worked towards broadening the tax base by the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax (GST).
Today, NRA is doing exemplary well in the area of revenue collection. Since 2010, government has undertaken major infrastructure projects in roads, energy, and water funded from internally generated revenues. Unlike when it was just established, the institution has had an impressive performance record in the last nine years of operations.
Decentralization: The introduction of local councils was aimed at ensuring service delivery at the local level and full community participation in the development of their localities. We now see how the process itself is being used to strengthen the country’s democratic credential.
In making the process effective, billions continue to be transferred to Local Councils for various health projects at the local level, including the construction of a Maternal Health Post in Kenema city and the Rehabilitation of the Nixon Memorial Hospital in Segbwema Town, Kailahun District.
Infrastructure Growth: Infrastructure has been a landmark achievement of this administration. Billions have been spent in fixing a broken infrastructure inherited by this government. The country has been linked through road projects connecting cities, towns, and villages. In addition to other road projects in the West side of Freetown, this administration has undertaken the construction of the Hillside Bye-pass Road, eventually connecting the central and western ends of the capital
Today, roads are being constructed, reconstructed and rehabilitated in every region and district of the country, connecting people and opening up the country. What government did was to not just limit the infrastructural projects to just roads. It equally invested in social projects.
Fighting Graft: It is true, that the former government created the anti graft commission- the ACC. It is true, also that the Commission prior to 2007 lacked the political will to tackle corruption. It was more of a spurious organization, at some point, serving as a political weapon, used to silent political opponents. In fact, prior to the 2007 elections, Britain, the largest contributor of aid in the country stopped all aid coming since corruption had permeated across the board.
A new National Anti-Corruption Strategy was to be launched in 2008 by the new APC government subsequently enacting what is believed to be one of, if not the toughest anti-corruption legislations in the continent. The act provides for offences on illicit enrichment, abuse and misuse of office, provides protection for whistleblowers and informers, and makes it obligatory for all civil servants to declare their assets. Prominently, the Act allows the Commission to initiate prosecution with no reference to government, as it was before 2007.
Under this administration, an Anti-corruption System and Process Reviews of government ministries, departments and agencies (MDA) is ensured, all for the purpose of improving their systems and processes. The integrity of Audit Service Sierra Leone (ASSL) has been strengthened to a point that, it now has the free hand to operate independently.
Mineral Sector: Prior to 2007, the mineral sector had lacked proper regulatory regimes, leading to non-transparent transactions, and an eventual decrease in investor confidence and failure to attract large scale investments. Government had to establish a new institutional framework that had an investor-friendly legal framework.
The granting of two large scale mining licenses to Africa Minerals Limited for the mining of Iron Ore in the Tonkolili District was a great success story, added to the decision to grant a Post and Rail Agreement to the same company for the purpose of the shipment of Iron Ore and the Pepel port reconstructed. The operations of African Minerals Limited at Ferengbeya, Tonkolili helped in ensuring thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars as revenue to government.
The sector continues to enhance the country’s Gross Domestic Product and creating employment opportunities. The company had been a major player in sustaining the country’s economy.
Challenges Abound: We have sustained our democracy. Governance institutions are effectively contributing to the growth of our democracy. Media and right groups have an open space to operate, with an encouraging level of press freedom and free speech. Never have we heard of political prisoners, or media practitioners jailed.
Deepening good governance requires the rule of law, free speech, political tolerance, and the conduct of regular free and fair elections. In all of these, we have come a long way in the last decade. Generally, the country continues to support strengthening the institutions of democracy and good governance.
Yes, there still are huge challenges. But why not when we all saw how ebola devastated our development efforts. We should also not ignore the adverse effect that global trends like the drop in prices of raw materials had on us. This governing Party has seen it all; it has had a feel of what it takes to move the county; it knows how to fix that which is broken. A reason for it to be reelected!