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FEATURES  

A BATTLE OF IDEAS, NOT MEN
By
Apr 19, 2011, 17:14
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Elected  on campaign promises to fight corruption and run the country like a profitable business, President Ernest Bai Koroma must keep up the economic momentum ahead of elections in 2012. A recent interview with the President by Africa Report is in the ensuing.

 

THE AFRICA REPORT: What should Sierra Leoneans think about as the country marks its 50th anniversary of independence in April?


PRESIDENT ERNEST BAI KOROMA:
At 50, we should be reflecting on the history of our independence. We have had moments of happiness, moments of sorrow, moments that we would consider to be the darkest period of the country. We must reflect on all thats happen, why it happened and use the anniversary as a moment to take a hard look at the causes and commit ourselves not to go that way any more.

 

Three leaders of your flagship Attitudinal and Behavioural Change Secretariat have been indicted by the Anti- Corruption Commission. Are you winning the battle against corruption?


Well, it is an indication that the battle is on, that it is raging and that we have put in place the institution that should handle corruption. Ours is a responsibility to set up the institution and make it an effective institution and ensure that they have unfettered access to any government official. The fact that people in the Attitudinal Change Secretariat have been subjected to that kind of investigation is sending a signal that nobody is above the law and that we have to change.


President Ernest Bai Koroma

A cup of rice that used to cost le800 now costs le1, 000. What can you do to help cushion Sierra Leoneans from further commodity price rises?

 

Where we can, we have been putting subsidies, especially on fuel. But were now trying to phase it out because we believe that at the end of the day its not going to show visible assistance of government to the people. Were at the moment reviewing the entire pricing structure. If we can absorb some of the cost as a government, then it will have an impact on the price of the commodities.

 

The government has been spending hard and fast, but perhaps beyond its means. Will you have to rein in spending?


The whole governments development process is guided by the Agenda for Change; an agenda that we believe is what Sierra Leoneans expect us to implement to develop the country. The road infrastructure, the agricultural sector, health care and energy are components of the Agenda for Change

 

We have taken the initiative that as a government we should be seen to be doing things on our own. I know it is an ambitious programme but I think we can get on with it if we continue to cut down on the wastages in other sectors of expenditure and focus on real development programmes.

 

Some of Sierra Leones mining contracts have given large tax breaks to foreign investors. Have you struck the right balance between attracting investors and raising revenue?

Over the years we have not had successful mining operations. We have had contracts in the past that have not benefited the people of the country. We adopted the measures of reviewing the existing contracts that weve inherited and even those contracts that we have signed, with a hope of increasing the benefits of the people and the government we have also put in place a new Minerals Act with [which] we hope that both the investor and the government will benefit from the exploitation of our mineral resources.

 

Youth unemployment remains high. What can be done to create employment?

 

We have established the National Youth Commission as a vehicle to co-ordinate the efforts of getting youths into the job marketwe are also in the process of attracting investments, because its only when the private sector takes a lead role in the development of the country that well be able to have unemployment problem addressed on a permanent basis.

 

Your cabinet reshuffle in December reached out for support in some non-traditional areas. Have you done enough to win cross-regional support ahead of the 2012 elections?


We have done a lot of work on that. But the issue is not just limited to the individuals representing regions; its about development in the regions. There is not chiefdom in the country that is not going through a transformation process that is as a result of the Agenda for Change we are trying to move away from regionalism to ideas. Its not only a question of having a brother in the office, but development is a key issue.

                                                                             

What danger does the threat of civil war in Cote dIvoire pose to the Mano River Union?

 

We dont want the situation to deteriorate to a civil war because we know that our country is closely connected we have seen the effects of these difficulties in the past, how one country started with a civil war and it extended. We are still urging them to ensure that peace should be the option and that war will never solve the problem.

 

Would you be prepared to send troops to Cote dIvoire if it came to that?

 

We are considering a negotiated settlement as the best option and that has been our emphasis.

 

The Africa Union has been slow to react on Cote DIvoire and even slower to react on events in Libya. Are you confident it still has the clout it needs to maintain peace and security?

 

When you take a position on issues and you need to implement that position, that is a time when we believe the Africa Union should not be acting alone. We need to ensure that we engage the international community at the level of the United Nations. Only when the whole international community is fully engaged will you be able to have a definitive solution to our problems.

 

From Insurance man to President

  1953 Born in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone

  1976 Graduated in Economics and Business Management from Fourah Bay College, Freetown

  1978 began working for the Sierra Leone National Insurance Company

  1988 Managing Director of the Reliance Insurance Trust Corporation (Ritcorp)

  2002 Chosen as leader of the opposition All Peoples Congress party

    2007 Elected President after a run-off against Solomon Berewa 

 

Culled From The Africa Report


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