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NOTICES & DOCUMENTS  

SLPP MONTHLY PRESS BRIEFING (No.9) IN SIERRA LEONE
By John Oponjo Benjamin (National Chairman & Leader)
May 13, 2011, 17:04
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Freetown, Wednesday, May 11, 2011. This is the ninth of our now customary monthly Press Briefings. In our last edition, we presented the position of the Party regarding the following pertinent issues: ongoing rampant corruption, the Anti-Corruption Directive regarding the NASSIT Ferry, the Altitudinal and Behavioural Change Secretariat; Investigations of Members of the 50th Independence Anniversary Committee, IMF Press Release and the continued hardship.

Governments response to our concerns, suggestions and criticisms regarding these issues and earlier governance concerns continues to be lukewarm and a deliberate disregard of our anxiety; as it continues to appear uneasy with our several positions on national matters.

 

The SLPP continues to maintain that free, fair and transparent elections in our fledgling democracy will only be ensured in an atmosphere of trust resulting from consensus reached by all the political parties and stakeholders in all areas of the electoral process. In this regard, we reiterate our very strong mistrust of Dr. Christiana Thorpe as Chairperson NEC. We have transmitted to the President our view on this matter.   

 

In this instant Press briefing, we are presenting our position on the following:

The Fuel Crisis

The 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration

SLPP Supreme Court Matter against  Christiana Thorpe (NEC)

 

1. The Fuel Crisis


The public would recall that fuel shortage, hoarding, long queues dubbed toe-line and high transport costs were typical features of past APC administration. For most of the time in the 1980s and early 1990s, there were acute shortage of all essential goods including fuel, food stuffs and even the Leone and foreign exchange. Governments between 1992 and 2007 put in place mechanisms to stabilise prices of these essential goods and ensure their availability and distribution to all corners of Sierra Leone.

 

In particular, the last SLPP administration established the strategic stock to provide ready resources when there is a shortage or to cushion the effect of price increases. Prices for diesel, petrol and kerosene were made uniform across the country. The administration even set up a Road Users Fund wherein a specified amount was deducted from any gallon of petrol purchased. This Fund was meant for the rehabilitation and maintenance of our roads. Interestingly, all these were achieved at a time when the Government was engaged in massive post-war reconstruction and the rebuilding of state institutions.

 

Between 2007 and 2010, we have witnessed at least two instances of fuel shortage, long queues and black marketing in petroleum products. Immediately after its 50th Anniversary, Sierra Leone experienced another rude shock of fuel shortage manifested in long queues, black marketing (locally referred to as jebu) and subsequently unacceptable increases in transport fares. Petroleum products (petrol, diesel and kerosene) rose from Le 11,500 in July 2007 to Le 17,500 by April 27, 2011 to Le 22,500 per gallon (Le 5,000 per litre) on 1st May 2011.

 

The current APC Government first blamed the recent rise in petroleum products on unscrupulous persons, later the transition from the Imperial System to Metric System of measurement, rise in world market price and cut-backs in subsidy to finance infrastructural projects.

 

The SLPP has no objection to the change from Imperial to the metric system of measurement. The SLPP believes that the change is overdue and will facilitate international trade with Sierra Leone as all measurements are harmonised. Rather, the SLPP holds the strong view that the change has been hurriedly and poorly implemented. Neither the populace nor the dealers in petroleum products fully understand the ramifications of the proposed changes. This is further evidenced in the fact that both the petroleum terminals and pumps were only calibrated to litres after the policy came into effect.

 

To further exacerbate an already chaotic situation, government failed to give the public the accurate situation on the ground but rather embarked on a propaganda spree of untruths which eventually embarrassed them to the chagrin of all well meaning Sierra Leoneans

 

The increases in fuel prices are usually blamed on world market price; an exogenous factor beyond the control of government. The SLPP considers such explanation disingenuous and deceitful.

 

Domestic fuel prices are determined by world market price (usually quoted in dollars) and the exchange rate of the Leone to US dollar. This means that when world market price is US$100 per barrel and at an exchange rate of Le 3,000 to US$1, in Leone terms, the price per barrel is Le 300,000. With a decline in the exchange rate to about Le 4,300 to US$1, the price per barrel in Leone is Le 430,000. Obviously, the pump price is expected to be higher at a rate of Le 4,300 than Le 3,000 to US$1. Even when world market price rises to US$120 per barrel and there is an appreciation of the Leone to Le 3,000, in Leone terms the cost per barrel is Le 360,000 far less than Le 430,000 at a rate of Le 4,300 per US$1.

 

The implication of this illustration are that Government is also responsible for determining the pump price for fuel through its management of the foreign exchange. In our case, the ruling APC administration has mismanaged the foreign exchange. Our exports are less than our imports. Also, we continue to pay for questionable domestic arrears in foreign exchange, make payments in foreign currency for unplanned infrastructure projects and excess overseas trips, among other things.

 

The cut-backs in subsidy on petroleum products even kerosene in such situation is not only callous but is a clear indication that the present APC government is anti-poor. The explanation that government is diverting resources for the rehabilitation of a few urban road projects at the expense of our socio-economic wellbeing is daft. It is like a man who refuses to feed his family because he is building a house. The fact is that most development activities are donor funded. The few urban projects funded from the domestic budget or pre-taxes from mining firms are poorly conceived and lack in-depth feasibility studies. A responsible government would have considered the financing implications of such projects vis--vis other alternatives such as subsidy that benefits the nation.


By September 2007, the strategic fund had a total sum of Le 10.5 billion (then equivalent to US$ 3.5 million). Within three years, this APC government has misused the strategic fund. Perhaps more importantly, the last SLPP administration had cash reserve of Le 542 billion Multilateral Debt Relief Initiative (MDRI) resources. Also, cash reserves in special accounts such as GGDO account, Maritime Surveillance Fund and many others that could be used in such circumstances have all been exhausted.  Besides, the debt relief in 2007 meant expanded fiscal space. This means more savings for Government as expenditures on external debt servicing was reduced to the minimum. The reality is that this Government is cash trapped and hardly meets basic expenditures such as fuel supply or stationery to Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs). Most MDAs rely on donor funded projects for some of these basic recurrent expenses including fuel for Governments vehicles often used for political activities.  


With poor revenue base amidst other priorities, the capacity of the Government to subsidise essential commodities like fuel has been eroded. A responsible and a pro-poor government would have projected fuel price increases in the ensuing years after 2008 and planned accordingly how to mitigate its effect on the poor.


Overall, the ongoing fuel crisis is causing untold hardship for the population. Below is a table showing changes in transport cost between selected towns.

CHANGES IN TRANSPORT COST (per person) 14 DAYS AFTER 50TH ANNIVERSARY

Route

 

Transport Cost (in Leones) as at 27 April 2011

Transport Cost

(in Leones) as at May 10,  2011

Percentage Change

Freetown-Koidu

27,000

32,000

18.5

Freetown-Makeni

12,000

16,000

33.3

Freetown-Kambia

18,000

23,000

27.8

Freetown-Bo

18,000

25,000

38.9

Freetown-Kenema

28,000

35,000

25.0

Bo-Pujehun

10,000

15,000

50.0

Bo-Mattru

12,000

18,000

50.0

Bo-Kenema

8,000

10,000

25.0

Bo-Gendema

45,000

60,000

33.3

Makeni-Kabala

13,000

17,000

30.8

Makeni-Gbendembu

10,000

15,000

50.0

Kenema-Kailahun

40,000

50,000

25.0

OKADA price (internal service in Bo)

1,000

  2,000

100.0

Consequent to these price increases, transport costs and the prices of food items have risen. Thus, retail prices for all items are rising thereby negatively impacting on the cost of living.

The SLPP therefore urges this Government to pursue the following:

Account for the use of resources from the Petroleum Strategic Stock Account

Re-build the Strategic Stock Account.

Properly inform and sensitise the public on the transition from imperial to metric system of measurement and its implication.

Re-prioritise public projects based on the welfare effects of such projects and re-introduce fuel subsidy and/or meaningful increase salaries and wages.

Project fuel price increases and factor such increase in the annual budget.

Strengthen anti-smuggling efforts.

 

2. The 50th Independence Anniversary Celebration

Sierra Leone was 50 years after independence on April 27, 2011. Like many African independent states, Sierra Leone never had its independence without a strong and prolonged struggle from Britain, its then colonial power and among its people. The Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) would like to proudly remind the public that it was the SLPP that facilitated and led the United Front to negotiate our attainment of independence. The SLPP believed in attaining independence as a united country and involving all national stakeholders.

Regrettably, the then Election Before Independent Movement (EBIM) which was later transformed into the All Peoples Congress (APC) with Late Siaka Stevens as its Leader seriously opposed the moves of the United National Front and did everything to sabotage our fight for independence.

The Sierra Leone Peoples Party has always insisted on a united approach involving all political factions and other stakeholders in planning the celebrations of our countrys Golden Jubilee. We still consider that approach to have been crucial in making the event truly Sierra Leonean and in ensuring that diverse views and opinions were taken into consideration in ensuring that the event reflects the diverse cultures and opinions of our people. We further believe that with all hands on deck the scandal that still shrouds the 50th Independence Celebrations Committee would have been averted.

The Opposition Parties were marginalised. The common explanation was that the celebrations were non-partisan. Yet, Dr. William Conteh, the first Chairman now being investigated by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) is a known staunch member of the APC. The Coordinator, Mr. Balogun Koroma is also a well known member of the APC. The inadequacy and partisan outlook of the then Chairman was demonstrated at the launch of the ceremony on January 1, 2011. At that launch, only the portrait of President Ernest Koroma (who was in fact less than 10 years old in 1961) was displayed leaving out the very man (Late Dr. Milton Margai, former leader of the SLPP), who championed the Independence Movement. The SLPP viewed this as a deliberate ploy to erode history by depriving the current generation of the facts relating to the attainment of independence. This, the SLPP considered to be cheap politics and unacceptable. 

The restructured Committee met with the SLPP on one occasion but reneged on all follow up actions. It is also important to bring to the attention of the public the manner in which the National Chairman and Leader of the SLPP was treated when he attended the presentation of National Insignias and Awards. His vehicle was not allowed into State House; he was forced to walk in; he was never ushered and had to search for a Chair himself.

The Presidents Independence Message to the nation deliberately omitted any reference to the war, how the war ended and in particular, ex-President Tejan Kabbahs role in ensuring peace and promoting democracy. Ex-President Kabbah and Ex-Vice President Solomon Berewa were also conspicuously absent from all the events due to the manner of invitation. The SLPP views such acts as retrogressive and a further attempt by this Government to widen the divide.

The programmes scheduled to mark the event were neither properly timed nor conveniently spaced out to ensure maximum participation by invited guests especially our foreign dignitaries. Basic things like Public Address (PA) system utilised by artists who performed at both Lumley beach and the National Stadium was inadequate when considered against the backdrop of the huge sums of money donated by both Government and the private sector for the occasion.

The awards granted to mark the event were both politically and regionally biased and failed to recognise key nationals such as ex-President Kabbah and ex-Vice President Solomon Berewa who ended the 11-year war and contributed immensely to the development of Sierra Leone since independence. Also, both the state luncheon and state dinner have come under criticism of not reflecting the huge sums spent to make them a success story.

With all these shortcomings, the SLPP eagerly looks forward to the audited accounts of the 50th Independence Anniversary Celebrations Committee and the ongoing investigations into the conduct of the former leadership of the Committee.

 

3. SLPP Supreme Court Matter against Christiana Thorpe (NEC)

The SLPP is pleased to inform all that after a prolonged legal tussle spanning over three years, the Supreme Court has upheld our right to appeal the decision of the Court of Appeal regarding the conduct of the 2007 elections; especially the invalidation of votes from 477 polling stations, mostly in SLPP strongholds.  As a result of this Supreme Court Ruling, the SLPP has just this month retained the services of our esteemed member and renowned legal luminary; Dr. Bu-Buakei Jabbi to file the relevant papers on behalf of the SLPP. On May 2, 2011, Dr, Jabbi filed a Notice of Appeal in the Supreme Court of Sierra Leone. We shall inform the public about progress in this matter.


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