For those who believe President Ernest Bai Koroma is scheming to continue in office for a third term here’s a message for you:
“When I leave power, and that is very shortly, I want this to be one of my key legacies: that the poverty level of my people has reduced drastically,” said President Koroma on Monday 5th May 2015 in Magburaka, Tonkolili District, Northern Sierra Leone, while officially launching the national social protection strategy.
The President made the declaration after admonishing beneficiaries (potential beneficiaries) of the Social Safety Net (SSN) project and officials that will be responsible for its implementation.
The SSN project distributes about Le65, 000 (US$15) per family to extremely poor Sierra Leonean households monthly to help them meet basic needs. The project is expected to run for two to three years and the President is keen to ensure it succeeds.
“These monies are meant to help you out of poverty, not to stay permanently in poverty hoping that the money will continue to come. Do not use the money to finance your ‘secret society’ activities and do not let the men use these monies to marry additional women. Do not stay idle at home and wait to collect the money,” President Koroma cautioned beneficiaries who are mostly women, adding that the monies should help change their lives and they should not negotiate commission by paying officials to register them for the project.
And to those officials, such as field workers, who will be directly responsible for implementing the project, identifying and registering poor households and distributing the monies, President Koroma also has a stern message:
“The money is not for you but for the ordinary Sierra Leoneans. Not for us who have four-wheel-drive vehicles. They need the money badly. This is for them.”
The President further implored that the beneficiaries have the responsibility to transform their lives while field workers and their bosses have the responsibility to be accountable.
“We want this project to be transparent and above board. We all have to be transparent. We want to ensure the monies reach the targeted people and communities. This is an opportunity for all of us. This time round I believe we’ll get it right. We should because we have put the right structures in place,” the President emphasized.
Before the Ebola outbreak Sierra Leone’s economy was doing well and the Government has been addressing issues of poverty and investing in social services through its Agenda for Change development blue print. In its succeeding Agenda for Prosperity, poverty is treated as a separate pillar.
A national survey conducted in 2011 revealed that poverty was reducing in the country from 66.4% in 2003 to 59% in 2011; and in the case of extreme poverty, it was reducing from 31.3% to 13.9%.
However, the Ebola outbreak has reversed all these gains, and according to President Koroma poor people have become even poorer and the situation is desperate.
“We have challenges in every area, not just social issues, and so we’ll continue to do the things we’ve been doing to address these issues. We want to coordinate our efforts so we can assess the impact. That’s why we developed this program; to coordinate our effort to get the right impact against poverty in our country,” said President Koroma.
Before now the approach was scattered and uncoordinated because there were lots of players targeting different segments, but the new strategy and implementation plan with monitoring systems aims to make it better for all the players.
The initial SSN project targeted about 20, 000 poor Sierra Leonean households benefitting about 126 people including mainly women and children, but the government has further identified 150, 000 more and 413, 000 households of ‘serious poverty case’ across the country. The government is currently discussing these additional figures with development partners including the World Bank Group, USAID and Unicef.
According to President Koroma, the World Bank Group has assured him of a donation of US$ 3 million worth of rice seedlings which, coupled with the SSN package, should help poor people invest in agricultural activities.
President Koroma said the launching of the social protection strategy is timely because it almost coincides with the government’s recovery program from the Ebola crisis.
“We’ve all gone through the Ebola experience but not yet entirely through, and we have started our recovery program. The recovery program in itself is a social protection net program. We are helping poor people, as well as institutions, to start all over again. With lessons learnt from Ebola, we’ll strengthen our health and education systems,” said the President with renewed hope.
President Koroma was in the company of a high powered government delegation including the newly appointed Vice President Honourable Victor Bockarie Foh, Chief of Staff at State House, ministers of Finance and Economic Development, Information and Communications, Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, and Presidential advisers; a show of political will and commitment to the project, which is being steered by the National Commission for Social Action (NaCSA).
For Aminata Micheal, one of the more than 2,700 people already receiving cash transfers from the SSN project, it was not only her first time of seeing such a large gathering of people, but also her first time of seeing the President of her country.
“Where I come from, Moyamba village, I have never seen such a crowd in my life and this is the first time of seeing the President. I’ve only been hearing about him,” said Aminata in her native tongue.
Aminata spoke on behalf of a group of widows from Moyamba present at the launching whose husbands were killed during the decade long civil war, leaving them with many children to take care of.
The Ebola has worsened their situation and she said they are faced with three key problems: ‘food, health and education for our children’.
“In our village we don’t have the luxury of choice and quality of the food we eat. We eat anything we can prepare as food,” explained Aminata. “We are happy for the government and its partners for this poverty reduction program which has improved our status a bit.”
However, Aminata said they are just representatives of countless poor widows and families in Moyamba and other parts of the country and she appealed to government and development partners to ensure more poor families benefit from the project.
Meanwhile, President Koroma thanked development partners supporting the project, but singled out the World Bank ‘which has stood by us throughout this crisis’.
The President prayed that God blesses the SSN program and ensure it brings about change in the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans.
Credit: Development and Economic Journalists Association-Sierra Leone (DEJA-SL).
© Copyright by Awareness Times
Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.