From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

2009 Under Review: An Agenda for Change or Continuity?
By Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie
Jan 19, 2010, 17:04

2009 was remarkable in a few respect but uneventful and a continuation of the old ways in many. The year saw the unveiling of Governmentís policy paper: An Agenda for Change: Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper 2 which stresses on alleviating the now redundant issue of poverty reduction by giving priority to energy, agriculture and infrastructure in the absence of a firm commitment and roadmap that will attract investment in these areas. Another milestone was an investment forum that showcased Sierra Leone as an investment destination in London and the pledges we all hope will come to fruition.

I duff my hat to the Presidency for completing the Bumbuna Hydro Electric Project which was long overdue, with successive Governments berated over the years by an exasperated populace for its none completion. Bumbuna is the genesis and not the ultimate solution to the huge challenges facing the energy and subsequent wealth creating sectors. This in sequence leads to economic independence, social cohesion and stability.

Now letís review the eve of President Koromaís avowed promise to change mother Sierra Leone and how those changes will manifest themselves, thirty six months into his administration. As I write, His Excellency is twenty eight months into that undertaking and I am sorry to say that those changes are still negligible.

Today, the economy continues to stare in the abyss with mass unemployment, low productivity and pitiable social services. Sub-standard education is now the trend and is plummeting at an alarming rate as evidenced in the recent national results for both the BECE and WASCE exams for 2008 and 2009. Health service delivery is at a desolate state. In the midst of this melee is the apparent lack of new policy directions that will properly manage our abundant human and natural resources for the collective good of all Sierra Leoneans.

Many areas of our economy remain virgin and untapped or not fully utilised to generate the much needed wealth that will indeed ameliorate our poverty stricken nation and once more restore its economic independence. Some less fortunate states like the Gambia and Cape Verde are entirely reliant on their marine resources and tourism and have been successful in ensuring their countryís development and the prosperity of their citizenry while Sierra Leone with its abundance of resources continues to wallow in abject poverty.

Corruption is still prevalent despite the promulgation of the much needed reforms to strengthen the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC) and ensure its independence.

Governmentís interference is blatant with regards to certain issues before the Commission that Government has vested interest in like the Income Electrix Scandal, the Indian Rice consignment debacle and the NASSIT ferry fiasco all of which flouted our procurement rules and involved high ranking government functionaries that now constitute a cabal of untouchables.

Today efficiency and performance has taken a backseat to loyalty and ethnicity in selecting individuals to high public office and in dismissing hard working individuals who are deemed to hold opposing political views from the public service; a case in point is the recent mass dismissal of the Directorate and some managers of the Sierra Leone Ports Authority in the absence of a Board which is the hiring and firing authority. Corporate governance in parastatals and other government institutions is completely lacking as Members of Board of Directors and Commissions continue to engage in the day to day administrations of their institutions to the detriment of those establishments and against the established norms of probity and accountability.

The ACC and the National Procurement Commission only need to revisit the books of these institutions to see firsthand the amount of tax payersí money and Governmentís revenue that is incessantly embezzled in the name of procuring goods and services for these institutions by these political appointees contrary to the advice of their experts.

In these times of reconstruction and the rehabilitation of our beloved nation, the law enforcing agencies have opted for a lacklustre approach in curtailing the ever increasing lawless and violent youth roaming the streets of Freetown, with blatant disregard for authority and the law. The recent brutal murder of a taxi driver, by seven alleged motorcyclists, over a cap in Lumley demonstrates the level of lawlessness, intolerance and blatant disregard for authority that is now prevalent in our society.

A corresponding incident also took place at the central district of Freetown where a gang of marauding youth were seen carrying offensive weapons in pursuit of a rival gang to settle scores over the stabbing of another youth the previous day; is another manifestation of this violent youth culture. Reviewing the extant laws against violence, ensuring strict enforcement and punishment that deters are crucial in this regard as a none partisan national issue.

Youth unemployment continues to haunt Government and now stands at an appalling 60% despite their election pledge to provide rapid employment to our impatient youth. The long benches of Freetown and other urban centres are full night and day seven days a week with idle and eager youth. As the old adage goes an idle mind is the devilís workshop hence the rampant violence I referred to above among our nationís youth population.

The now normal impediments to large scale investment in areas of the economy that can boost revenue, like agriculture and tourism namely: the irregular land tenure system in the provinces, the lack of sufficient tax incentives to entice investment and the snail pace restructuring of the legal and judicial sector to be more responsive to promoting business and deterring fraud; are still intact and are yet to be prioritised in Governmentís agenda for change.

Change at the eve of the last presidential elections, was first perceived by the Margai faction fighting for the Presidential ticket of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, as a movement towards a complete change in the way we do business as a nation and to reinvent our will to create new initiatives and ethics in governance and business. Today two years and four months into an era of change that will manifest in three years these virtues are yet to be seen or felt by the majority of our eager and suffering population.

In these circumstances therefore change remains a lip service that lacks any serious commitment or programme to give effect to its precepts which are not clearly defined. Today ninety five percent of the ongoing programmes in all sectors are basically a continuation of those commenced by the previous government. There is hardly any new initiative outside the much propagated attitudinal or behavioural change campaign which still remains abstract and can be best achieved through the enactment and stern implementation of enforceable legislations rather than a media campaign that provides yet another medium for corruption.

Sierra Leone is in desperate need of change and genuine change that will usher in an era of good governance, economic prudency, social and national cohesion. We must be more ambitious in our vision and more adventurous in our quest build a progressive and prosperous nation devoid of political and other parochial sentiments and interests. We need a leadership that can inspire hope and that innate feeling of patriotism that is inherent in mankind so that we can collectively take over our own destiny and create wealth from our abundant resources. Wealth that can rekindle optimism and build trust in ourselves and our country. GOD BLESSES SIERRA LEONE.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.