New Direction First Year… How Do The People View President Bio’s Government?

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Tomorrow April 4th 2019 marks that memorable night when His Excellency President Bio was declared winner of the March 2018 presidential election by NEC, and by extension the new president of the Republic.
If the government of President Julius Maada Bio were to be graded on their first year’s performance in office, it is likely that their report card would read, “promising start, which they must surpass in the years ahead”.
At the time, as with all changes of government, expectations were high that the new government would, above everything else, deal with the crying issue of bread and butter, namely, the high cost of living, inflation and record high unemployment among the youths, who always turn out in large numbers during elections to vote, with the hope that things will be better and brighter for them.
For a president who confessed to inheriting a battered, shattered economy desperately in need of resuscitation from recession, it is an interesting intellectual activity to evaluate how he sits with the people.
To say that President Bio does not command the respect and following of a significant proportion of his country men and women who hail from the North is to be economical with the truth – More so when he had undiplomatically called the members of their former APC government “Ayampis”.
The New Direction Government’s Commissions of Inquiry has divided the country sharply along tribal, regional and political lines.
Those against it call it a witch hunt; those for it say it is necessary therapy that the body polity needs, if it is to be purged off chronic anaemia and other symptoms of bad economic health that has resulted in the stunting of the economy generally and loss ot confidence in the country by investors, who see Sierra Leone as a den of iniquity – a dismal image of the country that President Bio, through vigorous economic and financial reforms, is trying to rewrite.
How do the majority of Sierra Leoneans view their ‘Talk and do’ president one year down the line?
Truth is, there are many who now take with a big pinch of salt talk by his Finance Minister during the campaigns that a New Direction government will easily solve the cantankerous bread and butter issues that have defied the efforts of government since the days of President Stevens’ failed IMF Structural Adjustment Policies (SAPs) of the 1980s, as well as President Momoh’s much vaunted ‘Green Revolution’ that would have turned Sierra Leone into rich bread basket. That is, given that since this government came to power, prices of essential commodities have skyrocketed as the value of the Leone has sky-dived.
Democracy being government of the people, by the people and for the people, politically, there are many people who think that since coming to power, increasingly, President Bio, his ministers and MPs generally have insulated themselves from not only the existential realities of the poor people that they are supposed to have been elected to help solve, but have also isolated themselves from the people, who a year ago, they were knocking at their doors to beg them for their votes.
Whilst the Free Education has generally been accepted by the nation as a boon to poor parents and their children, many observe that the program lacks adequate monitoring and supervision and that most of the same old vices committed by unscrupulous school heads and teachers, who place love of money far above love of their profession continue – like charging exorbitantly for sports, T-Shirts, Thanksgiving, Match Past, Social Science, etc.
The behaviour of teachers in the government and government assisted schools is also said to be nothing much to write home about, as private lessons instead of normal teaching in schools continues to be the order of the day.
Not helping the situation is the problem of many untrained, unqualified, unpaid community teachers in most of the schools in the provinces; particularly in the Northern Province.
Nothing much needs to be said about the crunching problem of the steady unavailability of clean drinking water in both urban and rural communities. We can leave without electricity, many say, but we cannot live without clean water.
Whilst the successes of the fight against corruption, drastic reduction in wastage of finances, plugging of loopholes, increased revenue collection are yet to trickle down to the masses, for poor people that commute every day or have to travel for businesses, they would be greatly pleased if the government had worked fast to actualise the promise of 200 new buses to fill the gaping gap that Balogun Koroma’s USD12 million buses left wide open.
Meanwhile, the people living in Freetown call the attention of the police to the growing sense of insecurity that they feel due to constant, daily harassment from armed robbers, who now brazenly break down their doors at night and attack them.
Since taking office after his successful election last year, this retired brigadier general has made a promising start, beginning with a massive investigation into corruption and mismanagement under All Peoples Congress (the APC) government of ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma.
On the recommendations of that investigation, a judge-led public inquiry is now examining corruption allegations against former officials. Early scalps in this veritable war on graft.
The issue of corruption hits a raw nerve here, a country that is desperately poor despite its wealth of natural resources and fertile lands, which in a parallel universe would guarantee a decent standard of life for every one of its 7.5 million citizens. Former government officials are also widely believed to have stolen resources meant for the victims of the Ebola and mudslide disasters which laid waste to thousands a few years back.
Simultaneously as he drove forward his anti-corruption campaign, the new President upon taking office established a consolidated account for all government revenues. The goal was to plug any potential “leakages” in his own administration.
Revenues collected have gone towards servicing the domestic debt and paying civil servants, who were now getting paid on time and without government having to borrow.
Bio’s stewardship of the economy has won applauds from the IMF, who have approved a new two-year support programme worth 172 million dollars. The World Bank has chimed in with support to the tune of 325 million dollars. Both Bretton Woods institutions’ relationship with the previous administration had been “increasingly difficult”, which saw the IMF suspending their programme in 2017. President Bio has said both institutions were “necessary evils”.
His ambitious, five-year National Development Plan, costed at 8 billion dollars, was unveiled in February and has been endorsed by the Bretton Woods double act. Its key pillars include the development of human capital and infrastructure, and increasing agricultural production, especially of the staple food, rice – which the country used to export up till the 1970s, but which now sucks up valuable foreign exchange to import.
Inevitably with report cards, you eventually get to the bits that cause embarrassment or feelings of regret in the subject. In this case, one of these has to be the alarming rates of gender-based violence against women and young girls. The available figures paint the story in vivid technicolour.
According to police statistics, there were 632 cases of rape or sexual assaults in 2012. That figure rose to an astronomical 8,505 for last year alone. Over 70 percent of victims were girls under 15 years old. Although the government declared the crisis a state of emergency and speedily passed legislation making the “sexual penetration of minors” punishable with an automatic life sentence, it remains to be seen how effective this will be.
“Our commitment [to solving this problem] is beyond mere words and beyond mere acknowledgement of an obligation,” President Bio has said. “The protection and empowerment of our women and girls is critical to our existence and progress as a nation.”
From an appraisal of the first year of President Bio’s government, two things are clear. The first is that he has entered into a marriage of convenience with the IMF and the World Bank; the second is that, if his government’s promising start is to be surpassed, or even sustained, he will need the skills of a master magician to keep both his people, as well as his “marriage partners”, happy.

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