In his New Year’s Speech to the nation on New Year’s Day His Excellency, the President, Julius Maada Bio retrospectively looked back at the strides his Government has made so far since it took over State Governance, the challenges they inherited, the achievements they have scored and the plans they are poised to roll out in 2020 towards translating manifestoes promises into tangible realities on the ground to foster development.
The President first thanked God for preserving us all through 2019. He said his Government he is heading came into 2019 shackled with high domestic and foreign debt repayments, unfavourable mining lease agreements, low domestic productivity, high youth unemployment, high inflation, and currency depreciation further noting that throughout the year, our confidence and optimism as a nation were shaken by mild economic turbulence and unavoidable shocks we inherited.
He highlighted that typically, Sierra Leoneans have made light of the situation with the usual humorous jibes, “the gron dry,” but in 2019, they launched the medium term national development plan, increased domestic revenue mobilisation by streamlining and automating revenue collection and deposit processes, clarified and reduced the tax and duty burden on businesses, made it easier to establish and run a business including providing aftercare at the highest levels, and provided more support for small to medium enterprises. He furthered that as a Government they did such with the firm belief that private enterprise is the engine for economic expansion.
“We go into 2020 as a country at peace with falling crime rates, lower prison populations, and no security threat,” he stated with pride.
The President told the nation that at Bintumani 3, Sierra Leoneans suggested ways to further lower tensions and establish a permanent infrastructure for peace.
He dilated on how they have moved to repeal criminal libel laws that successive governments had used to suppress free speech maintaining that they continue to open up civic spaces and encourage citizens to speak up and make our democracy stronger and better.
“In spite of the cynicism about foreign travel, we have, through those travels transformed the reputation and image of Sierra Leone abroad by comprehensively telling our friends and partners who we really are and where we are taking our nation. And they have watched our unrelenting and determined fight against corruption and pass the MCC’s “Control of Corruption” with very high scores,” he highlighted.
The President said they have watched the crack down on fraud and waste and reformed public institutions and practices pointing out how the IMF, EU, DFID, World Bank and our international partners have all expressed confidence in what they were doing and they have re-engaged fully.
He underscored how they have actively promoted business in Sierra Leone through various investment conferences saying the fisheries, tourism, and agricultural sectors are set for significant foreign private sector investments in the near future zeroing that they are focused on rice-sufficiency, cash crop production, and agricultural value-chain addition.
“As we go into 2020, two million children, especially, girls have access to free quality education, free teaching and learning materials, expanded healthcare services, school buses, and free school feeding in some areas,” he intimated going further to say that they have intensified a national campaign against early child marriage, introduced robust enforcement and tougher sentencing guidelines for rape, sexual and gender-based violence and rape.
President Bio said teenage pregnancy, menstrual health and hygiene are no longer taboo topics as women are at the centre of our country’s future development and security and the Government has recruited more women into the armed forces than at any time in our country’s history.
“We are investing heavily in STEM disciplines especially for girls and through the Directorate of Science, Technology, and Innovation, we are harnessing the power of data and technology to support governance, business, healthcare, education, and agriculture,” he said in his speech.
The 1st Gentleman of the nation told the nation how recently they launched the first drone corridor in West Africa and the first block-chain-based national digital identify platform that will improve financial inclusion among other benefits.
“Soon, we will convene a national forum on the future of education. We do so mindful of our national development priorities and goals and knowing that for our children to lead and participate in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the global economy, they must be equipped with a 21st century education,” he promised.
President Bio stated that we enter 2020 in a Sierra Leone where mothers in labour and critically ill-cases can now be rushed into a nearby hospital or community health centre by an ambulance they can call toll-free from the comfort of their homes.
He assured that they will continue work on lowering maternal mortality rates, expanding primary healthcare, training and recruiting more healthcare workers, and refurbishing or building new health centres all over the country also informing how in 2020, the Government will turn the sod for the construction of an ultramodern diagnostic health Centre using funds recovered from corrupt officials as seed money.
“Our public sanitation and waste disposal investments have yielded public health benefits. We enter 2020 with a renewed commitment to fighting climate change while improving clean energy access in off-grid rural areas and tackling energy poverty through the nearly-complete regional grid and other new initiatives. We enter 2020 with extensive judicial reforms that have led to more access to justice,” he guaranteed.
His Excellency mentioned in his speech that the Government’s social protection programmes continue to support vulnerable families and they have launched a $50 million urban-mobility project.
He went on to say they are also rehabilitating key trunk roads from Kailahun to Freetown and building new bridges nationwide promising that big impact and high-value infrastructural projects will commence this year.
The President said their youth empowerment projects and the Government’s support for sports development (especially the Sierra Leone Premier League) have been very significant and despite the baseless cynicism and mindless partisanship, he calls for relentless optimism and hard work to develop the nation.
“If you share my belief that we can make Sierra Leone a better place, I urge you to share the responsibility with me for doing so with a firm commitment to make, act, be the change you want to see. Happy New Year everybody,” he concluded.