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PARLIAMENTARY UPDATE

Lawmakers debate Presidential Address

January 30, 2015 By Jariatu Bangura

Members of Parliament from both the ruling and opposition parties have exchanged salvos this week whilst debating the Presidential Address to Parliament in December last year.

As per parliamentary traditional, President Ernest Bai Koroma gave account of his stewardship of the country during 2014 by way of a marathon address just before Christmas.

Below, this reporter captures the mood of lawmakers from both sides of the political divide in Parliament as they critique the president’s speech.

‘The APC gov’t has the answer to the Ebola solution’

Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) lawmaker, Hon. Frank Kposowa, said the All People’s Congress (APC) led government has the answer to the Ebola outbreak in the country.

Hon. Kposowa, responding to ruling party MP and Deputy Majority Leader Hon. Leonard Fofanah, who boasted that “the APC government cannot be defeated by the Ebola as we are strong”, retorted that the ruling government has the answer to ending the eight-month Ebola outbreak.

He recalled that when the disease broke out last year they all went back to their respective constituencies to sensitise their constituents on hand washing, to avoid body contact and not to touch dead bodies, adding that the opposition gave support to government on how to end the outbreak.

He noted that the current regime should have done their best to stop the spread of the disease across the country, stating that lax supervision of survivors should also be blamed for the spread of the virus, as he faulted government’s failure to construct accommodation for survivors.

He concluded that because the APC has ruled the country for longer years than the SLPP, they should have answers to the country’s development woes.

Another opposition lawmaker, Hon. Sualiho M. Koroma of Constituency 67 in Bo district described the Ebola outbreak as a ravishing war and the worst crisis that the country has suffered in her history, which she is yet to overcome.

He called for a robust initiative to eradicate the disease and pleaded for vigilance, instead of negligence, if and when there is a new outbreak.

He weighed into recent debates for government to put on hold the 2015 census until the virus is defeated in the country.

Hon. Koroma condemned any attempts to politicize the census process and averred that some of those recruited to conduct the exercise should not be in their positions because of their partisan persuasion.

He also spoke about the Auditor-General’s reports of 2011, 2012 and 2013 which indicate massive wastage and mismanagement of billions of public funds.

However, Hon. Amadu Fofanah of Constituency 109, in the Western Area, argued that the ruling party is heading a responsible government, and that they would put the census on hold until the virus is defeated.

He said findings in the audit report are mere opinion, unless and until a court of competent jurisdiction or Parliament adjudges it to be wrong or correct.

On his part, Hon. Roland F. Kargbo of Constituency 36 in the Bombali district said the country needs qualified teachers and lecturers, especially in the remote rural villages, if the dream of quality education was to be achieved.

He commended the establishment of the Teachers Service Commission, which he said could strengthen and raise standards in schools if well managed.

Hon. Thomas Mark Turay of Constituency 30 said the initiative of the Road Maintenance Fund Administration in 2010 was a laudable one because it has helped reduce the burden on Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA), evident in massive road construction projects across the country.

He said the administration had disbursed money to all 19 local councils in the country for the construction of feeder roads in remote villages, adding that Le300 million has been allocated to construct feeder roads, with 30% disbursed to the Pujehun District Council.

He said Le500 million had been disbursed for the construction of the Pendembu-Kailahun road and the construction of a road leading to Kerry Town, which has an ultramodern Ebola treatment centre.

He maintained that over 1,000 jobs have been created by the Road Maintenance Fund Administration in collaboration with the Ministries of Youth Affairs and Social Welfare, for road maintenance work.

Hon. Francis Amara Konuwa of Constituency 14 in the Kenema district reckoned that most Sierra Leoneans now use the Ebola as an excuse for not carrying out important duties.

The opposition lawmaker said that despite the introduction of the Smallholder Commercialization project less agricultural productivity was achieved for inexplicable reasons. He added that although the free healthcare initiative was hailed as a success story the public health system collapsed with the Ebola outbreak.

“If we do not come together as a family to help eradicate this disease a time will come when all leaders, MPs and staff will not be present here because of continuous spread of the deadly disease,” he said rather ominously.

Hon. Konuwa praised the increase in the new minimum wage – which is now Le500,000 – but expressed doubt as to whether each minimum wage worker will take home Le500,000 due to deductions for national social security, income tax and labour dues.