By Alhaji Haruna Sani
Delivering his keynote address on the theme consolidating democracy: our collective, share and patriotic responsibility, VP Juldeh thrilled audience at the City Hall in Kenema during the opening ceremony of the annual media and civil society engagement championed by the Ministry of Information and Communications.
The event scheduled for 24th – 27th November, 2022, attracted cabinet Ministers and Deputy Ministers, stakeholders from ministries, departments, agencies, the media, civil society, government and non-governmental institutions, representatives from the Kenema District and City Council, traditional authorities, mobile operation companies, amongst others.
Vice President Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh began by thanking the Minister of Information,Mohamed Rahman Swarray for his innovative skills by bringing the media and civivil society together and engage on the pathway to bridging the gap between the government and the governed.
He said the state has a huge role to play in ensuring a democratic dividend, adding that in order to effectively ensure the state plays it role, President Bio guided his development by the Human Capital Development agenda.
VP Juldeh noted that Sierra Leone is No 3 country in the world to direct 22% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to education, with 2.6 million pupils in schools.
“Since President Bio took over governance, there has been exponential increment in the number of pupils taking and passing public exams, and passing than ever before. We have also took budget on health from 6% in 2018 to 11.7% presently,” he said.
He averred that despite reports indicating that majority of Sierra Leoneans are still food insecure, government has increased food production by 24%.
He said in their effort in promoting the productive sector to boost the social sector, government has increased access to electricity supply from 16% in 2018 to 34% in 2022, promising that it would be increased by 50% and above by June 2023.
He said for the first time under the President Bio led-government, Agriculture, Fisheries and Marine Resources are generating income for the country.
He highlighted several steps the government has taken to cushion the effects of multiple challenges in several sectors.
In the area of challenges, VP Juldeh said Sierra Leone like many other countries, is going through challenges like the harmful effects of climate change, the Covid-19 pandemic and the Russian vs Ukraine war, to which several actions have been taken by Government to cushion the effects.
“It is one thing for government to say we have done so and so or this and that, and it is another for the media and CSOs to assess. But our assessment in the international arena is excellent. Among other benchmarks, we have consecutively and successfully passed the Millennium Challenge Cooperation (MCC) benchmarks and have also passed the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) implementation as assessed by the United Nations,” he said.
VP Juldeh Jalloh boasted that President Bio has taken the nation to a stage where no other president has taken it to for the past 30-40 years.
Earlier, a representative of the Kenema City Mayor, Thomas K. Baio, welcomed the gathering to the enviable City of Kenema and assured all a secured and safety environment.
In his brief but witty statement, Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rahman Swarray, said the idea of organising the CSOs-Media engagement was to have a trusted partner to tell the story of government.
He intimated that the event was geared towards answering to the call of transparency and accountability. “President Bio has said government should be opened to scrutiny and we have acceded to his call,” Minister Swarray said.
He stressed on the importance of the theme of the event which is “consolidating democracy: our collective, shared and patriotic responsibility”.
He said following the 11 years debilitating civil war that ravaged Sierra Leone, it was but very important to consolidate democracy as a shared responsibility.
In his statement, Ahmed Sahid Nasralla, President of the Sierra Leone Association for Journalists, thanked the Minister of Information and Communication and his ministry for the fruitful Media &CSOs’ partnership, which has lasted for the past three years.
He assured that the partnership is never a yardstick to influence the work of the press, but a means of actualising the collaborative role of the media.
He averred that the repeal of the criminal libel law was a landmark success of the ministry. “At least no media practitioner is in jail for expressing his or her opinion,” he stated”.
He called on government and the media to work together in promoting gender equity and also urged government to introduce legalisation on fair public advertisement and timely payment for adverts.
President Nasralla also requested that government should have tax waivers and incentives for community media and promote access to information for the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists.
He reminded the high table that since the skyrocketing of prices of commodities, which he said was mostly propelled by the War in Ukraine, government has not done any increase in salaries.
On behalf of CSOs, Andrew Lavalie of the Institute of Governance Reforms, expressed that there was every reason to celebrate and applauds the Ministry of Information for the laudable innovation of engaging CSOs and the media on national development.
He said the work of CSOs should never be scaled by the level of ostentation between CSOs and Government.