By Ishmael Dumbuya
Some might say that President Bio has done very little in addressing the economic hardship in the country. Some believe that the economic challenges are as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and the Ukrainian war. President Bio may not have done enough to liberate the country from economic shackles, but has however addressed some other areas. Now let’s highlight five reasons that might usher in Bio as president for the second term:
The Free Quality Education
President Bio’s flagship programme, the Free Quality Education, has been described as a pro-poor service as it has greatly helped to empower children whose parents are poor and cannot afford to pay their tuition fees.
Since he was elected in April 2018 as head of state, he didn’t waste time,but officially launched the Free Quality Education in September 2018.Since its launch in 2018,the FQE scheme has ensure more enrolment in all government and government-assisted schools across the country. According to the latest census, over 700,000 pupils were enrolled across the country with 1,400 teachers approved
Contrary to the past regime, when some of these children whose parents cannot afford to pay their tuition will be left out and denied admission into the formal system of learning. As the narrative has been changed by President Bio through the Free Quality Education in the country and this move has been applauded by all.
Through the Free Quality Education, President Bio has achieved huge success in narrowing the gender gap; especially in promoting girls’ education in the country. His emphases are on Human Capital Development. He has on several occasions implored the private sector to support the agenda of the government through providing support towards the Free Quality Education that has helped to reduce the number of school dropout in the country.
Repeal Part V of the Public Order Act
President Julius Maada Bio signed the amended Public Order Act 1965, which effectively repeals the 55-year-old seditious libel section that criminalised free speech.
What has for decades seemed impossible for the media and journalism in the West African nation of Sierra Leone has finally become a pulsating reality as President Julius Maada Bio on October 28, 2020 officially signed a new law that repeals Criminal Libel.
The Presidential assent comes three months after the Parliament of Sierra Leone on July 23, 2020 unanimously approvedthe Independent Media Commission (IMC) Act 2020 and repealed the 1965 Public Order Act (POA) that criminalized libel and sedition. Speaking during the official program held at State House in Freetown to mark the formal repeal of the 1965 law, President Julius Maada Bio said he was delighted to have delivered on a key campaign promise. “As previous speakers have indicated, my Government made a firm manifesto commitment to repeal the 55-year-old criminal seditious libel law (Part V of the Public Order Act of 1965). We followed through in cabinet and as a Government, we have made history. For more than half a century, we had a legislative and governance regime that criminalised journalism. Successive governments had failed to abolish this law that threatened civil liberties and had been abused over the course of half a century by successive governments.”
Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act
President Julius Maada Bio signed a new Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act 2022, known also as the GEWE Act 2022 that seeks to open up the country’s political space and establish a level playing field for women in politics.
Political parties are now required to ensure that 30% of their candidates for parliamentary and local council elections are women.
According to recent census survey, there are more women (over 50%) in the country than men, yet like most African countries men dominate and control the economic, political, and social life of the country.
Speaking at the signing ceremony, President Bio said: “For me, women’s economic empowerment and protection are not political rhetoric. Empowering women is essential to the health and social development of families, communities, and countries. Women can reach their full potential when they live safe, fulfilled, productive lives.
“When I became President, I proclaimed that gender is firmly on my New Direction Agenda. The future of Sierra Leone is female; we must do all it takes to facilitate the timely, full, and unconditional inclusion of women in our national life, governance, and development,” he said.
President Bio is hoping that with the new gender empowerment law, barriers to parliamentary representation will be removed.
He said he looks forward to a more vibrant and diverse parliament with greater numbers of women and women’s voices; urging all political parties to go beyond the legal minimum of the number of women when they compile their proportional representation lists ahead of the elections in June this year.
The president said his government has taken on deep-rooted and complex challenges confronting women in the country, and has introduced progressive policies and measures, reviewing existing laws and proposing new legislations to promote gender equality.
The new Lungi Airport
During his campaign stop in 2018, the then Candidate of Sierra Leone’s Peoples Party, SLPP, Dr Julius Maada Bio, now president of the country, made some very bold and ambitious promises, some even elicited mockery from the then-ruling APC. The Free and Quality Education for Citizens was an impractical delivery that has been sustained by the Bio-led administration, amidst scarce resources and global economic downturn. Four years on, and in a clear departure from conventional political rhetoric, President Bio has broken yet another jinx with the unveiling of a brand-new airport for the country, to replace the first which was built over 3-decades ago by the British. The state-of-the-art newly completed Freetown International Airport in Lungi is a $270 Million public-private partnership project; the first Green Airport in the region to be fully powered by solar energy. It will also accommodate larger/modern aircraft and reduce the operation cost for the country’s international aviation partners.
According to reports, the newly constructed Airport will host up to ten (10) planes at every given time with a capacity of 50,000 passengers monthly compared to 10,000 monthly using the old Airport. The reason for such massive construction is to make Sierra Leone a hub for international travel in the sub-region.
The new Airport is descriptively night-and-day different from the old one. The 14,000 m² terminal building is three times the size of Freetown International Airport’s existing terminal facility – along with arrivals and departures areas for commercial passengers, the development contains a VIP/Presidential channel, improved cargo facilities and a brand-new air traffic control tower built in the shape of a diamond. This development is a milestone for the country, as it is the first international terminal to be built since it gained independence in 1961. In addition, there is a duty-free with a wide range of goods and a provision for a five-star hotel which is going to be part of the new Airport. A new runway was also constructed to accommodate any flight, irrespective of size or volume.
Financial and tax control The abuse and misuse of duty and tax waivers in recent years resulted in significant loss in domestic revenue amounting to Le1.12 trillion during 2015 – 2017. Within 100 days, Government has established a Special Committee to review the current process and develop an appropriate policy for granting duty and tax waivers.
In April to June, the Government collected a total of Le1.07 trillion of domestic revenue (a monthly average of Le 356.7 billion, far exceeding the monthly collection of Le 271billion for the same period in 2017, reflecting strong efforts by the Government to stop revenue leakages and curb excessive duty waivers.
Prior to the assumption of office of the new Government, several MDAs collected and retained Government revenue thereby undermining Government’s revenue collection efforts. Within First 100 Days, Government has implemented the Treasure Single Account and total collections from Treasure Single Account agencies amounted to Le104 billion during April – June, including Le60 billion transferred into the Consolidated Revenue Fund from their balances held at the commercial banks.
Prior to the Executive Order No 1, Oil Marketing Companies (OMCs) were paying excise taxes and duties in arrears of two months or more. This led to difficulties in reconciling payments due and actual payments made. Within First 100 days, consistent with Law, Customs and Excise Department would now allow Oil Marketing Companies to uplift petroleum products from the depots only after the (i) full payment of excise duty (ii) 50 percent of import duty before uplift; remaining 50 percent within 7 days after uplift, failing which the full force of the law applies
As a result of the revenue mobilization drive, within the First 100 Days this created fiscal space that enables the Government to paying salaries of civil servants and staff of sub-vented agencies without resorting to domestic bank borrowing. In addition, the Government was able to provide resources to MDAs including to Universities and other Tertiary institutions; Anti-Corruption Commission; National Revenue Authority; Audit Service Sierra Leone, the Police, Military and Correctional Services; as well as pay examination fees for NPSE, contribution to NASSIT for Civil servants and other public sector employees and subsidy to the Electricity Distribution and Supply Authority (EDSA) and Electricity Generation and Transmission Company (EGTC.
The Government Wage bill accounts for 30% of Government expenditure and 60 % of domestic revenue in 2017. In addition, APC left an exploded payroll of Le 2 trillion. Within the First 100 Days, the Ministry of Finance through the Accountant-General’s Department is cleaning the Government Payroll by ensuring that all public sector workers above the age of 60 years are removed from the payroll effective end May 2018, except for teachers, whose deadline has been extended to end August 2018. As a result of this policy, about 2,118 employees have their assignments ended. Hence, it is expected that Government will save about Le5.0 billion monthly going forward and this has provided fiscal space to recruit 1,600 new teachers.
Expenditure on overseas travel account for a significant proportion of the recurrent expenditures of MDAs. Within the First 100 Days, the Ministry of Finance has ensured that MDAs travel costs are within their approved budgets. Furthermore, per diem allowances will no longer be paid to Government officials on their return trip for official travel. The implementation of this measure is already in full effect. Government is able to a make savings of Le 11 billion from the implementation of these policy measures, with Le760 million on foreign travel alone.