May 16, 2018
Ex-President Ernest Bai Koroma has stated in his handing over note to President Retired Brigadier Julius Maada Bio that his government was willing to incur the wrath of some of their key partners rather than compromise on their obligations to help reduce the state of poverty in the country.
‘Your Excellency now has to take a decision as to whether to continue to maintain the subsidies on electricity, fuel, rice, etc. etc. or whether to remove them and send the citizens deeper into poverty? For my government, there was nothing to debate; we saw no reason to remove the subsidies and we preferred to incur the wrath of Development Partners than place more burdens on our poor citizens,’ he said.
He noted that although they have become more liberal as the world modernises, the All Peoples Congress (APC) was founded on a platform of Socialism and that upon his election in 2007 he did not abandon the core beliefs of the party that governance must be predicated on the importance of efforts to minimise the burden of poverty on the population, expand access for the common man and woman and do everything possible to leave no-one behind.
‘Against the above foundation and much to the displeasure of some of our valued development partners, my government refused to end government’s subsidies in various sectors. The subsidies cushioned the effects of poverty in a prompt manner that can be likened to your own ‘Prompt Action On Poverty Alleviation’ (PAOPA). This means my Government had already been on a pathway which you may now be comfortable to emulate as far as poverty alleviation is concerned,’ he said.
He admitted that some of those subsidies created a burden on the budget and that in addition to the critical financial obligations required to maintain the peace and stability such as recruiting and maintaining officers and men of the Police, Military, Prisons, Fire Services and the civil service, including teachers and health care workers, adding that he had to as well absorb the financial costs of subsidising tuition fees at all levels from Primary School through to University; subsidise farmers with cash grants, seedlings and fertilisers; subsidise health care services, including his flagship Free Health Care for Pregnant Women, Lactating Mothers and Children Under 5 years; subsidise electricity so that it was not only the rich and affluent who could enjoy reliable electricity but those in lower social brackets as well; subsidise participation in national and international sporting events so as to uplift the psyche of citizens; subsidise the cost of fuel so as to keep the cost of living within reasonable levels for citizens already struggling in a country that was first post-war and now lately post-Ebola; subsidise public transportation in such a manner that government buses could travel to and from all major towns of Sierra Leone and bus routes within the capital city of Freetown had buses running at heavily subsidised fares especially for school children.
‘Every single one of these subsidies placed a huge burden on the economy and there were calls for them to be discarded but the after-effect of ending these subsidies will be a vicious cycle of poverty which would spiral the poor living conditions of our people in a downwards manner. Each subsidy we undertook had a distinct and tangible justification,’ he said.
During the Ebola crisis, the former president said one measure to stop the spread of the disease was to suspend schools throughout Sierra Leone but that Government never stopped paying salaries to teachers nor did they stop paying attention to their obligations to support educational activities.
‘After Ebola, when schools re-opened, we further subsidised school fees in the immediate post-Ebola period because my Government saw the need to cushion the already heavy effect of poverty on parents. So we completely removed the burden of them having to raise funds to pay fees. In this way, our children continued to get educated and their parents could plough money for fees into other useful areas of poverty reduction in their lives.’
He claimed that Sierra Leone is currently the only country in West Africa where the government pays 70% of the University Tuition Fees for all its citizens so as to subsidise the cost of university education.
‘In addition to subsidising 70% of Tuition Fees, we also provide 100% full subsidies for various other categories like students from very poor families and female students accepted to study Science subjects,’ he said.