By Jariatu S Bangura
While President Bio has clocked four years in power, Deputy Leader of the Coalition for Change (C4C) in Parliament, Hon. Saa Francis Bhendu has questioned whether the president has anything in the bag to tell voters come 2023, citing the current standard of living which he said has become very difficult for the average Sierra Leonean.
He said life has become very expensive and that the suffering for the people has increased drastically.
He noted that even though there were global challenges, but there was more the government can do to help salvage the situation.
“So far, for one to purchase a bag of rice, one has to purchase it above Le500,000 which means that the minimum wage earners could not take much care of their relatives after purchasing a bag of rice. It is really difficult and challenging, the government needs to do more if they should buy the confidence of the people. But as it is now, it is going to be very challenging for this government because things are not easy,” he stated.
Hon. Bhendu reiterated that things were not happening in the best interest of the people, adding that as it stands now, there was no way the bread and butter issue could be addressed.
He charged that there was nothing much the New Direction administration could talk about, citing the infrastructural sector where he said little has been done over the past four years.
He, however, stated that the introduction of the Free Quality Education was a laudable venture, but noted that the approach to implement it made them missed the steps.
“In many unapproved schools, the remote allowance President Bio promised for teachers teaching in remote schools has not been materialized. No permanent structure or class room has been built single handedly by this government, all we see are the ones built by private sectors and individuals. As for external exams, it is the worst situation as police officers and staff of the ACC are invigilators in exam halls, a situation that creates fright among the students to fail massively in public exams,” he said .
He said there was need to go back to the drawing board and know what needed to be done to address the numerous challenges in those sectors.
He said opposition MPs did advise during the presidential debates that learning institutions for teachers should be free and then after graduation, those teachers should be employed by the government and sent to the interior together with their pin codes, but that has not been achieved.
Hon. Bhendu disclosed that traders now determine prices of basic commodities and that nothing has been done by the government to salvage the situation.
“The government needs to sit together and put the challenges together in the best interest of themselves; otherwise I don’t see their second term. As the current situation stands, the people are not willing to entrust their lives to this government,” he said.
On his part, Hon. Abdul Kargbo of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), said the campaign messages of the current administration on wage bill was to reduce it drastically, but that in two years’ time, it increased to 104% with 59% of the local revenues going to the payment of salaries because of additional ministries, agencies and offices.
He said in 2007 the public debt was Le2.8 trillion and that in 2018 it increased to Le17. 8trillion.
“In 2019, the IMF debt sustainability ranked the country as being moderately at risk and in 2020 we were ranked as high risk because our debt increased to Le2.25billion in 2020 which is 77% to the country’s GDP. 84% of the wage bill goes to paying debt services and 16% is what the government is using to run the country. As at now only World Bank is funding us as a nation, the others have left because we have too many debts,” he said.
He stated that the exchange rate for 2018 was $7,541 but in 2022 it increased to$13,000 which means that $7,341 has been added since the current government took over office.
He added that the New Direction promised to reduce the inflation rate to single digit, a dream that was yet to be materialised.
He said the then APC government lost an amount of Le178billion of which Le 65.4billion was in 2015, Le 75.5 billion in 2016 and Le Le37.2 billion in 2017, whereas the SLPP government has lost an amount of Le472.4 billion, of which Le 104.9 was in 2018, Le 177.6billion in 2019 and Le 153.9 billion in 2020, respectively as per the Auditor General’s report.
Hon. Kargbo further states that the human rights of people have been violated severally and for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone for a ruling government to have the President with a minority in Parliament.
He said due to the fact that the main opposition has 68MPs in Parliament and 49MPs for the SLPP, they had to file injunction on 15 of their party stalwarts of which 10 APC MPs were removed from Parliament and replaced with members of the SLPP.
He said no committee was set up to amend the Standing Orders of Parliament, but that the ruling government went ahead and changed Minority Leader to Opposition Leader and Majority Leader to Leader of Government Business because the APC had the majority seats as at that time.
He said Parliament all over the world majority carries the vote, but in Sierra Leone only 49 MPs approved the Anti-Corruption Commissioner despite the opposition had the highest number of votes against his approval.
Meanwhile, Concord Times tried to get the views of the leadership of the SLPP in parliament, but to no avail. They would be included in subsequent publication.