By Alfred Koroma
In his lengthy speech delivered at the State Opening of Parliament, President Julius Maada Bio made mention of a number of things the Government of Sierra Leone has achieved under his tenure as President.
The last State Opening speech is a speech delivered at a crucial time. A time the President’s is rounding the clock of his first five-year the time. A time the country is grappling with high inflation as it draws near to the general election. And a time the Bio government seems to be arming the opposition with campaign weapons by failing to effectively deliver on some of its 2018 manifesto promises.
Just a year into the general elections, the New Direction Government is under increasing pressure to maintain its popularity that has been threatened by extreme hardship, high inflation and the rising prices of basic commodities in the country.
Since the government came to power with elaborate promises, it was necessary that the President spent a lengthy time delivering his speech and trying to convince the public about gains he believes his administration has made since 2018.
The President contemplated part of the said speech on comparing progress the New Direction administration has made in four years and that of the regime of his predecessor, especially in the area of electricity.
That in itself is a sign that the President believes the New Direction Manifesto has not been effectively exhausted. Perhaps it is fair enough to say efforts to do so faced serious setback when the COVID19 pandemic stagnated global economy and the Ukraine-Russia conflict further frustrating post COVID economic recovery.
It is extremely challenging to convince the people with such a scenario. But it is a fact that the global pandemic hindered the government progress as the pandemic broke out just a year into the Bio administration. And the Russia-Ukraine conflict has also contributed to the hash economic crisis we are presently facing. But truth be told, our politicians are not honest and have long since lost the trust of the public, making it strenuous to explain challenges posed to the under-developed nation by the diverse global crisis.
No doubt, the President had to spend a lengthy time spinning and fine-tuning stillborn promises into forthcoming ones. What’s more interesting was the President’s trying to suddenly redefine food security.
In his speech, he highlighted his administration’s achievements in the area of human capital development, economy, and climate change, infrastructure, and youth and women empowerment, and projected the country’s economy to grow by 5.0 percent this year, despite the sharp contraction in 2020.
The primary agenda of the New Direction Government is fixed to improving Human Capital Development. This includes education, health, agriculture and food security with education being the flagship program of the human capital development agenda.
Although challenges are inevitable, it cannot be denied that this government has made considerable effort in funding education. The sector takes bulk of the country’s yearly budget followed by the health sector. It could be argued that the Free Quality Education project launched in 2018 has led to an increase in the number of pupils enrolled in schools and a decline in mortality rate of children.
In 2021, over 600,000 additional children, especially girls, accessed schools with over 5,000 additional qualified teachers recruited. That’s the fact.
But the truth is the ‘Quality’ emphasized by the implementers of the Free Quality Education project is not visible. Nothing has changed in the country’s standard of education – as it was in the last ten decades so it is today. Malpractices in public examinations remain constant, almost transcending into a barbaric culture.
The impact of the huge investment in the education sector is at the moment less appreciated by the public as the benefit has not been felt the benefit. Pupils’ presence in schools still cost their parents as though the said nomenclature ‘free’ does not exist for public schools.
The less impact felt by the bulky project is something the President himself acknowledged in his words that gains made in education may not seem immediately be apparent to some.
It is also a fact that enthusiastic noise was made about agricultural production and food security when the New Direction Government newly took over the administration of the country. But the truth is despite the enthusiasm shown in the early months of the government, the country remain enormously hungry.
Cost of living, especially the price of rice was a major campaign issue among political parties’ during the 2018 election.
The present government had staunchly criticized the previous administration for the rising prices of the country’s staple food and promised to control the situation. Four years after they took over, the country have realized worse increase. Living in Sierra Leone is becoming more difficult everyday.
While speaking on food security, the President tried redefining food security as not merely about filling people’s stomachs or guaranteeing that people can buy food in markets. But the truth is filling stomachs makes man happy. In our traditional settings when children play in the moonlight, folks say the children play because they are fed, which means, happiness is also attached to being fed.
This is can be achieved by availability and affordability. And other essentials like water, energy, and the environment are fundamental. Such definition cannot correspond with what the presently hungry Sierra Leonean thinks of food security. No meaning is more suitable than people being able to get what to eat for the day at a cheaper cost.
Another truth here is that, should the performance of this government be rated, food affordability, water and energy will carry the least percentage.
From the statics given by the President, 16% of Sierra Leoneans had access to electricity in 2018; 31% now have access to electricity. In 2018, there were 184,997 registered EDSA customers; there were 255,993 at the end of 2021, an increase of over 70,000 new customers. The data shows an increase in access to and demand of electricity. But in recent times, electricity supply, particularly within capital city has not been effective.
And the poor electricity supply has also coupled with unconscionable vandalization of transformers and other electricity distribution assets, as well as the deliberate theft of electricity by some businesses and private citizens, prompting government to establish a Presidential Task Force to put an end to what the President branded as ‘ unpatriotic acts.’