By S. U. Thoronka…………
His Excellency the President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma was categorical when he said that women’s empowerment remains a priority. He maintained that while awaiting Parliament to pass the 30% quota bill into law, his government will continue to appoint women in positions of trust, citing three female Assistant Inspector General of Police and Permanent Secretaries among a host of others as examples. President Koroma described the behavior of perpetrators of gender-based violence as backward, and promised to teach those men who think that the only way to show their strength is by beating women a lesson they will never forget in a hurry.
President Ernest Bai Koroma made the pronouncement during the State Opening of the Third Session of the Fourth Parliament of the Second Republic of Sierra Leone on Friday the 6th December, 2014. While lamenting over the Ebola outbreak and its devastating effect, President Koroma acknowledged the fact that this time last year the nation did not envisage the Ebola outbreak, as a result no one in the outside world ever thought of Ebola in our beloved country.” Equally so, this time last year Sierra Leone was commended for being amongst the fastest growing economies in the world”, he noted.
The President observed that, in spite of the numerous challenges in the various sectors of government, people benefited from the free healthcare service, more pupils and students passed examinations, the forces have become a role model in peacekeeping mission in Africa and beyond.
President Koroma noted that “the Ebola outbreak is new in our midst but coupled with ignorance and denials, the disease took a toll on the people”. He could not even fathom why relatives of Ebola infected persons are quarantined, adding that over six thousand have been infected with the deadly Ebola virus while thousands have died.
The President observed that because Sierra Leone is a mixed society Ebola is hitting the people hard, in addition the increase road network, he said has increased the contact with each other more especially the urban and the rural poor. He said in spite of the fear and panic created and the ban some airline companies have imposed on the country, the President assured all and sundry that as humans and Sierra Leoneans they will overcome “provided people avoid touching the infected and burying the dead”, he warned. He noted that the battle has not been easy but that doctors and nurses provide the necessary front line services.
President Ernest Bai Koroma commended the medical personnel at the Hastings Hospital for their tireless effort in treating and discharging over 300 Ebola survivors. He paid tribute to both local and international partners who have helped in diverse ways to combat the Ebola virus and noted that although the structural arrangement has been brought under a single command known as the National Ebola Response Committee (NERC) there are still challenges. The President also noted that the infection pattern is geographically shifting and that the country is in dire need of treatment centers, infection control specialists and many more.
The President observed that before the Ebola outbreak the country’s economy was in double digits and projected to grow at the rate of 11% per annum. He noted that before now the banking sector was doing perfectly well, adding that the revenue growth moved from millions to trillions. President Koroma maintained that before now his government ended the year 2013 on a sound fiscal balance until the Ebola outbreak disrupted the economy in 2014.
Whilst acknowledging the fact that the Ebola outbreak has adversely affected not only the export sector but equally so, the Leone value and employment, he assured that the National Revenue Authority (NRA) together with the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development have developed a deal to improve revenue collection.
The President also acknowledged that the Agriculture sector had challenges before the outbreak but said, that notwithstanding; a lot of gains have been made by developing in-land swamp projects, providing rural banks and loan for farmers. He maintained that the fear of the Ebola outbreak gave cause for farmers to abandon farming activities.
President Koroma informed that from the USD 30 million donated to the three affected countries, Sierra Leone will receive USD13million. He noted that the mining sector has been very instrumental in reducing unemployment rate and at the same time boosting the economy, adding that rutile and iron ore surpassed their production target. “However the fall in the market price of iron ore has affected production and the highest exporter envisaged a drop in revenue of not less than 300 million dollars”.
He said 2,500 teachers have been added to the payroll between 2013 and 2014 and that for many years before now a candidate in Sierra Leone scored 8A’s in the past West African School Certificate Examination (WASCE). The President was of the view that the Ebola outbreak has adversely affected education in the country but assured that his government would devise ways and means to improve learning in the country.
The President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma was also of the view that Sierra Leone is a country of young people and that without their active participation national development would be farfetched. He noted that the youth are more resilient as a result, the survival of the nation owes it to them, adding that they should be in the fore front to contain the Ebola virus. The President commended the youth for their active role in improving agricultural productivity and promised to establish youth farms in all districts and chiefdoms by 2015. He informed that the establishment of a youth village for skills training will soon commence.
President Koroma said the Bo Football Stadium with a capacity of four thousand would be increased to twenty thousand and the project would be assigned to a Chinese company. He commended the Ministry of Sports and the Sierra Leone Football Association, according to him Sierra Leone has attained the highest FIFA ranking from 176-50 and the CAF ranking from 45-7 in Africa while the Junior Volleyball Team is considered a model in Africa for its exemplary performance in international competition.
The President also confirmed that with the containment of the Ebola virus a four lane highway will be constructed from Wellington to Masiaka. He maintained that his vision is to increase energy by 1000mw but to achieve that goal; he said it would require the involvement of the private sector. With the completion of the mini-hydro projects in the country and the additional provision of supplementary energy by Addax bio-fuel, the President informed with certainty that the country will boast of 173mw compared to 100mw at present.
President Koroma informed that sooner rather than later Audit Sierra Leone would begin to audit all World Bank funded projects in the country, adding that Sierra Leone has already forwarded the nomination of Dr. Samura Kamara as President of the African Development Bank (ADB), while Mr. Joseph F. Kamara of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) was also nominated for another reputable position in the AU in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The President paid glowing tribute to the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) which he described as the pride of Sierra Leone and a symbol of peacekeeping. He highlighted the role played by RSLAF in the fight against the Ebola epidemic in the country as exemplary and worthy of commendation.
By S. U. Thoronka…………