Monday, November 19, 2007

New president for Sierra Leone

In a packed soccer stadium with 50,000 cheering people, the new President, H.E. Earnest Bai Koroma, shared the stage with the outgoing president and his cabinet. It was the first time in the country’s history that a constitutionally elected president is handing over to a new constitutionally elected government.

According to the Analyst from Monrovia, Liberia:

President Koroma called for a radical change from the way his country and its people have been used to doing things, inspite of the tremendous strides the country has made.

"We must all be ready now to embrace change. Change in our attitude towards one another, change in our attitude to our work and responsibilities and change in our attitude towards our nation." All of these changes, President Koroma said, should translate positively into progress and development for the country.

President Koroma reiterated his pledge to prioritize the provision of electricity not only for the capital city, Freetown, but for all provincial headquarter towns. The Sierra Leonean President said his government will exercise zero tolerance towards corruption.

Koroma, however, cautioned that unless his citizen's change their attitude, his government's determination to stamp out corruption will be fruitless. Corruption, President Koroma maintained, is not a matter only for the leaders and heads of government institutions. "It is equally a matter for everybody."

The New Sierra Leone the government hopes to build in the next five years and beyond, Mr. Koroma said, will be one where there will be less corruption and faster economic growth.

"We will increase our GDP per capita; reduce the number of people that make up the poorest segment of our population; increase access to jobs and other economic opportunities," Koroma promised. To achieve these goals, he said his government expects all its citizens to play a substantial role in revitalization the country's economy.

Here is a statement from outgoing President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, who spoke at the inauguration and prepared what he called a “handing-over report.”

Here are some highlights of that speech, which was printed in Sierra Leone’s Awareness Times.

Today, you are inheriting a state that is on the threshold of taking off for the progress and prosperity that lie ahead for our people. Since the war came to an end, the security of the state has been maintained through the restructuring of the security sector with the assistance of the United Kingdom government and improvements in the conditions of service for the security forces. Local government authority has been restored, a more effective justice system is being gradually built; a more proactive stance and increased vigilance from responsible civil society groups and the satisfactorily informed general public is increasingly contributing to the building of a more transparent and accountable society. Many projects have been put in place to create jobs particularly for unemployed youths.

Before I conclude, I want to mention a number of issues which in my opinion could preoccupy your mind as you conduct the affairs of state:

1. Let our people know that unless they can provide enough food for their own consumption and surplus for export, as we used to do before the advent of diamonds, we shall never be truly independent. I did my own bit under my food security programme and even if some people still claim to go to bed hungry, nobody can claim not to have been sensitized about the need to be self-sufficient in food production including the diversification of our diet.

2. Encourage our people to work hard for what they want and not to depend on others, the state, the government or even donors, to provide for all their needs. Sierra Leone should not be seen as a "Nanny" State or "Combra" State.

3. Keep a watchful eye over our mineral resources and ensure that they are exploited for the maximum benefit of the ordinary people. In this connection, we have already taken measures to develop a database of our mineral resources – what kind, where located, quantity and their quality. If this is completed the country will be in a stronger position to negotiate the best terms for their exploitation. Sierra Leone is now a member of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) which should help us in instilling transparency in revenues derived from our minerals and the way such revenue is used.

4. Consolidate the thinking that as a nation, our output is dependent upon the skill competencies and training of our human resource. My government opened the way for many people to access quality education. Reviewing the 6334 system of education should not be misconstrued as dampening the gains we have so obviously made. You may wish to consider taking steps to expand this base, by continuing to create affordable institutions to allow Sierra Leoneans of various abilities and capabilities to feel proud of their attainment as they contribute to nation-building.

5. Guard against environmental degradation so that we do not lose all our forests and animals, especially rare and endangered species, which are indigenous to our country.

6. Indiscipline and lawlessness have been the bane of our society. Every effort should be made to curb this malaise. The criminal justice system and the police should do everything possible to bring culprits and lawbreakers to book. I am heartened by your commitment to this goal as stated in your swearing-in address and I have no doubt that you will succeed.

Perhaps because it happened in Liberia first, but this transition didn’t have the buzz associated with the ascension of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. Nonetheless, it’s a momentous occasion and hopefully a step in the right direction for Sierra Leone.

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