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ISSUES

THE AGENDA FOR CHANGE HAS NOT BROUGHT PROSPERITY TO SIERRA LEONE

By M C Bah- Atlanta Georgia -USA

Change comes with an agenda but how can Sierra Leone change if there was “no agenda for change” in the first place. Is change defined as what we intend to do or what has been done? Does change means what is under construction or on the formulation stage of the “to do list” on the President’s desk at State House. Many genuine thinking Sierra Leoneans are disappointed with the Koroma administration’s strategy and applicability of change over the past seven years. They have spent more time talking about what they planned to do and less on what they are supposed to do. Changes have been minimal and the livelihoods of our citizens have been stagnant and deplorable.

THE AGENDA FOR CHANGE

Youth unemployment, good governance, Peace building, education, energy and water resources, health care and road infrastructure are some of the hallmarks of the agenda for change launched in 2007 at the beginning of the Koroma administration.  Where are we after seven years of launching the agenda for change? Has the agenda for change brought prosperity only to the public servants who initiated this political jargon?  Are we better of as a nation today in retrospect to the goals of the so-called agenda for change? Should we hold these political gurus accountable to the very commitments they promise to do for our country men and women?

Indeed, the Koroma led government has not delivered the many promises made on the campaign trail, and before winning the 2007 general elections. After one term and now at the start of his second term, the people of Sierra Leone are beginning to realize that the President and his APC team have not met the demands and expectations of the people. What is clear now is that: to love the President is one thing but to evaluate his performance is another equation. No serious thinking human being will believe that President Koroma is flawless and perfect. That it is wrong to highlight his political and economic failings while transparently justifying why he must do more for the people of Sierra Leone.

PEACE AND SECURITY

Many Sierra Leoneans love and admire President Koroma. His likability has even given Sierra Leone a new credibility with an enviable prestige internationally. Infact, Peace building is a key strength of President Koroma’s leadership. We, as a nation, have enjoyed sustainable peace and security because of the steady hands of President Koroma. The “no-revenge” attitude he has demonstrated while respecting the human rights of every citizen and encouraging press freedom are some positive marks we can attribute to his modest leadership. The international community has come to embrace the political astuteness and sensibility he has applied across the region and within Sierra Leone.

CHALLENGES

But his agenda for change has not brought prosperity to the people of Sierra Leone. Some of the APC cohorts and party loyalists may have benefited from their political investments. The people of Sierra Leone are today holding the empty bag of economic difficulties and political disappointment. Many of the so-called middle class, some of the Diaspora community and even the media power houses who should be constructively engaging the administration of its short comings are recklessly lavishing praises for the sake of “soft money” or prospective “political appointments.” We are bankrupting the future of Sierra Leone if we work for one man or one party rather than for a whole nation.

Opposition in Sierra Leone is virtually non-existence since President Koroma himself left as the minority leader of the APC in 2006.The Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) has lost its legitimacy and relevancy as an effective opposition party. The party leaders are consumed with political battles that seem unending. Like Pharaoh who kept the slaves fighting among themselves, President Koroma may have employed such divisive tactics to weaken the ability of SLPP or any other political party from mounting some serious threats or opposition against him. While former leading Presidential candidate Maada Bio and others are mentally intoxicated with the narcissistic attitude of what their party can do for them instead of what they can do for Sierra Leone –the SLPP is being hostage against the possibility of winning future elections.

Today, it is so difficult for patriotic minded citizens to point out lapses, weaknesses and even solutions to ameliorating the hopeless circumstances of our citizens in Sierra Leone without losing their positions of influence. Everything is guided by political calculations to the extent that it’s more about what makes politicians happy than what is best for Sierra Leone. Righteously so, President Koroma must be criticized for doing too little to addressing the deteriorating energy situation, the joblessness among youths, poor access to better education, a dysfunctional health care system with the general deplorable road system that needs billions of Leones of investments. The government of President Koroma had seven good years to turn things around and like his predecessors; he cannot facilitate the basic changes that will improve the social and economic wellbeing of Sierra Leoneans.

INFRASTRUCRTURE: ROADS

Indeed, we cannot construct few roads and boast of national development. The question we need to ask is not how many roads that are under constructions but how many roads are being completed. We know that Sierra Leone and many sub Saharan countries are famously know for spearheading uncompleted infrastructural projects. If we honestly tabulate how many roads are being constructed versus those under constructions within the time frame of President’s Koroma’s 2007 agenda for change campaign, the percentage will be too small to statistically determine the growth level of development from any national measures. Clearly, more needs to be done if we seek to build a future of abundant and prosperity for our people.

Furthermore, given that Sierra Leone is still a fragile low income country, we need about $378 million dollars to cover the funding gap on Infrastructure or about 15% of our national GDP. Sierra Leone’s interconnected road network is not in maintainable conditions. Of the11, 999 kilometer length of classified network of primary, secondary and tertiary roads which accounts for 71% or 8, 555 kilometers, only 8% or 951 kilometer of classified and urban roads are paved in Sierra Leone.  And just 21% of the rural population lives within 2 kilometer of an all seasoned roads. It will take Sierra Leone at least 15 years to reconstruct its road network at the current spending level of  $9 million per year.( source: Sierra Leone’s infrastructure –World Bank- WPS5713).

HEALTH SECTOR

Another nexus of the agenda for change is the heath sector. The healthcare sector on the national front is in shamble. If we cannot account for donor money that were used to finance the free health care for children under five years and lactating mothers or provide the data about the sharp decline of infant and maternal mortality rates among developing countries, why should we believe that the Koroma government is improving the health care needs of the people. How many doctors are we graduating and what is the reduction rate of malaria infection or cardio vascular diseases?

 With the funding opportunities Sierra Leone received from donor partners, where is our sustainability plan to keep the life saving plans for our children and pregnant mothers afloat? We need more investment in medical resources, better medical schools, the constructions of new modern hospitals and a national goal of reducing malaria and other tropical diseases. Also, access and affordability quality health care and free insurance plan for low income families should be new national strategy the government must pursued to providing free health facilities to the people of Sierra Leone.

ENERGY SECURITY

An agenda for change should be an energy sustainable Sierra Leone where majority of the people have access to electricity. The Bumbuna project is a hoax. We should abandon the so-called thermal energy and focus on building an energy network of solar power, purchasing power from hydro- developed countries like Ivory Coast, developing inter district level hydro power system and even exploring wind turbine energy. When half of the city of Freetown enjoys electricity and the other part of the city is without – the agenda for change becomes a failed proposition. Besides, Freetown is not only Sierra Leone. What about Kono district, Pujehun, Kambia and many other districts across the country.

EDUCATION

Education in Sierra Leone has not seen any noticeably changes. Millions of our citizens continue to go to school hungry and some cannot even afford to pay school fees. The educational agenda is more about propaganda than they success rate for the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) or the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) programs. Many graduates from FBC come back to society unable to find a job while aspiring students struggles to learn and earn a degree. The existing colleges and university system lacks the support resources while teachers and lecturers are fighting for their daily survival.

A good educational agenda starts with providing free education to children from the age of 6 to 18 years, rebuilding our college system and equipping them with modern technology from access to computers and the internet to reforming the educational codes and putting more emphasis on vocational and technical institutions.

 Educational development should not be cosmetic from painting old buildings and reading long speeches of what government intends to do – it is utilizing the mineral resources of the state and empowering young people by investing in their future. Without education, Sierra Leone cannot develop the human capital paramount to growth, development and stability. And the lack of quality education leaves our youths insufficiently skilled to compete in the labor market or our national economy.

WATER SUPPLY

Another agenda for change is: the improvement of our water supply. Sierra Leone accounts for one of the highest rain fall in Africa which ranges from 1, 900 to 4,000 millimeters per year. Sierra Leone is considered a water abundant country as it has 30, 960 cubic meter per capital per year of renewable water resources. (Source: Sierra Leone’s infrastructure –World Bank- WPS5713). Since the construction of Guma Valley – no serious water supply infrastructure has been envisioned or implemented in Sierra Leone. We need to develop the Orugu dam to produce an additional 75 million liter per day that will supply mostly the eastern part of Freetown.

The existing Guma valley which hardly produces the 83 million liters per day due to maintenance and aging machines needs to be rehabilitated and expanded to accommodate the growing consumption of the urban population. The problem of quality, safe and accessible drinking water in Sierra Leone is not about scarcity but about poor management and the lack of infrastructural distribution system. We must expand water access to all the districts and towns across the country. We need a national plan with an implementation strategy to build a water supply infrastructure not a propaganda campaign of few government projects that have less impact on the social and economic lives of our people.

CONCLUSION

Thus, without an agenda for change there will be no agenda for prosperity. The words “change” and “prosperity” are uplifting but more works need to be done to achieving such monumental goals. Reality hinges on what is right not what people like to hear. President Koroma still has the opportunity to make meaningful changes if he chooses to leave a legacy by thinking big and completing projects that will significantly make a national difference. Long before President Koroma leaves office: the people of Sierra Leone will come to realize that reality is the mother of truth. That we are fooling ourselves if we fail to plan and implement the results expected to marshal national development. It is never about the poetic beauty of the political jargon like ‘the agenda for change” and “the agenda for prosperity”, it is the translated results of what was done and how lives were impacted.

 And development is not an APC or SLPP and PMDC or PDP slogan; it is a Sierra Leonean thing. At the end of the day, it is what everybody wants - lower youth unemployment, a good governance culture, a sustainable and secured Peace, a quality of education for our children, a reliable energy system with improved access to water resources, a better health care system with massive road infrastructure.

 These are the true hallmarks of the agenda for change. Tomorrow, we will realize that the real agenda for change was the absolute truth that:  change itself did not take place in the beautiful country that we all love- Sierra Leone. And, for the past seven years, history has recorded down what happened that: the people of Sierra Leone has been robbed of the opportunity to fulfilling their dreams of living in a nation where adequate water supply, good schools, better road network, a decent hospital and jobs to create income and support their families are basic human rights not a brazen fight for survival.

May our nation continue to be the realm of the free!