Tuesday, September 4, 2018 3:02 pm
He has been a devoted ally and a strong advocate of the “New Direction” Philosophy of the ruling Sierra Leone Peoples’ Party SLPP. He is a man of enlightened, extensive and extemporaneous discussion. Mohamed Rahman Swarray, Minister of Information and Communications, revealed that the SLPP government has been run using home-grown resources, without borrowing, which is rare in African, even American and European government administrations. Governments all over the world borrow to sustain development. In this interview with ABUBAKAR HASHIM, he chronicles the journey so far, maintaining that the government is on the right trajectory toward economic stability, the anti-corruption crusade, why the choice of a Nigerian-led Judge to head the Commission of Inquiry and the recent removal of subsidy on petroleum products, with the proceeds allocated to cushion the hardship on the people
What is your assessment of the journey so far since assumption of office on 4th April?
It has been a tough journey. We inherited the worst economy in living memory. But we have put in place stringent measures to curb corruption and to improve the economy. During the first few days of President Bio’s ascendancy to power, the Treasury Single Account (TSA) was enacted, which brought together all revenues into the consolidated account. We suspended timber export and put on hold all duty free waivers except those expressly provided for in the Vienna Convention. We have done a lot to sanitize the economy. We have been able to pay salaries accrued in two years without recourse to the Central Bank Overdraft, which is a major achievement for any African government. This drive enabled us to pay backlog of salaries to our institutions of higher learning, including the university named after the former President, Ernest Bai Koroma.
We have also been able to pay outstanding amounts owed to the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), meaning, exams are no longer postponed ad infinitum. We have been able to do mitigations in floods intervention. Recall last year, we had the twin mudslide and flood disasters that claimed thousands of lives. This year we put in place early warning signs which clearly indicated another disaster was imminent leading to desperate and immediate steps to be undertaken. So we budget 7.2 billion Leones to ensure that houses marked in disaster-prone areas were relocated and paid off to go to safer communities. We are sensitive to the people’s plight in order to avoid another mourning mood, compelling international donors to give us handouts.
Due to this early nationalistic drive, coupled with sincerity of economic policy implementation, we have earned foreign investors’ confidence and trust in the economy.
We have an Anti Corruption President, a crusading President, who is battled-ready to regain the past glory of this country.
In the next few weeks, the public information order act will be taken to parliament for repeal. We want to improve the media landscape, to attract more investments in this sector. That is why we want to remove part 5 of the Public Order Act.
President Bio describes free education a must and to commence in September. By end of August, government will remit school fees and admission fees to ease burden on Parents, Guardians and Pupils. Government will also provide free books in 2018/19 and free uniforms in 2019/20 school year. Could you expatiate on their moves?
Absolutely. We campaigned on the platform that every Sierra Leonean is given the best opportunity to realize his full potential. In this regard, we campaign on free education for all Sierra Leoneans, from primary to SSS3 level, we have knocked off SSS4.
This free education drive has received international attention, particularly from our development partners.
For the first time in our country’s history, we have allocated 21 percent of our internally- generated revenue to education. We are providing 50 school buses, we are knocking off all admission fees with free text books for beneficiaries of the free education program. There will also be limited free feeding program across the country. The free education program will be officially launched on August 20 by the President.
President Bio also seems determined in the fight against corruption to recover all stolen monies. A Nigerian Judge, Justice Biobele Georgewill is leading a commission of inquiry to commence sitting soon. What are the terms of reference of the commission and has government instituted mechanisms in place not allow corruption to fight back?
President Bio campaigned on an anti-corruption platform. He believes corruption has almost brought this country down to her knees. He believes corruption is the reason why there are no drugs in our hospital, why our schools are crowded, why we are at the bottom of the development index. Hence, he has declared war on corruption as a national security crisis.
He has declared his assets as per law within the first 90 days of assuming office. He has instructed all ministers to do the same. He has appointed a young, committed and focused gentleman, Francis Kelfala to lead the fight against corruption. So far, the fight is encouraging, some people are paying back and some other matters are being prosecuted. He has said he is not a buddist, he does not have sacred cows.
To take the fight further, he set up the Governance Transition Team (GTT) that recommended a cocktail of measures, including setting up of a Judge-led Tribunal to investigate corruption, ensure the Audit Service Sierra Leone undertake forensic audit service in key institutions.
Cabinet has approved the GTT report and the instrument is in parliament for deliberation. The term of reference of the commission is to recover stolen wealth, Nigeria is currently progressing along this path and so do other countries. We aim to recover all stolen monies and assets that duly belong to government. Former President, Vice President, Ministers and Heads of MDAs are all covered by this commission.
Corruption fighting back is in the front banner of the President’s strategies in fighting corruption. He was once a Head of State. He knows the nitty-gritty of corruption fighting back with catastrophic consequences. He is determined and has the support of the mass citizenry in this anti corruption crusade.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) is expected back in September to sign a renewed agreement with the government, based on a revised program. Is the coming of the IMF bring in stability in the economy?
The last government signed a commitment with the IMF and even withdrew almost $50 million from that commitment, without fulfilling the conditions within this commitment like increase in the price of fuel, which will have had debilitating consequences for them. So the IMF pulled out, passing a vote of no confidence. The IMF is now pleased with the steps we have taken to reposition the economy along the right trajectory of prudent economic management.
No minister is living flamboyant life style and no minister is living in government quarters as they were comprehensively looted or sold to themselves. This is a subject of investigation by the commission.
We have not had any budgetary support from any donor since we took over power. We have been running government using home- grown resources.
We deregulated fuel price to ensure that whatever subsidy we give to petroleum marketing companies will now be provided to social services as palliative measures to cushion the hardship on the people. So it is a deregulation program with a human face. There is now provision of 50 buses for students, cash transfer to the poorest of the poor; we have increased salaries for public sector workers so that the ordinary people do not feel the brunt of the deregulation of fuel price.
What is the government’s current position on Nigeria’s relations with Sierra Leone and why a Nigerian judge-led commission?
Our government’s relations with Nigeria have been very strong, in thick and thin.
Why a Nigerian Judge for the Commission of Inquiry?
My answer is simple. Why not a Nigerian Judge? When we had our brutal war lasting over 11 years, we brought in Nigerians losing hundreds of lives. When we had the Ebola with a collapsing health system, Nigerian doctors and nurses came to the rescue. In fact, Nigerian Professor Grillo set up our school of medicine here.
When we set up the Mass Communications Department at Fourah Bay College, Nigerian lecturers came to the rescue. And Nigeria is still doing more.
The fact that we choose a Nigerian Judge to lead a make or break commission for this government means our relations with Nigeria is a very priceless one. And Nigeria is still doing more. We value and treasure it. Nigeria is a true, genuine and big brother.
President Bio and President Buhari have a cozy relation that will be strengthened in years ahead.