Examining Bio’s Three Years in Office

Elected in March 2018, the Julius Maada Bio-led government has clocked precisely three years in office. In examining its third anniversary, Sierraeye produces verbatim an article from the Ministry of Information and Communications as well as interviews from opposition party stalwarts. We also extended the debate to the streets of Freetown and other parts of the country, where ordinary citizens gave their verdicts.      

What the Government Says?

Three Years of President Bio: Expectations Exceeded

By Ministry of Information and Communications

When President Bio presented himself for the Presidency in 2018, with a New Direction Manifesto, he was very clear on his vision for the country. In that Manifesto which gravitated most Sierra Leoneans to vote for him, he committed to key pillars of development vis-a-vis human capital development, agriculture, health and prudent management of the economy.

In the three years since his ascendancy to the seat of power, President Julius Maada Bio has exceeded expectations and rekindled hope among majority of Sierra Leoneans who had given up on the country. Under his astute leadership, there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.  One of the areas of massive attention and gradual turn around under President Julius Maada Bio is education. He promised to make Free Quality Education his flagship project if elected President and true to his word, he has injected a new lease of life into that sector. Sierra Leone’s once highly esteemed education suffered a battering over the past two decades, and we lost the once glorious Athens of West Africa sobriquet. President Bio has tackled that downward spiral and education is now on the upward movement. 

Government launched the Free Quality School Education (FQSE) programme in August 2018. It benefits 2.14 million pupils in Government-owned and Government-assisted pre-primary, primary, and secondary schools. President Bio’s government has increased and sustained budgetary allocation to education to 21% in 2018 Supplementary Budget and 2020/21 Appropriation Acts. 

Government established a Multi-Partner Fund to mobilise additional resources and ensure effective coordination of support of this programme. A High Level Inter-Ministerial and Partners Group (IMPG) on Free Education comprising relevant ministries and partners was set up to provide strategic guidance to the planning and design of the programme, mobilise resources, and oversee implementation.

A Technical Group (TG) on Education was established to design, coordinate and monitor the implementation of the programme.

The New Direction Government has paid a little over Le 66 billion as subsidies to over 4,007 schools. It has also provided teaching and learning materials to all schools, and developed a book distribution and handling policy that actively involves Local Councils and District Education Offices.

Under President Bio’s adroit leadership, government has also invested in school infrastructure and feeding. A total of Le 3 billion was provided for the provision of furniture to 90 schools most in need and another Le 3 billion for the rehabilitation of 50 schools.

50 school buses have been bought by government and deployed across the country.

Additionally, 210,000 pupils in Koinadugu, Falaba, Kambia, Pujehun and Tonkolili are currently benefitting from the National School Feeding Programme and Le 69 billion had been allocated for the remaining 11 districts.

The 2020 budget provided for the recruitment of 2,000 additional teachers. By the end of December 2019, 2,202 teachers had retired and have now being replaced with new teachers, of whom 1,432 teachers had received pin codes and 1,112 are now on the payroll of government. The Teaching Service Commission has received and processed 12,000 applications for recruitment and over 1,075 have been recruited.

Under the New Direction Government, backlog for all public examinations including NPSE, BECE and WASSCE had been paid, and public examinations have been conducted with increased numbers of candidates sitting.

President Bio’s government just recently recruited about 160 Inspectors of schools and equipped them with motor bikes and other monitoring implements. In addition to that, government has also commissioned about 200 new and refurbished schools in hard to access areas (riverine areas) and expanded the school feeding program to those areas.

In order to give impetus to technical and higher education, President Bio established a separate Ministry of Technical and Higher Education. This Ministry, among other things, provides effective oversight of tertiary, technical and vocational sectors of the national education system for effective service delivery in the country.

President Bio’s government secured a US$20 million loan from the World Bank for supporting Skills Development in both the formal and informal sectors. The main objective of this project is to increase access to demand-led skills training and build the foundations for a demand-led skills development system in Sierra Leone. It will focus on increasing access to quality skills provisions that will contribute to improving Sierra Leone’s economic competitiveness and the promotion of sustainable and inclusive development.

The project targets selected training institutions that wish to improve the relevance and quality of their training programs and to introduce new short courses for out-of- school unemployed and underemployed youths, with a focus on girls. It also aims to improve access to demand-responsive TVET programs focusing on Formal TVET and Informal TVET, through among other things: (i) upgrading of curricula; (ii) purchasing learning resources; (iii) training of instructors; (iv) providing industrial attachments; (v) twinning arrangements; (vi) providing career counselling and internships; and (vii) conducting training needs assessment and tracer studies. It also targets businesses in the productive sectors (agriculture, fisheries, mining, construction and tourism) that need to address the skills gaps to expand their production and markets, or to upgrade their production process to climb higher up the value chain, including co-financing short- to medium term training aimed at upgrading the skills of current and potential employees.

In three years, President Bio’s government has launched the much needed Students Loan Scheme. This scheme will greatly reduce the stress on potential students wishing to pursue higher education, for financial support, as it will provide a window of opportunity for them to access funding for higher educational ventures. 

The President Julius Maada Bio government has also upgraded the Milton Margai College and Institute for Management and Technology (IAMTECH) to university status. The growing demand for university education necessitated the need for this coupled by the opening of space for higher education. Free University Education for three Children of every school Teacher with at least Ten Years Teaching experience, Free University Tuition for students pursuing Science and Technology courses as well as Medical Disciplines introduced and scholarship offered to all University students offering Maths, Agric., Geog., Biology & English formed part of the three year achievements to enhance human capacity building.

Corruption has always been a menace in our society, and in his 2018 campaign, President Bio promised the people of this country that he will wage a war against corruption. In under three years the achievements in the fight against corruption are spectacular. In the first place, President Bio set up three commissions of inquiry to thoroughly investigate the previous government led by former President Ernest Bai Koroma. He then laid the marker for his own government officials and warned them to be mindful of their actions in office. The findings and recommendations of the three commissions of inquiry have led to the state recouping some stolen cash and some unexplained acquisitions like houses and hotels.

Beyond that, President Bio appointed a young and dynamic man as head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, gave a free hand in fighting the menace and strengthened the anti-graft laws. The results have been:

1.            Sierra Leone moved 12 places in the Transparency International index ahead of 31 Countries in Africa;

2.            Corruption prevalence to reduce from 70% three years ago, to the lowest ever in our history – 40% today, according to Afrobarometer 2020;

3.            The work of the ACC has seen Sierra Leone’s MCC Scores move, before now, woefully failing at 41% in 2017 to a distinction grade of 81% today;

4.            Sierra Leone score highest score ever (33) for two years back-to-back in the TI Index;

5.            The work of the ACC has made Sierra leone pass the MCC Scorecard consistently for 3 years and we are now compact eligible for a compact grant of millions of dollars;

6.            In two years, the Work of the ACC has led to the most convictions ever in an anticorruption campaign standing at over 90%. ACC has lost only 4 cases under Ben Kaifala and won about 40 with two under appeal;

7.            The ACC has recovered for the state, over US $2.5 Million Dollars (the equivalent of Le30,000,000,000.000) almost twice all recoveries that had been done by the ACC for 18 years before the New Direction government;

8.            The ACC has recovered and returned to the state hotel, houses, cars, and tangibles never seen in the history of this country.

President Bio’s exemplary leadership has helped consolidate the country’s growing reputation for good governance. Under his direct supervision and watch, a national consultative dialogue has been held and the outcomes of it are now coming to implementation. The formation of a Commission for Peace and National Cohesion is at an advanced stage.

A 55 year old law that stifled free speech and muzzled the press has been boldly repealed by President Julius Maada Bio in under three years of his leadership. The obnoxious Part V of the 1965 public order act, was used by past governments to gag free speech and muzzle the press. This bold step augmented Sierra Leone’s democratic credentials and deepened our governance rating. It also endeared the United States government’s development agency, the Millennium Challenge Corporation to qualify Sierra Leone for the MCC compact.

Before President Bio clinched the totem pole in April 2018, the country’s economy was in a quandary and needed desperate resuscitation. The former government had declared an economic austerity and effectively lost the confidence of donors. As a country, we were removed from the World Bank’s ECF (Extended Credit Facility) program, further heaping more economic burden on the country.

Upon assuming office, President Bio sought to restore donor confidence in the country, improve revenue generation and stabilise the fiscal regime. In his New Direction Manifesto, he promised

“The overall objectives of the New Direction for revenue mobilization is to increase domestic revenue from the current 11.1% of GDP to 20% of GDP within 3 years and to build a fair, transparent and accountable tax system that promotes investment and growth. Our key strategy is to push for better taxation collection rather than imposing new taxation. Such efforts hold the potential to stimulate growth and investment whilst also allowing for increased levels of tax collection.” In less than 3 years the progress on this promise is phenomenal.

The ratio of domestic revenue of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) was 12.6 percent and that of total expenditure of GDP was 24.1 percent in 2017. Overall, fiscal deficit GDP ratio has dropped from 8.7 percent in 2017 to 5.4 percent in 2018 as a result of measures to control expenditure while mobilising domestic revenue.

Domestic revenues collected during 2018 increased to Le 4.35 trillion or 14.0 percent of GDP compared to Le 3.34 trillion or 12.6 percent of GDP in 2017, an increase of about Le 1.0 trillion. From April 2018 to July 2020 the Government collected revenue in excess of Le 7 trillion of domestic revenues giving a monthly average of about Le 500 billion.

Before the fuel price liberalisation in July 2018, substantial revenue was lost to reduced excise duties, elimination of import duties, and even direct subsidies granted to Oil Marketing Companies. Total revenue lost before the fuel price liberalisation was estimated at US$34.1 million in 2016, US$11.2 million in 2017 and US$26.1 million from January to June 2018. After the reform in July 2018, a total amount of about US$60 million was gained as revenue which was about 90 percent of what is budgeted for the education sector for 2019. By mid 2020 this even increased.

The initial ban of export of timber was lifted in October 2018. A sole exporter was designated to export 13,000 containers of timber that was estimated to be available for export at the time of the ban. Between October 2018 to mid 2020, the total amount realised from timber export is in excess US$20 million.

In order to cut down on fraud and waste in public sector payrolls, President Bio’s government conducted biometric verification of all public sector workers. This has led to the retrieval and savings of about Le 5 billion a month in public sector payroll. 

Through the reforms instituted at the NRA, business transactions have been greatly enhanced. The ASCYCUDA World which replaced the ASYCUDA++ has made it easier for businessmen from any part of the world to start processing their documents for clearing of their goods at the ports. Other reforms like the Electronic Cash Register and the Customs Electronic Single Window are helping to harmonise all tax collection system and increase government revenue.

Also in the last 30 months, because of a vibrant management of the economy, Sierra Leone has again gained the confidence of the Bretton Woods Institutions and have re-joined the ECF (extended credit facility) program. 

In the midst of a rampaging Covid-19, President Bio’s government’s Quick Action Economic Recovery Plan has ensured the provision of essential commodities and support for SMEs and vulnerable populations. This has impressed the Bretton Woods Institutions and just recently the IMF Board approved a $50 million grant to Sierra Leone.

The Ministry of Finance has provided Le 100 billion to SMEDA for micro-credit to individuals and groups across the country.

In the 2018 New Direction Manifesto, the President emphasised that the overall goal of the agricultural policy was to sustain and diversify the production of food, increase investment in agriculture, develop and implement mechanised commercial farming to transform the traditional subsistence agricultural sector. 410 tractors and 2,410 farming implements have been distributed across the country to ensure that farmers are ready for the 2021 planting season.

The provision of the farming implements and tractors shows how the government under the leadership of His Excellency President Dr. Julius Maada Bio was serious about improving the agricultural sector and providing the enabling environment for farmers to exhibit and discover their true potentials.

There is massive progress in other sectors like health, agriculture, energy roads and tourism. Amidst the deliberate distortions of the opposition, and the volatile global economic atmosphere, President Bio has stood tall amongst world leaders and directed the sail of the country for landing on better shores.

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