What the Opposition Says About Pres. Bio’s 3 Years in Office

Exclusive Interview

Hon Chernor Ramadan Maju Bah – Leader of the main (APC) Opposition in Parliament

  • President Julius Maada Bio’s SLPP led government has spent three years in office. How would you rate his overall performance?

Chericoco: We have witnessed several problems that could have been better resolved through constructive engagement with the opposition and credible non-state actors. The intimidation and incarceration of some opposition members clearly did not bode well for the democratic credentials of the regime and we are hoping that the remaining two years of the President Bio regime would be focused on healing and reconciliation. 

We still have APC members who were forced to go into exile and one major step towards reconciliation is to have this group of people return home with nothing to fear and reunite with their families. We also cannot forget in a hurry the unconstitutional removal of those 10 APC members of Parliament. Perhaps, this will remain to be a scar on our conscience as a nation for the foreseeable future.

Generally speaking, I believe there have been serious challenges in key sectors of governance. As a responsible opposition; we have always shown our readiness to work with the government by way of proffering workable solutions to the problems we face in areas like the economy, education, good governance, rule of law etc. I believe a lot more needs to be done to stop reversing the gains made by previous governments. Government is supposed to be continuity.       

Sierraeye: The Free Quality Education introduced by President Julius Maada Bio is also in its third anniversary and much has been said regarding it its implementation. So far, do you think it is a success or a failure?  

Chericoco: The Free Quality Education is a laudable initiative by the President Bio’s regime. Our previous government led by Dr Ernest Bai Koroma partially implemented it because we wanted to measure success on a step by step basis. However, in rolling out the programme in a hurry, there seems to be some serious bottlenecks that may prove to be inimical to its overall success. The lingering question is; do we really have the required infrastructure or finances to adequately fund a programme that seeks to increase enrollment and improve learning outcomes?  Being the government’s flagship project, there may be far reaching ramifications if it fails. Therefore, they may wish to go back to the drawing board for an honest review of implementation strategies. I believe that Parliament stands ready to support any proposal that aims to develop our human resource capital.    

Sierraeye:  On the fight against corruption please share us your thoughts.

Chericoco: The fight against corruption is supposed to be a key indicator for good governance. Accountability and transparency are critical elements for the growth and development of every nation.

Therefore, we were pleased that when this government took power from us, it places premium on the fight against graft. But where I and many people, including some sections of the international community have concerns is the manner in which the ACC seems to be targeting mostly members of the previous government.

The fight can never be won when charges and prosecutions are only targeted against a certain group of people. It has to be holistic. Several watchdog institutions including the Afrobarometer, the Africanist Press and the Audit Service Sierra Leone have exposed corruption in high places in the current dispensation but the ACC appears to only be interested in running after the small fishes and members of the former regime. Let me also state that Parliament is an important institution in the fight against corruption. The constitution gives us immense powers to check government expenditure and other such activities that require serious   oversight and monitoring. We are mostly better placed to tackle the problem from its roots and that is why government must increase our capacity to provide effective oversight of MDAs.    

Sierraeye: Now let’s talk about Good governance. Do you believe the Bio regime has done much to promote democratic good governance?

Chericoco: Most of what I have just highlighted border around good governance. Key institutions of governance including the Judiciary, the Security Sector, Parliament and even Civil Society Organizations will not function effectively if they continue to remain under the whims and caprices of the Executive arm of government.  The independence of these institutions is as critical as anything we do to achieve growth and progress.

A paradigm shift in this direction is therefore an imperative. Perhaps we need to reflect on our recent past and reinvent ourselves to be able to muster the courage to stand up against injustice and bad governance regardless of which government or party is in power. The benchmarks for democratic good governance appears to have been largely ignored by this government so there is need to go back to factory settings. This was the legacy of our forefathers.

I also think there are decisions the President or state operatives made that turned out to be very controversial and which could have been handled differently. From the cancellation of Mamamah Airport to the Pademba Road Prison massacres, the unfortunate killings of innocent civilians in Makeni over a generator, the killings at Tombo and Lunsar and many others which have had a negative impact on national cohesion, the economy and human rights credentials of the country.        

Sierraeye:  After the repeal of the 1965 Public Order Act, the regime has set its eyes on the cyber space. There are growing concerns that the 2020 Cyber Crimes Bill is just as repressive as the 1965 Public Order Act and Parliament may sooner or later debate this Bill. What will be your position on this?

Chericoco: The move to expunge some aspects of the 1965 Public Order Act was a laudable one by every stretch of imagination. Decriminalizing free speech is critical in fostering democracy, peace and unity for a society like ours.

However, like many compatriots I am also very concerned about the introduction of the 2020 Cyber Crime Bill especially in areas where private conversations of individuals can be tracked, retrieved and your electronic communication gadgets confiscated on the orders of a certain Minister. There has to be safe guards for people to have confidence that the Bill is not one that seeks to suppress their fundamental rights and freedoms. So far, we are encouraged by the fact that the Minister of Information who is championing the said Bill is busy with public consultations and I hope some of the key concerns raised about the Bill are taken into consideration and that Parliament looks at it without partisan lenses.  This is all what democracy is about.    

Sierraeye: On the economy, how would you rate the current government?

Chericoco: Honestly speaking the last three years have been very challenging for the common man and we are not surprised because the World Bank and other economic watchdogs have made these projections. In any case, we also know that a volatile political climate is an obstacle to direct foreign investment. This was the situation that characterized the political transition in 2018 and it lingered on for a considerable period of time.

The cancellation of contracts entered into by the previous government proved to be fatal on the economy as our GDP either stagnated or decreased. Hopefully, we will witness some turnaround in the coming years but truly, truly life is difficult for the ordinary man. Our currency had depreciated considerably against the US dollar. In 2018, the dollar was Le 750,000. It is now Le1, 000,000. These inflationary trends have to be tackled by sound economic policies which are yet to be seen. The challenges to the economy and the resultant effects are felt by most Sierra Leoneans. Bread and butter must be bread and butter     

Sierraeye:  Any views on the Mid Term Census?

Chericoco: It is clear the government is rushing to do a mid-term census for political advantage come 2023.  Censuses for a developing country like Sierra Leone are normally held in ten year cycles and this is necessary for development planning and equitable distribution of resources. We already had a census in 2015. It therefore defies logic to do another Census five years down the line. There is already serious suspicion in the way this government is rushing to do the midterm census. For example the cartographic mapping that was done in 14 months during the past census was done in few weeks.   

I don’t believe the President should take advantage of the legal provisions that gives him the right to call for a census at any time he wishes. Being legal does not make it expedient. Apart from being a sheer waste of resources, the proposed mid-term census may be counterproductive to the peace and stability of the state. As you know, 13 political parties have joined forces to condemn it so government must rethink this decision to have a mid-term census.

Sierraeye: Your final word?

Chericoco: My final comment is to remind the President Bio led government that one can win an election through propaganda but can’t govern with same. Development is real and therefore no amount of PR can replace it.

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