His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has updated Members of Parliament on his Government’s achievements in one year and his future priority policies at this year’s State Opening Parliament in Freetown.
President Bio told lawmakers in the well and citizens, through a nationwide television and radio broadcast, that although the first year in office had gone so quickly, the achievements his government had made were deliberately meant to lay a solid foundation for sustainable development. He noted that restoring the country’s international reputation was important too, and thanked members of the country’s workforce for their devotion to the development of the country.
He recalled that in his maiden address to Parliament in 2018, he made a commitment to transform the economy, create the ecosystem for investment and private sector growth, and most importantly to invest in human capital development by making wide-ranging institutional and governance reforms. He noted that the country was standing on the threshold of renewed hope and confidence for citizens, investors and development partners.
“Overall, fiscal deficit GDP ratio has dropped from 8.7 percent in 2017 to 5.4 percent in 2018 as a result of ongoing efforts 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 March 2019 the Government collected a total of 5.09 trillion of domestic revenues giving a monthly average of Le 424 billion.
“The initial ban of export on 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 and March 2019, the total amount realised from timber export was $16.5 million. Mindful of the need for environmental management, an additional US$ 2.4 million is now allocated for reforestation,” he said.
President Bio also told Parliament that despite the gains made in fiscal reforms, there had been a depreciation of the Leones over the past 12 months. He cited the lull in iron-ore mining and possible off-shore foreign exchange transactions among the factors that limited foreign exchange inflows into the official banking sector. The President disclosed that iron-ore production would soon resume in the country, adding that the government would clamp down on offshore foreign exchange transactions and compel all remittances and foreign disbursements to be done through the domestic banking system.
He also stated that over the last 12 months his Government recognised the fact that past government strategy was characterised by divisiveness, exclusion, leading to the weakening and subverting of state governing institutions. He recalled that he had promised to launch a Presidential Initiative that would herald a national conference on diversity management and the rebuilding of national cohesion.
“I am pleased to report that Government has prepared the establishment of the Independence Commission for Peace and National Cohesion. A Green Paper has been submitted for consultation on how to achieve inclusive governance and improve on the infrastructure for peace and democratisation. Together, with the Green Paper on Democratic Consolidation and National Cohesion, we shall host a National Dialogue Conference to be called the Bintumani 2,” he said.
He stated that in fulfilment of his manifesto promise, his Government had launched the Free Quality Education programme in August 2018, adding that that initiative had benefitted some 2.14 million pupils in Government-owned and Government-assisted pre-primary, and secondary schools. The planning for the programme, he noted, was informed by data from the National School Census collected with the support of the British Department for International Development and the World Bank.
“To demonstrate our commitment to education, my Government has increased and sustained budgetary allocation to 21% in 2018 Supplementary Budget and 2019 Budget. Government has 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.
“Additionally, 210,000 pupils in Koinadugu, Falaba, Kambia, Pujehun and Tonkolili are currently benefitting from the National School Feeding Programme and Le 69 billion is allocated for the remaining 11 districts. The 2019 budget provided for the recruitment of 5,000 additional teachers. The Teaching Service Commission has received and is processing 12,000 applications for recruitment and over 1,075 have been recruited,” he said.