The president spoke about his government’s achievements in his first year in office, as well as his plans for the coming years.
He said that his first year’s achievements have established a solid foundation for the sustainable development of the country, and recalled that in his maiden address to Parliament in 2018, he made a commitment to transform the economy, create a favorable 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 spoke of a Sierra Leone that is witnessing 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 mobilizing 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 realized 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, the country’s currency – the Leone, has depreciated in the past twelve months.
He said that the lull in iron ore mining and possible off-shore foreign exchange transactions are affecting the government’s ability to generate foreign exchange inflows into the official banking sector.
But he promised that iron-ore production will soon resume, and that government is looking to clamp down on offshore foreign exchange transactions and compel all remittances and foreign disbursements to be done through the domestic banking system.
Turning his attention to the previous government’s failings, he said that the former government’s strategy was characterized by divisiveness and exclusion, which led to the weakening and subverting of state governing institutions.
He reiterated his promise to launch a presidential national conference that will look at promoting diversity and rebuild 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 democratization.
“Together, with the Green Paper on Democratic Consolidation and National Cohesion, we shall host a National Dialogue Conference to be called the Bintumani 3,” he said.
He spoke about his manifesto promise that led to the launch of the Free Quality Education programme in August 2018, which has now benefitted about 2.14 million pupils in government-owned and government-assisted primary and secondary schools.
“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 Le3 billion was provided for the provision of furniture to 90 schools most in need and another Le3 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 Le69 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.