Freetown – President Ernest Bai Koroma under the heavy down pour of July rain and thunder over the weekend visited the Mountain District Western Rural of Gloucester, Leicester and Regent. The President was acclaimed as the first ever sitting President to visit and sit and discuss with residents of the three Rural District. At Gloucester and Leicester he was there to talk and look at produce of the Vegetable Growers that had formed themselves into an Association whilst at Regent was on the invitation of The Open Government Initiative (OGI) for a Presidential meeting with the Community and its environs in which direct questions from the audience were posed to him as President, regardless of what topic. Welcoming the President and delegation at Gloucester and Leicester Rev. A. Nicol expressed how much they were as a people in the mountain to receive and talk with a sitting President. “Never had my eyes behold this” He told the people.
He recalled that the Mountain Rural District was settlement for freed slaves, known as liberated Africans as a result of a declaration made by Lords Mansfield in 1772 that any slave that sets his or her feet on English soil becomes a free man. He said they were and still known for Vegetable growing. Chairman for the Mountain Farmers Association Umaru Saffa informed that they supply to NGOs and the locals and that they have been assisted with funds from UNDP and assistance from CUPID. He named as constrains among other things the road network, transportation, a cold room and electricity. A display of how the vegetables were being treated and packaged was shown to The President and delegation and as an appreciation for his visit the President was given baskets of home grown vegetables. Speaking to them as his people President Koroma thanked them for the warm welcome and the vegetables, jokingly saying that he himself will after eating the vegetables grow and become fresh as them. ‘Your role to develop the country and yourselves is very important and they are in line with my Agenda for Change, as a result my government will render the necessary assistance to ensure your sustainability” Assured the President.
He expressed his appreciation to those NGOs that had given them assistance, adding that government has made agriculture one of top priorities. “Agriculture should be run as a business. With Agriculture we can feed ourselves, earn money and provide employment. “If this project is well managed it produced can even be exported” he pointed out. He assured that their challenges will be looked into, assuring them that government will not rest or get tired until it goals are met. “At the high table were the Secretary to the President Osho – Coker, Councilor Alhasan Cole, Minister of Education Minkailu Bah, Deputy Minister of Agriculture Alie Badara Mansaray and the Director of OGI Kadija Sesay. At the Regent Community Centre, Chairman Osho – Coker referred to the President as one that has the concern of his people close to his heart, adding that the visit is a celebrated visit that brings the government closer to the people. Welcoming the President, Chairman Westerns Area Rural District Alhasan Cole expressed how delighted they were to receive the President for a face to face meeting.
OGI Director, Kadija Sesay informed the gathering that their duty is to bring the government closer to the people and working together with the Press and Civil Society. She said they had worked with the Judiciary, Parliament and the Executive towards fulfilling their mandate and named capacity building for Journalists as one of their challenges and the funding for the opening of district offices. Speaking before question time President Koroma referred to the meeting as a family one and reminded them of his promise made in Parliament that his government will be transparent and accountable “The business of governance is not a privilege but an opportunity to serve” The OGI is to let the people and government understands themselves, adding that government should come down to the people and that Parliament, Judiciary and the Executive, should perform well to push the nation forward. According to President Koroma over the period government has subjected itself to the people for questioning and open discussion. “I have sat with the cookery sellers and car wash people to discuss frankly and openly” He said.
President Koroma informed that when he took over the country was in a bad situation, thus he noted the bringing on board of the Agenda for Changed that will eventually transform the nation. “Before the people had no trust in government but now all that has changed. Change is a gradual process and it will come slowly” He intimated. President Koroma named as priority areas for his government, electricity, education, health, agriculture and infrastructure. “All these areas” he observed “had been impacted upon”. With regards the health sector, President Koroma disclosed that about 300 cartoons of stolen drugs were discovered, together with the culprits. He strongly warned that all those involved in it will lose their jobs and be put in prison in line with the law. With a strong voice President Koroma said “I put a strong curse on any money got through the stealing and selling of drugs meant for the ordinary suffering people, a curse that it will not benefit the individual or group of persons”He affirmed that nobody will undermine nor frustrate the Free Health Care Programme, noting that it must succeed.
With regards to education, he said it is our future and that government will move on with the recommendation of the Gbamanja Commission to have it fully implemented. He noted that the perception of Sierra Leone in the minds of Investors has changed from negative to positive, adding that the country is now ripe and ready for business. President Koroma also touched on the issue of Youth unemployment and Gender issue. “Government still has challenges but it is a gradual process” He observed. Among the questions put to The President were the issue of electricity in the Mountain district, the roles and responsibility of Members of Parliament to their constituencies, sponsors for alternate funding for HAJJ pilgrimage, transportation, roads and water supply for the Mountain District, Free Health Care issues, shortage of teachers, Youth employment in road construction firms, the issue of price control across the country and tourism for the peninsula.
President Koroma thanked them for all their questions and concerns and took his time to patiently and slowly answer to all their questions together with the Minister of Education Minkailu Bah. Answering one of the questions on price control President Koroma said “Price control is a serious concern of government. “Freedom given to many has been abused and my government will not accept random price increases. This is mere exploitation. Government is in the process of taking the necessary action” With regards extra charges in government assisted schools Education Minister Minkailu Bah said “Extra charges is no part of government’s policy and it will therefore not be accepted” Coordinating the question session was the former President of the 50/50 Group Harriet Turay. Popular artists Innocent and Chama –B entertained the audience.
Submitted by State House Press Team
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