Jul 16, 2014, 10:33 AM
MR. VICE PRESIDENT,
MY LADY THE CHIEF JUSTICE,
MINISTERS OF GOVERNMENT,
HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF PARLIAMENT,
MEMBERS OF THE DIPLOMATIC CORPS,
HIS WORSHIP THE MAYOR OF FREETOWN,
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
This time last year, we did not have an Ebola outbreak; and no one in the whole world thought a deadly virus like this would strike our sub region and cause so much tragedy, disrupt so many plans, and put at grave risk the very survival of our nation.
This time last year, Sierra Leone won high praise and acclamation around the world as a country transforming itself into a model of post war recovery, a country registering sterling economic growth, a country improving its scores on most indices of governance, peace, investor confidence and democracy. This time last year, thousands of our compatriots from the diaspora were trooping to this nation of their birth, most of them confident that the country was opening up to its great potentials. There were many challenges, but the country was moving on with a zeal that never tires to assert the better aspirations of our people.
There were many challenges in the health sector, but the free health care initiative was getting more people into hospitals, and infant and maternal mortality rates were decreasing; there were many challenges with our infrastructure, but roads were being built everywhere; there were many challenges with our energy sector, but electricity generation and distribution were rapidly improving; there were challenges with the education sector, but more people were at school than at any other time, more people were passing public exams, more girls were in school and more resources had been given to universities than at any time in our history. As with all countries, we had our law and order challenges, but the country was more at peace than at any time in the last decades, and our soldiers and police officers were models of peace keeping in Africa. And then Ebola struck.
It came to us from a brotherly country that stood firmly with us during our civil war. Ebola is a disease that is new to West Africa, and it is new to us. We sought advice from our international friends believing that they knew more about the disease than us. But Ebola in West Africa presented challenges that no one foresaw. Because of ignorance, fear and denial, our actions and that of our international friends could not stem the spread of the disease.
Many doctors and nurses fought valiantly; but the virus created lots of panic amongst our people. It was very difficult for so many to understand why they must not care for sick relatives as they were used to doing and why they could not bury their dead. It was difficult to understand why relatives of the Ebola-infected living in the same household must be quarantined; why men and women in white suits should come for the sick and take them away to treatment centres.
Rumors of ill intent spread; people hid their sick; others fled to relatives living in other places, taking the virus with them. Since the start of the outbreak, over 6000 Sierra Leoneans have been infected. Thousands have died of the virus in the sub-region. May I ask that we rise up for a minute of silent prayer for doctors, nurses and all our compatriots who have fallen victim of this dreaded virus. May their souls rest in peace!
Ebola is hitting us very hard because we are a very close-knit society. We are in very close proximity to each other, we can reach each other’s towns and villages in record time; our relatives are everywhere seeking jobs, businesses and other opportunities. That is why a tragedy anywhere in Sierra Leone is a tragedy everywhere in this country. The increasing number of good roads is increasing our daily contacts with each other. Ebola is not a disease of any one district, or region, or country. It is a disease of the world. Globalization, increasing urbanization, faster transportation and denser networks of people moving between rural and urban areas and across borders is fuel for more rapid spread of formerly isolated viral diseases.
We note that many countries reacted to the Ebola outbreak in our sub region with a flurry of fear and panic that led to travel restrictions to and from Sierra Leone and our region. But panic is a recipe for bad policies; no country should treat people from affected countries like viruses. We are humans, we are Africans, we are Sierra Leoneans.
And because we are humans, because we are Sierra Leoneans, because our will to live is as strong as people everywhere on earth, we will defeat this virus. The fight-back is on. Thousands, including doctors, nurses, lab technicians, contact tracers and other health workers are standing up to fight the virus. They are our greatest patriots. Like loyal soldiers during the war, they put themselves in harm’s way to save our lives. It has been a very difficult battle. But our doctors and nurses have ensured that over 1100 of those infected have been healed. Over 80% of the personnel on the ground fighting the disease are Sierra Leoneans. Sierra Leonean doctors and nurses provide most of the frontline services at treatment and holding centres; Sierra Leoneans are the contact tracers, and they constitute the surveillance and burial teams. The largest treatment centre in the country with 120 beds at Hastings, opened in September, is run by young Sierra Leonean doctors and nurses and they have since ensured the survival of over 350 persons infected with the virus. We salute the doctors, nurses, health workers and others all over Sierra Leone presently working to contain this virus.
The fight-back is on, and international support is increasing our capacity to defeat the virus. The United Nations held a special session on Ebola and established in record time the United Nations Mission for Emergency Ebola Response (UNMEER). The World Bank and IMF have approved resources to fight the disease. The British are sending nearly a thousand personnel here and are building several treatment centres with laboratory capacity. The Cubans have provided health workers. The Chinese have provided medical equipment, a lab, and health workers. The WHO and the American CDC are providing invaluable support, and we have had support from the EU, South Africa, Nigeria, ECOWAS, Ireland, Japan, Holland, South Korea and many other countries.
That countries and organizations have made commitments amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars is great, and it is worthy to note that the number of those that have disbursed or delivered on their commitments is increasing. But a lot of the commitments made have not been disbursed; they are not yet facts on the ground, and it is only when they become facts on the ground that they could be utilized in the fight against Ebola.
Mr. Speaker, Honourable Members of Parliament, there are still numerous challenges, but the fight-back is on. In October, we restructured our response, and placed it under a single command and control, the National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) headed by the Minister of Defence on special assignment as Chief Executive Officer. The Ebola Virus Disease is war against us, and we must fight it with tenacity, resolve and discipline. Our objective now is to break the chain of transmission of the disease and stop its spread. The way to do this is to ensure safe burials; remove the infected from communities into holding and treatment centres; and hasten Ebola tests.
With support from our partners, including the British, the Chinese, the Americans, MSF, Red Cross, IMC, Emergency and others, we currently have seven treatment centres. But the total bed capacity in all these treatment centres is smaller than the minimum 1500-bed capacity needed in the country to stay ahead of the virus. Additional treatment centres are being built in Bombali, Port Loko, Moyamba, Tonkolili and Freetown, but even these would not get us to the estimated number of beds needed. Infection patterns are geographically shifting. Hotspots at the initial outbreak of the disease are registering very low infection rates, while other areas have seen spikes.
Treatment centres need personnel, and the country is in dire need of these personnel, for without them, treatment centres are non-operational. We are acting on getting more personnel to the country, and more support in training for health workers. Ending the outbreak would require more doctors, nurses, infection control specialists, hygienists, epidemiologists, nutritionists, and counselors. We are heartened by pledges of African countries to send in hundreds of health workers, and the African Union’s coordination of this effort; we also welcome the pledge of 30 million dollars by African Businesses to facilitate the deployment of these health workers to the sub region. But speed is of essence if we are to get quickly ahead of the virus.
Mr. Speaker, the fight-back is on. We have developed a post Ebola Recovery Plan. This may be modified as we move along, but we will stop this outbreak and recover from it unto greater strength, wisdom, and action. The Ebola outbreak has created great difficulties for the achievement of goals we set out in our Agenda for Prosperity. But this country will overcome these difficulties; we will defeat Ebola and ensure recovery. Permit me now Mr. Speaker to address the specifics of action, progress and challenges across the various pillars of our Agenda for Prosperity.
PILLAR ONE:ECONOMIC DIVERSIFICATION
Before Ebola struck, Sierra Leone’s economy followed a strong growth path, accelerating from a double-digit growth rate of 15.2 percent in 2012 to 20 percent in 2013. The economy was projected to grow by 11.3 percent in 2014 anchored on increased iron ore and other mining activities; increased agricultural production; continuing construction activities; expansion in the services sector; and recovery in tourism. With strong supervision by the Bank of Sierra Leone, the banking sector remained safe, sound and stable.
Before the outbreak, revenue collection by the National Revenue Authority was growing. Revenue collection had grown considerably from Le536.9 billion in 2007 to Le2.28 trillion in 2013. This impressive revenue growth has guaranteed a commensurate increased contribution of domestic revenue to government expenditure over the years. In 2013 alone, the domestic revenue collection to total government expenditure reached 72 percent. This performance ensured that the government ended the year 2013 on a sound fiscal balance. But with the lull in economic activities induced by the Ebola outbreak, domestic revenue is expected to drop. The shortfall in domestic revenue combined with the increase in expenditures is already resulting in huge financing gaps for government. Businesses are also experiencing reduced incomes.
The Ebola Outbreak is disrupting agricultural, mining, manufacturing, tourism, construction, and air transportation activities, thereby decreasing employment levels. The economy is now projected to grow by 4.0 percent this year instead of 11.3 percent. The outbreak poses a significant threat to economic growth and macroeconomic stability, and is likely to reverse the gains made in human development and poverty reduction in recent years. Inflationary pressures started to build up in the second quarter of 2014 following a significant slowdown in 2013 and the first quarter of 2014. The outbreak is disrupting the growth of the export sector and putting tremendous pressure on the exchange rate of the Leone to major international currencies.
But we are fighting back to limit the disruptions and get the country back on track. The Bank of Sierra Leone intervened in the Foreign Exchange Market to provide foreign exchange for the importation of essential commodities to mitigate the hardship caused by Ebola, by increasing the offer amount in its weekly foreign exchange auction from US$0.5m to US$3.0m in addition to conducting special auctions. The NRA has together with the Ministry of Finance developed a Finance Bill for 2015 and a Revenue Administration Bill with the aim of improving efficiency, simplicity, consistency and transparency of the tax system to the benefit of taxpayers. The NRA has also commenced the Short-Term Revenue Improvement Project (STRIP) to raise revenue to support heightened Ebola expenditure and other fiscal priorities.
Before the outbreak of Ebola, we had challenges in the agricultural sector. But our actions in the sector have resulted in increases in farmer field schools, farmer based organizations, and agricultural business centres. Plant health clinics have been established, and thousands of hectares of tree crops and inland valley swamps rehabilitated, in addition to the establishment of rural and community banks and financial services associations. We have been facilitating more private sector investments in the sector, and to strengthen the interface between agriculture and local governance, we are constructing offices for all councillors and their Ward Development Committees. We are also acting on the finalization, resource mobilization and launching of the medium to long-term successor programme to the Smallholder Commercialization Programme.
The Ebola outbreak is halting implementation of many activities in the sector. Farmers constitute over 20% of those infected by the virus. Also, the disease has mostly affected the 21-59 age bracket that are most active in communities, resulting in loss of farm labour. Fear and panic among farmers led many to abandon their farms. The onset of the Ebola outbreak coincided with the land preparation and planting season in Kenema and Kailahun; the main harvesting period of rice in the Northern province; and the harvesting season of cocoa in the Eastern Province.
But we are now commencing actions to limit the disruptions and get the sector ready for a rapid post Ebola recovery. With support from IFAD and FAO, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security has mobilized the provision of preventive care items in nearly six hundred agricultural facilities such as the ABCs, the banks and the offices of the Ministry countrywide. Out of the USD30m committed by the FAO to the three Ebola-affected countries, Sierra Leone will get USD13m.
In the fisheries sector, we have completed the process for a Public Private Partnership Investment for four fish receiving centres including jetties at Goderich, Tombo, Shenge and Bonthe for the award of a management contract based on Special Purpose Vehicles (SPVs). Other strategic developments in the sector include the finalization of the following; review of Fisheries Legislation and Policy;a Five Year Strategic Plan for Fisheries Development and Fisheries Management; and fishery stock assessment to evaluate the status of fish stocks to ensure sustainability. Realizing the pressure on the marine fish stocks, we have embarked on robust steps to develop aquaculture and increase fish production in the hinterland.
In relation to promotion of trade and industry, we have formulated a Trade Policy and National Trade Strategy, a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) policy, a National Industrial Policy, which has been approved by Cabinet, a Local Content Policy and a draft Local Content Law that will be presented to this Honourable House. A Local Content Unit has been established to oversee the implementation of the policy and the Law when enacted. We have also formulated a Competition Policy and Bill as well as a Consumer Protection Policy and Bill.
Sierra Leone continues to make progress in Doing Business rankings. We have continued to organize forums to engage and attract investors. We are building the capacity of the Sierra Leone Standards Bureau, including construction of microbiology and food chemical labs.
PILLAR TWO: MANAGING NATURAL RESOURCES
Our actions in the minerals sector have been yielding enormous economic growth for the country, ensuring thousands of jobs and increasing revenues for government, households and private companies. Mining and related activities account for 23% of GDP in 2013 and have been the major drivers of the country’s record-setting economic growth. Whilst other mining sub-sectors including diamond, rutile and bauxite account for 3.4%of GDP, the iron ore sector, which began production in late 2011 accounts for 16% of GDP. Data for the first half of 2014 showed that Sierra Rutile and African Minerals surpassed their production targets for that period. Revised production targets for the whole year indicate that rutile and diamond production targets will fall by 4.8% and 10.4% respectively. However, the decline in international commodity prices of particularly iron ore is significantly affecting projected revenue collection.
World market prices of iron ore fell significantly in the first half of the year and there is no indication that these prices will be restored in the near future. In fact, with the current outlook, we are expecting a further dip in prices of this mineral. This has further been made worse by falling shares of iron ore companies in the stock market. Based on estimates from Government and the IMF, the combined effect of the Ebola outbreak and fall in world market prices of iron ore is a projected loss of Le390 billion and Le932 billion for 2014 and 2015 respectively.
We have put measures in place to ensure that the impact of the Ebola epidemic on the minerals sector is minimized. We are acting to ensure that challenges relating to change of ownership or management do not lead to loss of the thousands of jobs and billions of leones for local businesses involved in the sector.
With support from the African Development Bank, GiZ and UNDP, we have committed ourselves unto the Extractive Sector Benchmarking process of the Natural Resource Charter. We are also pleased to announce that through extensive consultations with key stakeholders in the mining sector, a Chamber of Mines has been established. The facilitation of the Chamber of Mines is an effort to ensure effective and efficient collaboration and co-ordination of the industry, ensure strict compliance by mining companies with the terms of their agreement, promote responsible and sustainable mining practices, and engender responsible corporate citizenship. We are also supporting closer links with the Sierra Leone Institution of Engineers on promoting local content and bringing greater engineering professionalism to the mineral sector.
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PILLAR THREE HUMAN DEVELOPMENT
The biggest health crisis since the founding of our nation is upon us. The Ebola outbreak not only infects our people with the Ebola virus, it also leads to many other illnesses being untreated. This is why it has been necessary not only to fight Ebola, but also to ensure that we contain the spread of other diseases. As earlier mentioned, last month I created the NERC not only to ensure greater efficiency in our Ebola Response, but also to get the Ministry of Health to focus on non-Ebola diseases and concentrate on the implementation of ongoing interventions in the health sector as stated in the National Health Sector Strategic Plan (2010-2015) and articulated in the Agenda for Prosperity. To actualize this vision the Ministry has adopted the Primary Health Care Approach that focuses on the provision of a Basic Package of Essential Health Services and continues to implement the Free Health Care Initiative.
Although interrupted by the epidemic, our actions in the health sector have resulted in the following:-
•The Demographic Health Survey of 2013 shows that substantial gains were made in the implementation of the Free Health Care Initiative. We recorded improvements in the reproductive health of women. Nine in ten pregnant women received antenatal care (ANC) from a skilled provider and ANC coverage was high in all districts. Health facility births have almost doubled since 2008 with six in ten births being assisted by a skilled provider.
•To reduce maternal mortality, we implemented the National Strategy for the Reduction of Teenage Pregnancy. One hundred public and private health facilities were strengthened to provide adolescent and youth-friendly services;
•Preparations for the launching of the Sierra Leone Social Health Insurance Scheme (SLeSHIS) in 2015, beginning with a pilot in two districts are at advanced stage;
•We completed the rehabilitation of the Makeni School of Health Sciences to address the huge middle level manpower gap in Clinical medicine;
•We are training 30 Medical Doctors as Specialists in the sub-region and for the first time, in-country biomedical technician training up to a National Diploma level was completed for twenty (20) technicians;
•We established the National Pharmaceutical Procurement Unit (NPPU) an autonomous institution that can receive and manage its own funds. The NPPU Board and Board Chairman were appointed and the responsibilities of the Central Medical Stores and UNICEF transferred to NPPU.
We have ensured the following actions in the Education Sector since the last State Opening of Parliament:
In the 2013/14 school year, an estimated 7,000 more students were enrolled than 2012/13. Limkokwing University of Creative Technology is ready to commence operation and has issued acceptance letters to over 2,000 students. The Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology in the Northern Region has been established through an Act of Parliament;
More teachers are now on the payroll – a total of 2,500 new teachers were put on the payroll between December 2013 and October 2014. More students are entering and passing external examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC) – 93,767 candidates sat the NPSE and 71,077 passed in 2013 whilst in 2014, 100,508 sat and 76,733 passed. In the 2014 WASSCE, for the first time in many years, a candidate from Sierra Leone obtained 8 ‘As’ (8 Distinctions). High performing candidates in the 2014 WASSCE were more in number than in 2012 when school candidates last sat the examination.
We have commenced a US$23.4 million project on Revitalising Education Development in Sierra Leone (REDi_SL) with support from the Global Partnership for Education and the United Kingdom Department for International Development (DFID).
The outbreak of Ebola is reversing many of these gains. Schools are closed; the Basic Education Certificate Examination (BECE) has been postponed; lots of teachers and students have died from the disease; re-orienting the minds of many school students adversely affected by the Ebola epidemic is going to prove a major challenge.
But we are acting to contain the disruptions and put our interventions back on track. An Emergency Education Radio and TV Programme has commenced to provide learning opportunities for school students as well as Ebola and psychosocial messages during the period of the Ebola epidemic.
We are implementing The Education Sector Plan (ESP) 2014 – 2018 – ‘Learning to Succeed’. The plan has three broad goals: improve access, equity and completion of education at all levels in all areas; improve quality and relevance of education; and strengthen education service delivery.
In order to achieve these goals the Ministry is embarking on activities that include: making educational institutions safe to use by students after the Ebola epidemic period; strengthening guidance and counselling at all levels of education to provide psychosocial support for students; revival of School Broadcasting and establishing web pages and other multi-media; and distribution of solar power radios with memory cards to remote rural and deprived communities for accessing educational radio broadcasts.
Our country is a nation of young people. Youths, defined as those between ages 15 and 35, comprise about a third of the country’s population. Without their participation, their health, and their positive role, our nation is doomed; there would be no present and no future. Without the active participation of youths, we cannot overcome any of the challenges facing this country; without youths we cannot overcome difficulties posed by the Ebola outbreak and without them we cannot prevail over non-Ebola related obstacles. Youths are at the fore of our fight against the virus. The overwhelming majority of health workers, from nurses to contact tracers, burial teams, communication teams and volunteers are youths. This nation owes its very survival to youths. Youths are more resilient than any other group; the majority of those who survive Ebola are youths; we must build on this resilience of our youths to overcome the challenges we now face as a nation.
Youths must be at the fore of actions for containing the impact of Ebola on our productive sectors and social services, and we are acting to ensure this. In the area of sanitation, I must applaud the young people of this nation who are actively engaged in the Youth Employment Scheme and getting our district headquarter towns and cities cleaned and environmentally friendly. In Agriculture, I must salute the young people who are contributing immensely to the development of the National Youth Farm at Masalia near Masiaka.In positive anticipation that Ebola will soon be over and the country is restored to safe environment and peace, in 2015, my Government will ensure that district and Chiefdom Youth Farms are established. My Government has identified and demarcateda thousand acres of land donated by the people of Sengbeh Chiefdom in Koinadugu District for the establishment of the National Youth Village which will serve as a centre of excellence for skills training of young people at all levels. With support from the Chinese, construction will start as soon as the Ebola outbreak is contained.
We have developed frameworks for greater action with youths. This includes the National Youth Programme as the blueprint for youth development that has been approved by both Cabinet and Parliament; and the National Youth Policy of 2014 that will be laid before this Honourable House.
My government has developed the framework for the establishment of a National Youth Service for young people to gain experience in marketable jobs and hence provide an effective means of employability.We are also establishing a Special Youth Fund. We are acting on the establishment of Youth Centres in every District.
We have paid tuition fees for thousands of young people in Universities and Colleges to acquire relevant skills training that will enhance their chances of employment. We are providing Grant-in-Aid for young people in the newly established Limkokwing University of Creative Technology. With our Graduate Internship Programme, the National Youth Commission, in collaboration with UNDP, has commenced the placement of graduates as interns in workplaces to get them to gain relevant job experience. My government is also working in concert with the World Bank to provide vocational and technical training for thousands of young people with particular attention to female and disabled youths.The same project ensures thousands of jobs nationwide in the “Cash for Work” programme implemented by NaCSA.
We are stepping up efforts for the establishment of sports infrastructure in communities across the country. The Bo Sports Stadium was commissioned on 26thApril, 2014 with a capacity of 4,000 spectators. Government is seeking the extension of the capacity of the stadium to 20,000 with support from the Government of the People’s Republic of China.
Sierra Leone made substantial impact in sports especially in athletics, volleyball and cycling by winning laurels for Sierra Leone in ECOWAS Games and international tournaments.
Whilst the Ebola outbreak is having negative effects on our rankings, Sierra Leone attained its highest ranking ever in football from 176th to 50th in FIFA world football ranking and from 45th to 7th position in CAF African football ranking. In athletics, Sierra Leone came 3rd in the ECOWAS Junior Championships in the Ivory Coast in April. Our most remarkable performance has been in volleyball where Sierra Leone was named the best junior Volleyball teams in Africa for 2014 at the under 17, under 19, under 21 and under 23 levels.On account of this, the Sierra Leone Volleyball Association is recognized as the model association for Africa.