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ADDRESS BY HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT
ALHAJI DR AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH
ON INDEPENDENCE DAY PARADE
AND THE PRESENTATION OF COLOURS
TO THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE ARMED FORCES
SUNDAY, 27TH APRIL, 2003

 

[SALUTATIONS]

Today, our 42nd Independence Anniversary is an important day for the Nation and for the RSLAF. Today, I, as Commander in Chief, have the pleasure and indeed honour to present the RSLAF with their new Colours. As you are fully aware, an Army's Colours are an embodiment of the very high standards of discipline, courage and commitment to the Nation.

Indeed, many of you will recall that on Myohaung Day I spoke with satisfaction and pride about the bravery, sacrifice and competence of Sierra Leoneans serving with the Royal West African Frontier Force during the Second World War. However, on some occasions in the recent past, a few of your colleagues have not behaved in a way as to uphold your pride and dignity. A few have behaved in such a way as to betray the trust and confidence of the nation. I am glad to say that such behaviour, though regrettable and unfortunate, was attributable to only a few of your number and it occurred as a result of the failure to afford good and responsible leadership at the material time. But I can say today with satisfaction that all that has now changed for the better, and for this you deserve my heartiest congratulations.

I am also delighted to add that today, and continually, the RSLAF with the support of the people of Sierra Leone and the International Military Assistance and Training Team (IMATT), are once again demonstrating their ability to protect the sovereignty of Sierra Leone.

So, today is another milestone in that process of reconciliation between society, the State and our soldiers. A milestone which is rightly marked with this occasion as it allows us all to see the professionalism and discipline of our soldiers, and reflect on the progress of the RSLAF and its role within a democratic society.

To the men and women of the RSLAF I offer my personal thanks for your efforts over the past few years. You have undergone a difficult re-structuring which is not yet complete. The planned draw-down will continue for a few more years as we adjust the size of the RSLAF to a level that meets our military commitments - and one which is sustainable in the long term.

That draw-down will be reviewed again this year as part of my Government's Defence and wider Security Review. The Government's White Paper on Defence, which will shortly be published, commits the Defence Review to a wide process of civil consultation which will include an independent committee made up of representatives from across the political spectrum and public institutions. That Committee will be tasked with monitoring the decisions taken by officials on behalf of the government and endorsed by it. Their findings will be published, open to public scrutiny and open to critique. They will be the watchdogs, the eyes, ears and voice, of the people, keeping them in touch, and provide a forum for popular and informed debates.

This process of draw-down and wide civil consultation is not an easy process as civilians and military must learn to work together and trust each other. But a process that will, in due course, produce an RSLAF, which has the expertise, the strength, the talent and the equipment to meet its Primary Mission - to maintain the territorial integrity of Sierra Leone. And you, the members of the RSLAF, this you must be able to do without the support of UNAMSIL as it too prepares for its own draw-down and eventual withdrawal. And there lies an important further milestone for you all.

In being ready for the eventual withdrawal of UNAMSIL, the RSLAF must be capable of delivering year on year, infantry battalions, with their specialist support and the Maritime and Air Wings, ready to conduct operations on our borders. In due course, I would hope to see our officers and soldiers, and eventually formed units, playing their part in United Nations operations.

Key to this is the re-basing in new barracks under Operation PEBU. I have spoken of the importance of PEBU before and I am only too well aware that progress has been slower than I would have liked - but I assure all of you that I remain committed to its completion as it offers the RSLAF the opportunity, not only to house your families, but it also brings you together as units where, together with your IMATT advisors, you can undergo effective training for operations. I know what OP PEBU means to many of you and on this day as you receive new Colours commemorating the commitments of your forefathers I will maintain the pressure on your superiors so that they too will deliver!

Once again to the men and women of the RSLAF, I congratulate you on your achievements and take great pleasure in being here with you today in order to present you with your new Colours.