HIS EXCELLENCY ALHAJI DR. AHMAD TEJAN KABBAH
President and Commander-in-Chief of the
Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces
On the Occasion of the State Opening of the
First Session of the First Parliament of the
Parliament Building, Tower Hill
Freetown, 12 July 2002
Excellencies Visiting Heads of State
Mr. Vice President
My Lord, the Acting Chief Justice
Honourable Members of Parliament
Ladies and Gentlemen:
Let me first of all welcome to Sierra Leone, my brother Presidents, Heads of Government and foreign delegations who are here to lend us their invaluable support as we celebrate another milestone in the history of this nation. You stood by us steadfastly during those very dark moments when all seemed lost. Today, you are our special guests of honour as we, the newly-elected representatives of the Sierra Leonean people, meet in Parliament, this sanctuary of our people's rights and sovereignty, to celebrate the start of a new and glorious day after a terrible disaster. To all our visitors and friends from various parts of the world, I say welcome, and please feel at home. As I welcome you to our shores, we cannot forget our fellow Sierra Leoneans who have had to pay a very high price, some even with their lives, to make this occasion and what it represents, a reality.
Parliament and the sacred trust of the people
Permit me to congratulate heartily, the newly-elected Members of the House who have won the confidence and trust of our people; who now have the sacred duty of protecting and pursuing the interests of a people emerging from a devastating war. Having learned the painful lessons of war and prodded by the imperative of peace, we are here again in the eye of history. As representatives of the people, we have a mandate, indeed an obligation, to repair the physical damage inflicted on our country, the shattered lives of its people, and to restore the pride and image of a once peaceful and confident nation. This is a responsibility that cannot be taken lightly. We are gathered here today largely because our electors made great sacrifices in choosing the path of democracy.
The struggle for democracy
For those who may not be aware, let me say that in the realm of democracy and the rule of law, Sierra Leoneans have always made history. In spite of a brief interruption of the democratic process by the military after the 1967 elections, the will of the people eventually prevailed and democracy was restored a year later. In 1992, yet another military coup removed an elected civilian government from power, but by 1996 the people of Sierra Leone, in their resolute determination to preserve their democratic rights, principles and institutions, insisted without any compromise that democratic elections must be held.
The elections of 1996 that removed the military junta out of power constituted a very powerful statement from the Sierra Leonean citizenry that they would never settle for anything other than democracy in this country. In 1997, the guns roared again in another military coup. Yet again, and with even greater determination and resolve, our people expressed their rejection of this attack on democracy.Â
In May 2000, the people once again marched in the streets of Freetown to protect the State, paying with their blood and demanding that the war which for ten years had made them enemies of each other, even within families, should finally come to an end.
Indeed, there can be no better illustration of the saying that the voice of the people is the voice of God. Responding to the demands of the people, all the protagonists of the war, without exception, finally agreed to replace the bullet by the verdict of the ballot and give peace a chance.
The people spoke again on 14 May this year when they voted peacefully in what has been described as one of the most successful elections in recent times. Many feared that the elections would end in disaster. How could we, some people wondered, embark upon such a delicate and risky project so soon after such a terrible war? But we did it, and we succeeded.
I believe in Sierra Leone. I am convinced that democracy is now fully entrenched in our society.
All Sierra Leoneans, at home and abroad, suffered considerable loss. Some lost their cherished and loved ones, others their belongings, and still others, their dignity and honour. The bitter experience of armed conflict will linger in our memories for as long as we need to remind ourselves of the mistakes that should never ever make again. It is for these reasons that Sierra Leoneans rose up to the occasion in their different capacities, as voters, political party leaders, election authorities, civil society election monitors, press reporters and commentators, all working hard in the network of the electoral process.
National security and the strengthening of civil authority
Today, we are enjoying a substantial level of safety and security, thanks to the support of nations and organizations some of whose representatives are here today, namely, the Federal Republic of Nigeria, the Republics of Guinea, Ghana and Mali, acting on behalf of ECOMOG, and the current support of UNAMSIL acting under the mandate of the United Nations Security Council, the United Kingdom, the Peoples Republic of China, and the United States of America. And now with the help of the International Military Advisory and Training Team (IMATT) under the leadership of the United Kingdom, we are creating a robust and professional army which is being deployed nationally. We acknowledge with appreciation the assistance that the new army is now providing in many communities where they are deployed, such as repairing roads, bridges and ferries, as well as teaching in community schools. We are now proud to say that we can rely on our army not only to defend the integrity of our country, but also to contribute to community development.
We have recently put in place a task force on immigration to review and monitor the operations at our borders and entry points, as well as the procedures for the issuance of our passports. The objective is of course to safeguard the nation against undesirable external elements that could penetrate our territory and threaten the security of the State.
For the first time in our history we can now boast of a structured intelligence network operating both within and outside the country as a preventive measure in our national security strategy. Thanks to our friends in the Commonwealth, particularly the United Kingdom, our Police Force is now equipped with high quality leadership, technical support and logistics. These have significantly enhanced the capacity and effectiveness of the Force in maintaining law and order.
Using the limited means and resources at our disposal we have been able to re-establish and progressively strengthen civil authority throughout the country. In areas that until recently were inaccessible because of the war, children are now going back to school, the internally displaced and refugees are gradually returning to their communities, and farmers are going back to their farms. However, we must be prepared for the daunting challenges that lie ahead.
Agriculture, food security and improvement in the quality of life
Poverty and the lack of food security, and the high incidence of hunger, especially in sub-Saharan Africa, have prompted the international community to strive to reduce by half the number of hungry people in the world by the year 2015.
A few weeks ago when I took the oath of office to serve this nation for another five years, I emphasized that the principal objective of this second leg of our journey together will be centred on the basic human right of every Sierra Leonean to food. Let me re-emphasize the need for us to develop our capacity to feed ourselves. The addition of Food Security to the portfolio of the Minister of Agriculture underlines my commitment to give effect to this objective.
Regrettably, agriculture was a major casualty of the war, since the war was fought mainly in the rural areas where 85% of the inhabitants are farmers and /or fishermen. The large-scale displacement of farm labour adversely affected the production of food crops, as well as the major export earners such as timber, coffee, cocoa and oil palm products.
We shall therefore undertake a strategic review of the food sector within the context of our overall poverty to reduce poverty, enhance the capacity of individuals to undertake income-generating activities, and exploit our agricultural potential for domestic consumption and export. These will require significant investment in agriculture. Consistent with the pledge I made a few weeks ago, I shall endeavour, personally to undertake periodic monitoring of the progress towards the achievement of our goals in this vital sector of our national agenda.
All of these goals and objectives must be seen in the wider context of my determination during my second term as President, to ensure a significant improvement in the overall quality of life for all Sierra Leoneans. This implies a stable economy, a network of good roads, a more consistent supply of water and electricity and essential services such as health and education. With the support of our donor partners, we will endeavour to accelerate the current road construction, maintenance and rehabilitation programmes. These include the following: Waterloo to Tokeh on the one hand, and on the other hand, Lumley to Tokeh or Peninsula Road as it is commonly called; Rogberi to Lunsar; Makeni to Kamakwe; Masiaka to Pamelap via Port Loko and Kambia; Masiaka to Mile 91; Mile 91 to Bo, and Kenema to Koindu. In addition to those we will be working on the Songo to Moyamba Junction.
These road construction and maintenance programmes will create jobs, utilize the expertise of our local contractors and engineers, facilitate free movement of goods and people, improve access to markets for agricultural and other products, and promote amore efficient delivery of health and education services throughout the country. To complement our efforts in this area, we have secured financing for the procurement of a number of buses and trucks that will augment existing public transportation for safer and affordable travel by the public.
Commitment has also been secured from the African Development Bank and the Arab Bank for Development in Africa (BADEA), toward the reactivation of studies for the proposed Freetown and Lungi Airport Link.
We know that we will be unable to sustain any gains made in rural development without the adequate supply of water and electricity. Therefore, electrification, especially rural electrification, and the provision of safe drinkable water throughout the country will be an integral part of our efforts in developing agriculture and social services. Assessments for the restoration of provincial power stations have been undertaken in several areas. Using our own resources, and with the help of the World Bank, emergency rehabilitation of rural water stations has already begun.
And this brings me to our efforts to provide health care services to all Sierra Leoneans, taking into account, among other things, the prevalence of common communicable diseases, HIV/AIDS and serious disabilities associated with the extensive physical and psychological abuses committed during the rebel war. We will continue to implement the new policy of providing basic health services, free of charge, to children under five years old, all school-going children, pregnant women and breast-feeding mothers. We will intensify efforts to rehabilitate and construct health facilities to ensure that every Chiefdom benefits from heath care services. Some peripheral health units and hospitals have already been rehabilitated. Plans are well advanced to rehabilitate and refurbish our main national referral hospitals and two district hospitals.
We will also continue to strengthen the financial management system in all health institutions to enhance accountability, transparency and fiscal decentralization to the districts. At the same time, we will vigorously pursue the decentralization of the management of health services through the establishment of Area/Regional Health Boards and Hospital Management Committees. In order to cope with the current shortage of clinical specialists in the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, we have already put in place a temporary measure to retain retired Specialists on service contract basis, while we continue to look into possibilities for training Specialists in the sub-region.
The economy and the challenge of mobilizing internal resources
As I stated earlier, our effort to improve the quality of life of our citizens is predicated on our ability to maintain a stable economy. Under the most difficult circumstances we mustered the strength and discipline to prevent the collapse of our economy. Indeed, we did more than that. In the midst of the war, we stabilized our economy, kept inflation down, eliminated shortages of essential goods and maintained the value of our currency. Let me state emphatically that we are determined to keep on track our prudent fiscal and monetary management in order to ensure that we achieve the benefits of our poverty reduction strategies, jointly developed and agreed upon with our development partners.
Our commitment to the reduction of poverty in our society has been further strengthened by the establishment of a National Social Security Scheme which should guarantee the welfare of public sector employees and provide a social safety net for the most vulnerable members of society.
As a developing country, especially one that has been devastated by war, Sierra Leone needs all the external resources it can muster from its development partners, often referred to as donor countries. However, Honourable Members, we cannot continue to rely on foreign financial assistance. And here is a challenge for this Parliament: we must take immediate steps to reduce our dependence on external resources for our development and other programmes. This challenge is also related to the problem of corruption and governance which I will address in a few moments.
We have already made an important stride towards an effective mobilization of internal resources by enhancing the collection of revenue. We have therefore proposed the establishment of a National Revenue Authority. This Authority, together with our proposed new tax laws, will improve on our revenue collection from its current level of 20% to nearly 80% of expected earnings from income tax and customs duties.
To achieve a greater efficiency in the management of public finances, and to ensure that public enterprises will better serve the people of this country, we will establish a Public Enterprise Privatization Commission. This Commission will oversee and monitor the operations of public enterprises and recommend their privatization where appropriate.
As you may be aware, the current trend within the international donor community is to move away from aid to trade. It is in this context that the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD) is being implemented. We must therefore prepare our private sector to be actively involved in this process for the benefit of our country. Therefore, we will initiate and embark upon an active and continuing process of consultation with the private sector and civil society in formulating our development priorities and, jointly to participate in the implementation of agreed strategies.
These measures will support our long-term strategy to reduce our dependence on assistance from the international community for our development needs.
The importance of good governance
We should realize that no matter how firm our determination to achieve food sufficiency and food security, no matter how hard we try to improve the quality of our lives, and no matter how rigorously we pursue prudent fiscal and monetary policies, our objectives can never be achieved if they are not entrenched within a solid framework of democratic practices and good governance. There is no doubt that our ability to tap the country's considerable human and material resources for the improvement of the living conditions of our people, can be traced to problems related to governance and democracy.
This is why we have set up a Governance Reform Secretariat which, among other things, has been working in conjunction with the Ministry of Local Government, to strengthen and empower all institutions relevant to our policy of decentralization. Furthermore, we are currently working steadfastly towards the holding of local government elections.
Corruption as a national security issue
It is worth emphasizing that all our efforts to provide food for the hungry, clean water and electricity for our people, build and equip hospitals and schools throughout the country, would be futile if we do not eliminate corruption â€“ that vicious enemy of our society.
Once again, I wish to assure you that I have personally committed myself to the continuing fight against corruption at all levels of our society, and in both the public and private sectors. Honourable Members, I need your help in this struggle against this enemy of the nation. I entreat you to regard corruption as a national security issue. It is that serious.
As you know, we have already established an Anti-Corruption Commission. In spite of teething problems, problems that are normally associated with any new oversight institution, the significance and effectiveness of our Anti-Corruption Commission is unquestionable.
We will continue to maintain zero tolerance for corruption. In order to reinforce our national anti-corruption strategy, we will ensure the speedy prosecution of corruption cases by appointing a Judge or Judges with sole responsibility over such cases.
We have also embarked on a programme for far-reaching reform of Government's procurement process, which is one of the breeding nests of corrupt practices, to ensure a more transparent and efficient use of public resources, including donor funds. The composition of the Central Tender Board (CTB) has been expanded to include representation from the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Chamber of Commerce.
We will also decentralize the procurement process by setting up District and Regional Tender Boards. These reforms are designed to plug leaks in the current system, minimize corruption, and save public funds. It is our plan, ultimately, to convert the CTB into an autonomous agency to substantially reduce its vulnerability to manipulation and abuse.
Addressing the "youth problem"
One of the greatest challenges that we are going to face in the next few years is to find a lasting solution to what has been described as the "youth problem." Indeed, any neglect of the concerns and condition of our young men and women by decision makers, could produce whole generations of unskilled, unemployed and disenchanted Sierra Leoneans. This could have far-reaching negative consequences for the country. We recall that in search of quick fortune and perhaps recognition, many young people found themselves trapped in the cauldron of violence that tore our country apart for ten very long years. Others, vulnerable because of their condition, were manipulated and swept away against their will or better judgement by the tide of rebellion. Nevertheless, many others who were also marginalized stayed on the side of law and order, and endured the torments of aggression, and sometimes exile.
I cannot ignore the cries of our young people, because they are our best investment, our hope for the future, our promise for the continuity of the nation. Our young people rightly deserve to be prepared and equipped not only to contribute effectively to national development, but also to realize their full potentials.
As a first step, we are targeting the educational needs of our young people. Education is the most useful legacy we can give them. Let us not forget that education is the rock upon which we can build a free democratic and economically viable society; it is an insurance policy for the survival of the people; it provides a key to the liberation of the individual. Our determination to secure the welfare and development of our young people is reflected in the number of schools being built and equipped. Free primary education is now a reality. Government is paying for all school public examinations, and we are embarking upon the establishment of additional government-run vocational institutions all over the country.
You are aware of the tremendous effort we have made within the framework of the Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration programme to provide opportunities for the reintegration of young ex-combatants. You may also recall my own concern for the welfare of non-combatant youths. The time has now come for us to focus on the youth as a whole, and to act within a broader context of youth welfare and development. In this way, we will be able to address the concerns of all categories of youth irrespective of their regional, ethnic or religious background or, indeed their past activities. In order to provide greater focus on the condition of the youth, I thought it appropriate to separate the responsibility for youth matters from the Ministry of Education.
To improve on all this, our strategy will now be to adopt preventive as well as corrective action that will secure and sustain the interests of our young men and women. Our target will be to provide a wide range of opportunities for gainful employment, training, healthy recreation and general social protection.
The welfare of women and children
As we all know, our women and children bore the brunt of the war. They were the worst victims of past socio-economic and political malaise in this country. Our goal therefore, is to ensure that they fully protected from violence, and that women enjoy equal rights and opportunities. As a nation, we cannot afford to endure any longer such wastage of human resources by continuing to deny our girls, especially those in traditional rural settings, access to education and skill training.
Therefore, we will create the environment for economic empowerment of our women through programmes that will lay emphasis on leadership, business and organizational skills.
For those of our children who were traumatized and brutalized during the rebel war, we have set up the National Commission for War-Affected Children. This Commission will develop programmes for ex-child combatants, street children, displaced children and those children who were sexually abused.
The rule of law and the administration of justice
We must remember that economic progress and democracy flourish in an environment where the rule of law and protection of the rights of the individual are respected. Accordingly, we will pursue, as a matter of priority, constitutional and legal reforms, including reform of the judiciary with a view to developing a more credible, effective and efficient legal and judicial system.
We must always be in a position to ensure that matters brought to court are dealt with fairly and expeditiously. As the saying goes, "justice delayed is justice denied." Let us remember that a just society is one in which everyone is equal before the law, irrespective of status, religion or gender. In a just society, abilities and talents may be different, but opportunities should be open to all. Our new peace should therefore be rooted in the principle of justice as embodied in our national motto: UNITY, FREEDOM AND JUSTICE.
In the spirit of our motto, and consistent with the relevant provisions of the Constitution, we will remain committed to promoting free and independent media. We are seriously considering the possibility of creating an independent Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation.
We have given all necessary support to the establishment of the Special Court, a public reaffirmation of our commitment to justice. We expect that at the end of its work, the Special Court would have brought to justice the ringleaders of the heinous crimes committed against Sierra Leoneans during the rebel war.
However, considering the trauma we have experienced, you will agree that the nation is need of healing through a process of reconciliation. It is my firm belief that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which I have recently inaugurated, will be of tremendous value in this regard. We must all work towards the realization of the objectives of the TRC, namely, to produce a record of this inhuman tragedy in our history, ensure a public and official acknowledgement of the abuses suffered by victims of the war, and promote healing and reconciliation. While expressing our thanks to all those who have provided support for the Commission, I should however observe that available resources are far short of what is required for the Commission to begin operations. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to appeal for further assistance to enable the Commission to fulfill its mandate which is vital to the consolidation of the newly-won peace.
The role of the international community
The peace we enjoy in Sierra Leone today was not achieved by chance. It is the outcome of a network of partnerships in which the international community as a whole occupies pride of place. The peacekeeping operations of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone involved the mobilization of huge financial, material, technological and human resources, on behalf of our people. All our multilateral, bilateral and non-governmental partners, including ECOWAS/ECOMOG, rallied round. Some of their personnel even made the ultimate sacrifice of dying so that we may live in peace. Our international friends and neighbours gave us refuge and cared for the internally-displaced. They trained our security forces and our Police and provided material and logistical support for our law enforcement institutions. Our friends in the international community never abandoned us. They stood firmly by us to ensure that we vote freely and in safety during the recent elections. We therefore have no reason to believe that we will lose the support of these friends just because we have together achieved this much. Indeed, I am encouraged by the statement issued by the President of the Security Council, on behalf of the members of the Council on 22 May, following the successful conclusion of our elections. I quote:
"The next challenge for Sierra Leone and the international community is the further enhancement of peace. There ismuch still to do, including the extension of public services to make real the restoration of government authority throughout the the country, the further enhancement of the operational effectiveness of the security sector, and the effective reintegration of all ex-combatants. sustained effort of the international community will be needed to achieve our shared objective of sustainable peace and security..."
With this in mind, I have no doubt that any exit strategy for the UN peace mission in Sierra Leone will take into account the Security Council's own awareness of the need to ensure the permanence of the gains achieved here as they relate to security in the sub-region.
The foundations for peaceful transition and recovery
We have already put in place solid blocks for the future of our country in the form of institutions to deal with the serious problems that plague our nation. These include the National Commission for Social Action, the National Committee for Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Independent Media Commission, and the Commission for War-Affected Children. There is also an important advisory body, the National Policy Advisory Committee, comprising individuals of unquestionable integrity who make important contributions in policy formulation within the Executive.
We have established the National Recovery Committee which is implementing a recovery strategy to facilitate the restoration of civil authority throughout the country. This Committee will also oversee the restoration of structures to ensure a smooth transition from recovery to development. We have prepared a draft document which articulates the vision of the people. It was prepared after wide consultations with a cross section of the community, as part of the Long-Term Perspective Studies programme.
It is our responsibility, all of us, including civil society, to facilitate the work and effectiveness of these bodies which are all essential to the post-conflict recovery of our country.
When I took the oath of office for my second term as President, I spoke of the need to build what I described as a "New Coalition for National Development." Specifically, this implies the highest level of cooperation between the representatives of both sides of this Chamber. Personally, I prefer to stick to the use of the expression "majority" and "minority" parties rather than "governing and opposition parties" in Parliament. I can assure you that in the national interest I shall endeavour, always, to build bridges across the aisle between the majority and the minorities of the Legislature.
The people of Sierra Leone have rejected revolution in the conduct of our nation's affairs. They have opted instead for peaceful democratic change. It is now incumbent upon us as members of the Legislature and the Executive, to ensure that by our actions the people will realize that they made the right choice.
While we celebrate our successful entry into the chamber of this pinnacle of our democracy, as Honourable Members, we must not forget that this Legislature derives all its powers and authority from the people of Sierra Leone, and that we are all only servants of the people.
We are always to search for the common good and pursue it relentlessly and selflessly with a view to conferring real benefits on the people, and developing the country. While doing this, we, as servants of the people, are to avoid creating the impression that we can satisfy the unending demands or requests for personal material assistance from individual members of the public. Similarly, members of the public will do well to realize that the personal means of any person holding public office is obviously limited. Therefore that person may not be able to satisfy those demands from his or her own legitimate means. Such demands may amount to the imposition of undue pressure on that public individual to indulge in improper conduct, or even corruption. The mutual realization of this fact by members of the public, and by those holding public office, will go a long way in enhancing the integrity of holders of public office, and thus place them in a better position to serve the people more effectively.
The thrust of this address has been to lay bare before you the immediate and long-term challenges now confronting us as a nation and our strategies for addressing them. We have the challenge of ensuring continued peace and national reconciliation; of improving standards of governance; establishing the pre-conditions for poverty reduction; ensuring sustainable macro-economic stability; developing human resources through better access to education and training, and creating employment opportunities, especially for our youth and women. We will need to continue to provide the environment that will enhance grass root democracy and popular participation in decision-making.
It is my hope and plea that you, and every other Sierra Leonean, will join me in meeting these challenges. It is only by collective action that sustainable peace and future prosperity for our country can be assured.
Mr. Speaker, Your Excellencies distinguished Heads of State, Honourable Members, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, I thank you for your attention, and may God bless us all.