The Sierra Leone Web




Mr. Chairman
Hon. Ministers
Hon. Members of Parliament
Paramount Chiefs and Elders
Your Excellencies Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps
Chairman of the Board
Directors and Staff of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

I am very pleased to be here this morning to join all of you at the opening ceremony of a Sierra Leone Commercial Bank Branch in Makeni.

Bombali District and Makeni town are of profound importance and interest to me personally for many reasons.

President Kabbah inspecting a guard of honour mounted by the military in MakeniPresident Kabbah being conducted to the sacred bush for his crowning

Firstly Bombali was the District where I had my first posting in the colonial days, as Assistant District Commissioner in 1959.

Secondly and perhaps more importantly my roots are deeply embedded in the Northern region as my great grandfather, grand father and father all hailed from the North and were strong and respectable Northerners.

I am therefore a proud Northerner; but this is not the time for preaching regionalism but would rather preach national cohesion as a pre-requisite for progress and sustainable national development.

Sometime in 1996, during one of my visits to Makeni, I took full advantage of the presence of all the Paramount Chiefs to inform them about my commitment to the North, and indeed, Sierra Leone as a whole. I spoke frankly and openly as someone who hails from a respectable Northern family, to my people, about the need for national unity and cohesion.

As that was my first visit as President, I took the opportunity to respond to a statement made by a politician at that time, that the war was not a northern problem and therefore should remain in the South and East. To start with I considered that statement to be unfortunate. I then called for apology from us northerners because at that time the leadership of the RUF was in the hands of Foday Sankoh from Tonkolili and his Deputy Mohamed Tarawally (alias Zino) also hailed from Bombali District. How can one consider such a proposal as objectionable suggestion particularly coming from a northerner and someone who had often declared that one of his objectives for the Nation was national unity?

My remarks were twisted and presented totally out of context for political reasons. We must desist from such behaviour, as it will only stifle national development to the detriment of all of us.

President Kabbah flanked by Chief Justice A.B. Timbo and Ibi May-Parker, Chairman of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank shortly before the crowning ceremony of President Kabbah as Honorary Paramount Chief of Bombali DistrictPresident Kabbah making his address

To illustrate my desire to build national cohesion and an egalitarian society with equal opportunity for all, I am determined to see that all policies and programmes must be national in orientation, content and implementation. Our policies have therefore consistently been and will remain the provision of objective and useful services to all communities across the country and to employ people with requisite professional expertise and relevant work experience, as this is the only way we can forge ahead.

The propaganda that is being bandied around that the SLPP has not delivered on its promises to the nation is a mere foolish political gimmick that should be ignored. You only need to look around Makeni to debunk that propaganda:-

*A reconstructed Wusum Stadium;
* Reconstructed and rehabilitated Police Stations, not only in Makeni but in practically every part of the northern region and in the country as a whole;
* The road from Masiaka to Makeni under reconstruction
* A reconstructed High Court building;
* Prisons;
* A reconstructed Saint Francis Secondary School;
* Saint Joseph Secondary School and many more primary schools;
* Many public buildings and facilities;
* And this new Commercial Bank;
* Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS) Radio Station, with the hope of extending a television service to Makeni, Kono and Kenema in due course; and
Arrangements are far advanced for the commencement of the completion work for the Bumbuna Hydro-electric Scheme.

In 1959 when I first came to Makeni most of the streets were tarred, there was electricity and water supply and a proper functioning system to ensure that there was law and order. One may say that this was during the colonial days. Regrettably, almost all of those vital services such as electricity, water supply, telephones and tarred streets, were completely neglected during the APC period. Since we in this government recognize them as vital services we have taken appropriate steps to restore and retain them. `

Those who find it difficult to identify anything good about this Government may argue that all those things happened in the colonial days. However, for their information, the true story is that just before independence there was a transition arrangement in place whereby until 1961 the elected SLPP Government initiated and implemented all internal developmental matters and the colonial power looked after external relations.

President Kabbah after his crowing as Honorary Paramount ChiefPresident Kabbah returnig to the bank after his crowing ceremony

Those excellent services that the people of Makeni and other places enjoyed in those days were put in place by an SLPP Government and maintained by that Government through discipline and hard work.

Contrasting those realities with what our people got used to in the past thirty years, one is reminded of the story of the Pamlap - Kamakwei Road, which for over 30 years had remained a death trap. Out of the nine bridges along that road, seven have been completed. The contractors are currently transporting materials to the road site to complete the two remaining bridges and the road. The road will be completed between March and April this year and transformed into a proper and safe road that our people can be proud of.

There have been reports about bribery by sub-contractors constructing the road and these reports of corruption have been investigated and found to be incorrect. My Government's deliberate policy is to encourage local contractors from all regions to be involved in the developmental process, so as to build up local capacities in their localities and thereby obviate the need to take contractors from say, Freetown, to the provinces whenever there is a contract to be awarded. I must therefore warn all such contractors that they will be doing themselves and their districts a disservice if they connive with people who are determined to use public funds for unauthorized purposes. The intention of Government in this connection is to empower people and create job opportunities locally. Infact, with regard to the reported cases of corruption in implementing the road construction, I have enquired about the accuracy of that report and I have been informed that the only problem that has come up relates to a delay in paying labourers. Whatever the case, my Government will not tolerate any practice that will be inimical to progress and development.

The newly-built S.L. Commercial Bank branch in MakeniAnother side of the bank

The SLPP Government promised in May 2002 to reconstruct and upgrade the Makeni-Kamakwie Road. Today, I am pleased to announce that that road will be completed between March and April this year.

Again, one is reminded of the story of the politician caught lying and he defended himself saying he was only making politics. This government does not believe in this type of politics. Rather, it is engaged in constructive politics and is keen, by the grace of God, the willingness of Sierra Leoneans to work hard and pay their taxes and the continued cooperation of our development partners, on providing high quality services to the people.

Parliament has enacted this week a draft Bill on Local Government which had been prepared by Government. When that Bill receives my ascent, it will become law. In that Bill, we are reintroducing local government structures and will be delegating to the District Councils and other local government organs considerable authority. These institutions will become pivotal in the development of our nation. For that reason, the local government elections will be conducted in accordance with our Constitution and the relevant laws relating to elections. My appeal to you today is that you should be very careful how you select candidates, particularly those who will become chairmen or chairladies of your District Councils.

All eyes will be on you at the district level including not only the Government but also our development partners. If they assess the performance of your representatives and find them to be serious about development issues and are concerned more about the welfare of the people and the district rather their own personal interests, you can be sure that the flow of development assistance from Government and external donors will be continuous and in all probability, increased. Otherwise, there will be stagnation, poverty will continue and there will be insecurity; a situation which I am sure no Sierra Leonean wants to see again. I also hope that we shall all learn from the bitter experience whereby all the valuable public utilities which were left behind by the colonial power and the SLPP Government including the oil palm and cashew plantations were systematically destroyed for political reasons and thereby depriving this country of the much needed foreign exchange and numerous job opportunities that those utilities and plantations provided.

It has been reported that groups of people have been buying large quantities of palm oil and exporting it to the neighbouring countries of Guinea and Liberia, thus creating acute scarcity in our country. Little surprise therefore that the price of this commodity has soared in recent months to more than Le80,000 for a five-gallon rubber.

The security risk involved in such unpatriotic behaviour, at a time like this, is not difficult to imagine. The Law Enforcement Agencies are now fully aware of the situation, and anyone caught will face the full penalty of the law.

It has also come to the attention of Government that these same people, or groups associated with them, have infiltrated the rural areas where they buy palm oil relatively cheaply, hoard it and then sell it in urban areas at exorbitant prices - All of this for political reasons.

In this respect I would like to commend Paramount Chief Rashid Kamanda Bongay and his people. They have seen through this conspiracy and the danger inherent in it and have forbidden the export of palm oil to neighbouring countries. It is my hope that other Paramount Chiefs will emulate the example of their colleague and bring stability to the price of one of our most essential local commodities. It is my view that it is people of the caliber of Paramount Chief Kamanda Bongay that should be elected to the District Councils - people who put country first!

At this juncture, I would like to inform you about steps that have been taken in the area of security at the provincial and district level. In every province, including the Western Area, and in all districts, provincial Security Committees (PROSECS) and District Security Committees (DISECS) have been created to look after the management and coordination of all security matters throughout the country. These provincial and district security committees are made up of the Provincial Secretaries, Heads of Military and Police outfits, UNAMSIL and the Paramount Chiefs. When necessary, stakeholder representatives will be co-opted to join the committee.

On the 29th of January this month the UNAMSIL Contingent in Bombali District will hand over security matters to the Bombali District Security Committee. This is in line with arrangements by both government and UNAMSIL to ensure that there is no security vacuum wherever UNAMSIL withdraws as part of their drawdown plan. The Provincial and District Security Committees are working within the framework of the Office of National Security (ONS).

While on this subject, let me thank our military and police officers, men and women for the good work they are doing. In the case of the military, I am aware of additional needs for communications equipment and vehicles. This matter is under serious consideration and steps are being taken by Government to address these needs.

If those who came after the SLPP had taken care of government property and plantations and had managed them properly, this country would have been a much better place. I do not want to make this a political issue but I feel a great discomfort when I compare those days when I was here as an Assistant District Commissioner and what happened to Makeni under APC rule. Even the District Councils and other local government organs which were in place by the time the SLPP left power in 1967 are no longer with us. Today, it is with mixed emotions that we are working very hard as a government to restore those things of the past for which we toiled and laboured so hard to create as part of the governmental machinery, especially at the local government level. Now that local government elections are around the corner, I would appeal that we take the institution of District Councils and their management very seriously.

In the area of putting the right people in the right jobs, Bombali has not been left behind. Key positions held by qualified and competent people from Bombali include: Chief Justice, Minister of Tourism, Minister of Social Security and Labour, Resident Minister Northern Region; this notwithstanding the pattern of voting in the last elections.

We will continue to advance a national character in development, in the reward system and in sharing of the national cake.

Our biggest challenge now is poverty alleviation. Poverty is largely a rural phenomenon as over 65% of our people live in rural communities. Over 80% of rural dwellers are under-resourced poor farmers and traders. Among the key reasons for this is the lack of access to assets, credit and banking services.

The opening of a Commercial Bank Branch in Makeni, the Northern Region Headquarters is a landmark event, as this is the first time in its 30 years of existence that the Bank has been brought to the people of Makeni and the northern region as a whole. More of this kind of development will take place in due course. This is a testimony to the commitment of my government to bring financial services and development generally to the doorstep of the people particularly in the rural areas.

Perhaps one may need to question here the perceived importance of Makeni and Bombali to the APC, and the surprise that it never thought of taking this important service to the people of Makeni, particularly bearing in mind that you cannot have any meaningful development without banking facilities. Again, and I say this with much regret, that even the banking institutions such as Barclays and Standard Chartered banks which were left behind by the colonial power plus the public utilities and plantations initiated and left behind by the SLPP Government were neglected by the APC and left to disappear during most of their 30-year rule. The story is the same in other parts of the country.

In any case, we expect that the National Insurance Company will open a branch here in the near future, most probably before other insurance companies.

The opening of this bank is in line with government's objective of reviving the economy, following many years of destruction and mismanagement. The emphasis is on enhancing the capacity of the people to undertake economic activities to improve the quality of life with minimal external assistance.

At this point, I want to pay special tribute to the proprietor of the Agriculture Project in Malal Marah. This young man, Mr. Sahid Koroma and his team have demonstrated to all of us that there is great potential for engineering development from within and creating jobs and wealth for our people and for sustained national development.

The Commercial Banks must join hands with Private Sector Entrepreneurs such as the proprietor of Malal Marah to propel the economy into self-sustained growth.

In this regard, the banks must be a lot more imaginative and venture more into areas that have been ignored in the past, including agriculture, rural small- scale industries and construction. The Commercial banks must get out of their shells now and boldly walk the earth. The commercial banks must also bridge the wide gap between deposit rates of interest and the lending rate. A rate of 1% on a dollar deposit account for example, is a disincentive for people to repatriate foreign currencies back home into the banking system. This is the same in the domestic banking sector where the gap between deposit rate of interest averaging about 5% compared with the lending rate of about 20%. The commercial banks must be competitive with overseas banks in this respect if they are to grow and enhance their services to the people.

Inspite of these limitations the commercial banks do provide very valuable services to the people including advice, security of assets and deposits as well as a wide range of other services including transfers, automatic cash machines or ATMs, online banking etc.

They must sustain and build on this in order to meet the demands of a dynamic and fast growing economy.

The government on its part will continue to serve as a catalyst and facilitator in this process, by providing the legislative and regulatory framework as well as the enabling environment for Private Sector Development.

In this regard, the Bank of Sierra Leone Act and the Banking Act were revised in 2000, to provide a more independent and efficient central bank, strengthen the financial system and provide clearer legislative guidelines for the Financial Sector as a whole. This is all aimed at high quality delivery of services to our people.

In addition to this, the government has developed a micro-credit policy based on best practices in favour of small and medium sized enterprises, with a high potential for employment and income generation. The key objective of the policy is to integrate micro-finance into the broader financial system and facilitate the provision of efficient and sustainable micro-finance services to low-income earners such as farmers, traders and even petty traders in a transparent and accountable manner.

This will help foster economic activity, boost real incomes and reduce poverty. In this regard, the Bank of Sierra Leone is in the process of establishing community banks countrywide, in an effort aimed at enriching and deepening the financial system, provide institutional anchor for government's micro-finance programme and ensure the availability of financial services to the people at their doorstep.

Two such banks have already been established in Mile 91 and Lunsar; two are under construction in Segbewema and Mattru and a further two will be established in Kabala and Zimmi. The Bank of Sierra Leone has also provided capital support for the National Cooperative Development Bank and has issued the bank a banking licence to enable it play a positive role in our food security drive.

The opening of the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank Branch here in Makeni will contribute immensely to opening up avenues for growth and development in this region. It will provide an opportunity to the people of Makeni and its environs to access the services provided by the Bank, which for many years were limited to other parts of the country. I trust that you will make the best use of this opportunity.

I thank you for your attention.