The Sierra Leone Web



Bo, Saturday 16 March 2002


Mr. Chairman,
Members of the National Executive Committee,
Officers and fellow delegates,
Distinguished Guests:

It was a great honour for me to enter this Convention as the leader of the premier political party of this country, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP). At this stage of the Convention it is a greater honour for me to be asked to retain that leadership for five more years, and to be the Party's candidate for the forthcoming Presidential election.  I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for renewing my mandate to lead the Party and the nation.

Today, you have once again placed a heavy responsibility on my shoulder. I believe it is an acknowledgment of what I have been able to achieve, against all odds, during my first term of office. Your decision is also an articulate expression of your confidence in my ability to lead this country on the way forward to the threshold of a new work phase for the consolidation of peace and the achievement of sustainable economic and social development.

I humbly accept the responsibility you have just decided to entrust to me. At the same time, I would like to reassure you that I am willing, able, ready, and determined to meet your expectations, and to fulfill my obligations to the people of this country.

The road we have travelled since our last National Convention was by no means smooth. To the best of my ability I applied the professional experience I had acquired in the public service at home and abroad to overcome many of the obstacles we encountered over the past few years. My confidence was tested, but I kept the faith throughout the struggle. With the assistance of the majority of the people of this country, individual states and international organizations, I succeeded in fulfilling my pledge to bring the rebel war to an end. While vigorously pursuing the search for peace and security, I also embarked on an equally important objective, namely to revitalize the economic and social development of the country.

Specifically, I tried to institute measures and put in place structures and institutions for eradicating some of the ills that had plagued this nation for decades. Among other things, we established an Anti-Corruption Commission, a micro-credit scheme for poverty alleviation, and a National Social Security and Trusts Act. We enacted a Minimum Wage Act, created the office of the Ombudsman, restructured and trained the military force and the Police Force, created opportunities for self-employment targeting youth, made provision for buses which will soon be on the roads in Bo, Kenema and Makeni, and expanded electronic media coverage in the country to ensure that all citizens are informed, and can participate in democratic governance. We expect to start television transmission in Bo by the end of April this year.

Mr. Chairman, fellow Party members, in choosing me as your candidate for the Presidency for the second time, the SLPP has made one giant step forward on the road to political stability and economic recovery of Sierra Leone. You have sent a message to the other political parties that you know from experience the type of leadership our country needs at this crucial stage of its history. You have also made it clear that the Sierra Leone People’s Party is a forward-looking and viable political organization, the party that can best provide the direction we desperately need to build on the solid foundations of peace and stability that we have just laid.

The process of consolidating peace has already begun under the leadership of the SLPP. You will agree with me that it would be a national tragedy if the people of Sierra Leone allowed any political party, and for that matter any individual without a credible national agenda, to upset the prevailing delicate balance of peace in this country, and the rapid progress towards national reconstruction.

Historically, our Party has always and continues to set the pace of constructive political development in our fledging democracy. In spite of all the political upheavals of the past six years, we can proudly say that we have succeeded in upholding the principle of democratic governance and the rule of law. I am happy to take this opportunity to mention that the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Australia acknowledged this positive development. It expressed “satisfaction over the remarkable improvement in the political developments in Sierra Leone” and noted that we have fully complied with the Commonwealth principles on good governance, principles that were elaborated in the Harare Declaration of 1999.

It is relevant to note that the Heads of Government in their recent meeting also agreed that Sierra Leone should no longer be under the observation of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG), which was set up soon after the illegal military/rebel junta installed itself in Freetown in 1997.

This important decision by the Commonwealth Heads of Government should inspire us to continue to face the present and future challenges with confidence. Our Party must ensure that in the forthcoming elections voters take into account the need to choose candidates with proven commitment to the principles of good governance and the rule of law.

It is also important for us to underscore to the electorate the close relationship between political stability and democratic principles on the one hand, and economic prosperity on the other. Under the leadership of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party, we are already seeing and benefiting from the dividends of peace and political stability. No one should be surprised to learn that the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, having commended the remarkable improvement in the political climate, pledged to continue appropriate economic support to help us meet the enormous challenge we face in national reconstruction and rehabilitation. Among other things the Commonwealth is supporting projects such as the local manufacture of low cost building materials, and youth employment programmes.

Mr. Chairman, inspire of our current relatively comfortable circumstances, let me remind Sierra Leoneans that when my Government returned in 1998, our total debt stock was in the region of US$ 1.3 billion, with a substantial part of it overdue and outstanding. But through various debt reduction mechanisms, we have been able not only to reduce this stock of debt, but also to attain currency in meeting our obligations with all legitimate creditors. And today, our relations with the bilateral and multilateral financial agencies are on track with new concessional facilities.

Earlier this week, we received another significant endorsement of our current macroeconomic management policies from the International Monetary Fund (IMF).  This could also be described as another peace dividend. It involves the approval of the first review of our Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) programme, which entitles us to the second drawing of approximately US$ 12 million under the programme.

The other significant aspect of that approval is that it takes Sierra Leone to the Decision Point of the HIPC Initiative. This is the initiative of the World Bank for Highly Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC), which will result eventually in writing off all our official debts when we reach Completion Point. To give you an idea of the significance of this, when we reach Completion Point under this initiative our total official debt stock amounting to approximately US$ 1.2 billion or Le 2.5 trillion will be devoted exclusively to expenditures for the health and education sectors.

Reaching a Completion Point and benefiting from the dividends of the HIPC Initiative is not an easy achievement. It involves substantial fiscal discipline on the part of Government and therefore, sacrifices from all players in the national economy. But as I speak to you now, I take consolation from the fact that currently, performance under the PRGF programme remains broadly on track. I have no doubt in my mind that with the cooperation of all economic players including, in particular, the Trade Unions and other essential professional groups, we shall attain our socio-economic objectives that will lead to prosperity for all.

Mr. Chairman, I would therefore like to take this opportunity to emphasize that in our campaign for the forthcoming elections, our focus should be on substantive policies and performance. We have an obligation to educate and enlighten the electorate on policy options that will affect their lives in this post-war environment. We have to equip them with the facts on what we have achieved and what exactly we plan to do to meet the challenges we continue to face, especially in the area of poverty reduction. We must not allow the electorate to be hoodwinked by those who erroneously believe that they can walk and talk their way to Parliament or State House through a patchwork of recycled ideas.

The principle of democracy recognizes the right of anyone or any group of persons who meet the appropriate constitutional requirements, to contest elections for public office. However, we should let the electorate be forewarned that there are many out there who see the electoral process as an open and free-for-all picnic.

National elections are a serious business based on public trust and public responsibility. They should not be taken for granted, especially by those who are sincerely committed to be servants of the people.

Political diversity is healthy for democracy. But vague and meaningless games of political fragmentation make a mockery of democracy. They are a disservice to the nation. I would therefore appeal to the rank and file of our Party to take the lead in ensuring that the campaign is policy-oriented.

I believe that we must also let the electorate know that while we have recorded some success in the areas of disarmament and demobilization, rehabilitation and resettlement of refugees and the internally displaced, as well as physical reconstruction, we have also been focusing on other priorities on our agenda. We have been looking ahead beyond short-term relief and rehabilitation by formulating policies and planning specific programmes for the overall development of the country. These include projects for the reintegration of ex-combatants. We also have an obligation to assist non-combatant youths. They also should be integrated into the mainstream of society.

Mr. Chairman, the Sierra Leone Peoples Party has always had a clear vision of its role in nation-building. Its mission, aims and objectives have also been consistent with the fundamental principles of state policy as enunciated in the Sierra Leone Constitution. These include the security, peace and welfare of the people of Sierra Leone; the participation of the people in the governance of the state; the obligation of Government to harness all the natural resources of the nation to promote national prosperity and an efficient, dynamic and self-reliant economy; and to manage the national economy in such as way as to secure the maximum welfare and freedom of every citizen on the basis of social equality and equal opportunity.

These and other objectives must remain our guideposts for the years ahead. Together, and under extraneous circumstances we have done a good job. However, we cannot rest on our laurels. We are still faced with old as well as emerging challenges that require urgent and concerted effort. As usual I shall continue to count on your support and cooperation in fulfilling the mandate you have given me to serve as leader of our Party, the one and only SLPP.

Once again I humbly accept your decision to elect me as the Party's candidate for the next Presidential Election, a decision that provides me with another opportunity to lead this nation in our collective effort to consolidate the peace and attain sustainable development for all Sierra Leoneans.

I thank you for your attention.