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Mohamed K. Gassama

Please permit me to further elaborate on some areas of the economy, the free and quality education flagship program of President Bio’s administration, and some general advice as a senior member of the SLPP.

On the economy, we are all aware – based on the Transition Report and other sources, that the Bio administration inherited a very challenging and dire economic and highly indebted situation which had to be handled with all the seriousness it deserved. Almost three years later, the economic situation is more dire, even though vigorous efforts have been made on revenue collection, especially through customs and excise duty and tax collection drive generally.

But, improvements in the revenue drive unfortunately, has also witnessed increased public spending. To close this spending gap, the Tax department resorted to higher rates of taxes on imports. Higher taxes on essential commodities translates into higher prices of food and other essential products which most citizens can ill-afford and leads to increasing poverty.

In this period of the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing taxes on essential commodities is not a sensible fiscal option. To recognize the economic difficulties occasioned by the pandemic, the government, the legislature and other public institutions could have adopted a more robust humanitarian response, by giving up a reasonable percentage of their salaries to establish a special COVID-19 Trust Fund to assist vulnerable citizens and communities especially during the lockdown period.

It is still not too late to do such a honourable gesture to support fellow citizens who are hurting in this period of dire economic situation and the impact of the pandemic.

On the economic policy front, creating opportunities for the availability of affordable credit by reducing interest rates for productive investment that will support existing and new small and medium sized businesses in the farm and non-farm sectors, fisheries and digital technologies services sectors, could create hundreds of thousands of meaningful jobs and improve living standards, especially among the youth population who represent the largest segment of the unemployed and underemployed in the country, along with its attendant consequences to national security and stability.

Business start-up centres for skills training and development in every district could be an excellent place for mentoring and apprenticeship, based on public/private partnerships, to support new businesses and enterprises as a source of new jobs for the young population.

Also, supporting agricultural development and agriculture-processing especially in the textile industry to stimulate other sectors of the economy, should be a great source of job creating opportunities.

The free and quality education flagship programme is an excellent human resource development initiative, but I am afraid it’s been poorly implemented. I think we are all aware that education standards have fallen in the last thirty years, so I don’t think it is fair to say that this flagship programme is solely responsible for the dismal performance at this year’s WAEC exams.

However, the government must agree that it is now responsible for education and training in this country, and must therefore be held to account almost three years into the delivery of its flagship education programme. To be frank, I am not sure why the rush to launch the programme in September 2018 when it had just taken office in April 2018.

The programme could have been launched in 2020 after sound planning and preparation. The government should have initially launched a  pilot phase to test the concept, collecting relevant data on potential pupils – current and in-coming intakes, to have some idea on how many pupils are in primary and secondary schools to be catered for; infrastructure needs, current schools built, how many to be built, how many desks and chairs, uniforms for pupils, teachers population and how many to be trained, curricula development and text books, school feeding requirements, resources needed and contributions from partners and other institutions and other details, before rolling out the programme across the country.

I am not sure whether they are correct but some people think only government assisted schools can participate while we hear every school going child is eligible to receive support from the programme. There is need for further clarity on this mis-information. It is not too late to go back to the drawing board and make amends based on the experience of the last two years.

As a senior member of the SLPP, I am aware that there is a growing disillusionment among every level of the party membership, that the leadership of our government have not responded to the voices of party members – especially home-based rank and file of the party as well as elders of the party. While I do not have all the facts of this matter, I would advise that urgent and proper attention is given to addressing these concerns urgently.

Source Sierra Leone Telegraph.

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