Sierra Leone President Julius Maada Bio has reminded the ECOWAS Commission via a video conference on Monday that there is an urgent need for a peaceful settlement to the political crisis in Mali, while extending his deepest gratitude for its mediation missions.
He was addressing the Extraordinary Session of the Authority of Heads of State and Government of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), noting that maintaining peace and stability in the region was critical for the collective development agenda of the region.
“Our democratic credentials in the region are being challenged. Sierra Leone stands with the rest of ECOWAS on fostering and maintaining a culture of democracy across the region.
“Excellencies, may I reiterate that it is highly important to maintain peace and order in Mali. Extremist terrorist activity in the North of Mali has spread to neighbouring Niger, Burkina Faso, and further threatens the security of the entire region,” he warned.
The President also commended the President of the Commission, Jean-Claude Kassi Brou, Vice President Madam Finda Koroma; Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, General Francis A. Behanzin; and, Heads of ECOWAS Institutions and agencies for their continued dedication and commitment.
“In line with the views expressed, Sierra Leone condemns all forms of violence and urges all concerned parties to consider the recommendations put forward by the mediation team led by Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan, former President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. Additionally, Sierra Leone urges strong support for a more robust mandate for MINUSMA.
“Sierra Leone reaffirms its commitment to and support for a peaceful resolution in Mali and encourages President Keita and all other parties to adhere to the decisions of this extraordinary session within an agreed timeline,” he urged.
President Bio concluded by suggesting that in order to maintain good governance, peace, and security in the ECOWAS region it was important to resolve the current socio-political crisis in Mali without delay.
President Dr Julius Maada Bio has used today’s press conference, also broadcast live, to express his outrage and total condemnation of the continued incidents of rape, sexual and gender-based violence in the West African nation.
“The depravity of sexual violence is obscene, criminal, and totally objectionable. As a Government, we stand with the survivors, victims, and their loved ones and my Government will vigorously prosecute cases and bring all perpetrators to justice,” he said.
He reiterated his government’s commitment to providing support for survivors, adding that he was joining the First Lady, Fatima Maada Bio, to urge every Sierra Leoneans to help raise awareness, increase their advocacy while standing up to rid the country of what referred to as a menace.
“My Government is committed to equal protection and justice, inclusive development, and equal access to opportunity for every Sierra Leonean, especially women who constitute 51% of our population,” he assured.
“What we should do is to prevent rape, especially of little kids who know nothing about what is being done to them. If you can have the same passion that I have for the children of this country, rape will be a thing of the past. That is the challenge I throw to every citizen in this country,” he said, while taking questions on the matter.
Journalist and campaigner, Asmaa James, had raised the issue of recent incidents of sexual penetration involving minors and made reference to earlier commitment by the President, who in February 2019 officially declared a National Emergency on Rape and Sexual Violence. She urged for more follow-up actions.
Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs, Manti Tarawalli, said the fight against sexual and gender based violence is a collective one, adding that the more campaigners, advocacy groups and civil society call for more actions from government, the more they would continue to do more and also emphasise on the need for parents to be more responsible for the security of their children.
“This is not just for government. It is for communities and also parents. Since the Sexual Offences Act a lot has happened. We have started the male engagement strategy which was launched by His Excellency. What that does is to use men and boys advocates to go into communities to educate men and boys that sexual and gender-based violence is not acceptable,” she said.
She concluded that the ministry had also started a 24-hour free 116 hotline to report rape, taking in excess of 300 calls a day, adding that they were opening one-stop centres in all referral hospitals to provide psychosocial support, help the Family Support Unit to provide crime reports, provide forensic medical examination and treatment and were introducing DNA testing.
President Dr Julius Maada Bio has said at the commissioning of the renovated Sierra Leone Psychiatric Teaching Hospital Complex, SLPTH, that mental health intervention is within government’s overarching human capital development priority.
“Here is why all this matters. Our country has been bludgeoned over the last three decades by traumatic event after traumatic event – from the bloody violence and chaos of the civil war, to catastrophic natural disasters like the mudslide and flooding, through the Ebola virus disease epidemic, and now the COVID-19 pandemic.
“All these events and beyond have induced conditions from post-traumatic stress disorder and grief, to anxiety, depression, psychosis, acute stress, and harmful substance abuse. Combine this with autism, epilepsy, bipolar and psychotic disorders, intellectual and cognitive disabilities, and more, and we recognise that as a nation, we must act now. We must invest heavily in mental healthcare.
“We believe, as a government, in harnessing the full potential of every Sierra Leonean. We believe that improving and promoting mental health care is an essential part of achieving Universal Health Care coverage with positive outcomes for the physical health of our citizens,” he stated.
He also added that they believed that elevated investments in mental healthcare would have positive implications for human and socio-economic development in the country because it would protect human rights and reduce social and economic disparities.
“In our 2018 manifesto, we committed to ‘developmental health treatment and care facilities in Freetown and build new facilities in the provinces’. We made our commitment against the background of decades of neglect of mental health care and the premier psychiatric hospital in the country.
“This was an unsanitary site of unspeakable neglect and abuse. Nothing seemed to work- from ramshackle buildings with broken toilets, broken windows, empty pharmacies, no water supply, to insecure perimeter fencing that was regularly breached by patients. Mental health care was still offered within an outdated century-old mental health legislation and evidence abound of inhumane isolation and chaining practices and overall poor outcomes for patients. This institutional neglect was complicated with little to no dedication to staff training or to modernising mental healthcare practices. For us, the burden of doing little to nothing hung on our conscience like a millstone.
“So, the argument to make is simple. We know that persons with mental health needs and their families, in cases, are subjected to severe discrimination, stigma, harassment, and victimisation. Their constitutional rights and their security are not guaranteed. Because of cultural insensitivities, children are often not educated and abandoned to a life of vagrancy, abuse, and early death. They are also susceptible to other chronic physical disease conditions, unhealthy diets, unsafe living conditions, and most often, early death,” he said, adding that government’s commitment remained not only to guarantee the rights of every citizen, but also to protect and nurture every citizen to their fullest potential.
The President noted what other speakers had said before him, highlighting initiatives the leadership of the SLPTH had undertaken, and the collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Sanitation, with support from partners, and the professional services of Dr. George Eze, who was singled out in Dir. Jalloh’s statement for his profound impact.
He emphasised that professional memberships organisations and efforts by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to designate the hospital in Freetown as a Centre for International Collaboration and Research are highly commendable.
“My Government, through the Ministry of Health and Sanitation will also pursue the ECOWAS Commission’s agreement to establish the first drug treatment and rehabilitation centre here in Sierra Leone. My Government is ready to support and promote the SLPTH in its mission to deliver quality care to its patients. In order to augment and support the training of an indigenous medical workforce, my Government fully supports the establishment of a separate Department of Psychiatry in the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences to train mental health professionals such as nurses, occupational therapists, addiction specialists, and more from diploma to postgraduate levels,” he assured.
Minister of Health and Sanitation, Professor Alpha Tejan Wurie, said that the event was special because it reflected the preparedness of the government and, in particular, President Bio to take leadership in starting the process to destigmatise mental health. He added that mental health was key in achieving universal health coverage.
Executive Director for Partners in Health, working on access to quality health care, John Lascher, said that the facility was a pragmatic example of how nongovernmental organisations could partner effectively with government and the people of Sierra Leone. He added that Sierra Leoneans should be proud of the response and leadership in the COVID-19 fight.
Psychiatrist-in-Charge, Dr Abdul Jalloh, said that the hospital was the face of mental health in the country, established in 1820 for recaptives and those with physical and mental illness. He said that with support from the government, Partners in Health and other organisations, they had improved on services of the hospital in line with international best practices. He also encouraged the government to establish a separate department of psychiatry in the College of Medicines and Allied Health Sciences to produce homegrown specialised staff.
Sierra Leone President Bio has engaged leaders of Civil Society Organisations, CSOs, at State House on the Coronavirus, COVID-19 pandemic and other development issues in the country.
Vice President, Dr Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh, who chaired the event, said that the effort was part of government’s plan to work on a sustained dialogue with civil society organisations and assured them of continued engagements.
President Bio said that he had personally invited the CSOs to talk frankly about the relationship between government and civil society. He said that his government intended to continue hearing and staying engaged with every voice in the civil society space because his government believed that each voice mattered and every voice would make the country’s democracy better and stronger.
He thanked members of the Civil Society for their diverse support to Government’s response to the COVID-19 through direct support and other initiatives, advocacy, social mobilisation. He also reiterated government’s appeal to citizens to adhere to all COVID-19 healthcare and other directives, adding that they had strengthened healthcare systems and implemented measured policies to prevent, protect against, and curtail the spread of the COVID-19.
“We thank civil society for condemning the violence outright and taking the strong view that violence is inimical to peace, stability, and development. We note the sundry concerns around the issue and we will work on recalibrating next steps accordingly. Government wants a stronger relationship with civil society. As a government, we do not believe we should simply impose our own understanding of governance on citizens. We need the voices of citizens.
“Our Government and Civil Society want similar outcomes for Sierra Leone and for the future of Sierra Leone. We therefore want a relationship that is not one of mistrust and suspicion, not one of fear and dread, not one that is adversarial but a partnership built on mutual trust and cooperation; one based on a shared aspiration to ensure that the right things are done at the right times, for the right reasons and with the right impact for our peace and development as a nation,” he said.
During the discussions, Executive Director Campaign for Good Governance, Marcella Samba Sesay, said that the COVID-19 response required every country to design its own pathway, adding that it was very important for the government and civil society to sit together to enable effective co-creation processes.
Executive Director of Health for All Coalition, Charles Mambu, commended the government for the recruitment of healthcare workers, saying that they were pleased that government expenditure on health was increasing. He also commended the government for the ongoing infrastructural projects across the country.
President Dr Julius Maada Bio has addressed the closing of the three Commissions of Enquiry, COI, into governance processes, assets, and forensic audits of the former administration, warning serving officials of his government not to betray pubic trust.
“As I have maintained before, this must be the last Commission of Inquiry in our history. As a nation, we should have learned and applied the singular lesson from these commissions – that persons who hold the public trust must serve honestly, justly, fairly, and diligently; and that as a country, we must put an end to a culture of rampant thieving, abuse, waste, and impunity. So, these commissions should serve as a warning and a deterrent to serving officials.
“As the Attorney General and Minister of Justice has stated, the Commissions of Inquiry looked at three key issues: governance processes, assets, and forensic audits. The forensic audits tracked fraudulent activities within entire chains of governance. The commission on assets examined disparities between income or means and assets. The Commission on governance processes looked at inefficiencies and deficits in governance especially where people deliberately misused or took advantage of state institutions,” he said.
Talking to the occasion at the Special Court Complex on Jomo Kenyatta Road in Freetown, the President also noted that in spite of partisan wrangling over the legal instrument and the very legitimacy of the COI, I was glad to report that there had been no reports of public humiliations, lynching, or even tribal wars as the political prophets of doom had boldly predicted. He added that at the end of the day, nobody was questioned because of their ethnic group or their place of origin.
“I have argued that corruption is a key deterrent to the development of Sierra Leone. The fraudulent conversion of public funds and resources to private use, the waste of public funds with impunity, and the abuse of offices and authority to the detriment of millions of Sierra Leoneans, are all threats to our development as a nation. The machinery of state and its governance institutions have been weakened by corruption and it would seem we have failed to heed the bitter lessons of The Truth and Reconciliation Commission report and the collective shame of our underachievement as a nation,” he said.
Sole Commissioner for Commission No. 1 Justice Biobele Georgewill, who spoke on behalf of the other Commissioners, said that with the highest sense of responsibility they felt fulfilled to present their final report. He said that during the proceedings of the COI, they adopted a robust approach to ensure that they carried out their work in accordance with due process and the rule of law in Sierra Leone.
He noted that during the process, the State and Persons of Interests were given equal treatment to ensure fairness and impartiality and commended President Bio for giving them the independence to do their work, saying that that was unprecedented. He expressed hope that an assiduous implementation of the recommendations of the report would go a long way to changing the narrative in public governance in the country.
Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Dr Priscilla Schwartz, said that the COI was not a witch-hunt but a quest for accountability, adding that the process was demonstrative of the strength of the country’s democracy and the beginning of the restoration of the rule of law and equal access to justice. She also commended the Commissioners for showing tremendous courage and professionalism and described them as being outstanding, for which the people of Sierra Leone were grateful.
The newly appointed Inspector General of the Sierra Leone Police, Ambrose Michael Sovula, on Monday subscribed to the Oath of Office before President Dr Julius Maada Bio at a ceremony in Freetown.
Shortly after his swearing-in, the new Police boss thanked the President for bestowing the responsibility on him to serve, saying that with the cooperation of his colleagues they would give their best to the country and change the narrative of the Sierra Leone Police.
He encouraged his colleagues to cooperate with him to deliver service to the admiration of the citizenry and also assured of their commitment and loyalty to the Government and people of Sierra Leone.
In his response, President Bio said that the Police had always played an important role in the governance of any state, noting that the nation depended on them to govern, deliver development and create an ecosystem that was conducive for doing business.
He said that the nation was looking up to him to work with his colleagues to bring discipline and cohesiveness to the Police and encouraged them to perform their statutory mandate, be fair and friendly and remain a “Force for Good”. He also assured of his fullest support to the Police in bringing discipline to the country.