PRESIDENT DR. ERNEST BAI KOROMA FINALLY BREAKS SILENCE ON AYV

237

Has the presidency turned out to be what you signed up for? Is it what you expected?

EBK: Well let me start by saying thanks to the people of Sierra Leone for giving me the unique honour and privileged to serve as President. The responsibilities and the enormity of the presidency is only fully realized when you are democratically elected and the aspirations and hopes of the people depend on the decisions you make. This has been my driving force and I have always ensured that I remained focus in the presidency.

Of cause I do realize the enormity of the responsibility, having in mind where we are coming from, the devastation the country has experienced over the period, the depth of poverty that existed in the country and the high expectations of the people.

I must say that I have come a long way. In politics, you will not end up with a 100% but I believed I have served the people of this country to the best of my ability.

AYV: What is the biggest reality check?

EBK: Well, it is a big issue getting all the stakeholders to bind into your vision. Lots of interest groups are bound and when I came in I was appalled at the level of wastage that I realized in the country, looking at the pattern of budgetary expenditure, I decided on cutting down on the wastage, getting people to understand that we should move from the issues of spending huge resources on furniture and fixture of petrol and other entertainment to real capital expenditure, was a big challenge.

But, I think we were able to change that perception and we got everybody to bind into it and now for the very first time we see a government putting a lot of resources in capital expenditure and we don’t have to wait for donors to come and support us in our efforts and now we see the pattern is changing and it has been difficult but the end of it is great.

AYV: The first term was relatively smooth, the second term a bit rocky; what do you attribute this to?

EBK: Well, in the first term, I would say that the external factors that we expected were not as must as we have in the second term. That was why we quickly took advantage of the supportive environment of the first term as we were reckoned as a result of our effort to be one of the fastest growing economies in the first term and our Agenda for Change was king of accepted not only within the country but internationally. We were reckoned to be one of the countries that have reformed within a very short period in the first term both by recognized international institutions like the World Bank, Mo-Ibrahim and others.

The second term was not that easy, we had a lot of challenges that were completely out of the control of the government and the people of the country. But I will say by and large we are catching up, we are rebounding and the country is moving on.

AYV: I believe you are referring to the Ebola?

EBK: We had the Ebola, we had the drop in the export items like the Iron Ore and these affected our activities in the second term. The Ebola grounded the economy to a halt and even when there were no economic activities, the government continues to meet its obligations such as the payment of salaries and other things and these largely affected the pattern of growth during the second term.

AYV: The NRA was surpassing targets in your first term, but the revenue retracted immediately iron ore prices plummeted worldwide, why is this so?

EBK: Well, as an economy that is coming devastation, as I mentioned the depth of poverty that we are coming from, we had to be fully engaged on all forms. Yes, the Iron Ore was booming and it was one of our major economic activities. We also had other issues that we have engaged on in trying to diversify the economy, the agricultural sector, the tourism and others.

But when there was this drop in the pricing of Iron Ore and also the Ebola, we had this reduction in the revenue earnings and it affected us but we have quickly addressed these issues and we are registering a growth.

Mind you, before Ebola we were at 13.2% of GDB. In 2014 we came down to 4.5% and in 2015 we were at -22% but thankfully, due to the resilience of our people, with support from the International Community, we are now rebounding and were at 5% this year which is a big progress coming from where we were being hit. I think we have made lots of progress and we will continue to make progress.

AYV: What would your response be to the people who say you have breached the constitution, for the instance, in the case of relieving the former vice president off his duties?

EBK: Constitutional violation? No! It is my responsibility to uphold the constitution and the constitution is very clear on your membership not only of a party but also the office. The constitution is very clear on the actions of holders of these offices when there is a clear state of abandonment of office to the extent of seeking political asylum. What does that mean? I was only upholding the constitution, I have interpreted it and it is very clear that I was not in breach and I was merely upholding the provisions of the constitution.

AYV: You made pledges to transform Sierra Leone in your Agenda for prosperity, how do you rate your performance?

EBK: Well, it is for the people to rate me. I would not want to rate myself. But I came in at a time when the country was at an all-time loan in all the sectors. We were referred to as the darkest capital in the world, our roads were deplorable, access to education and health were limited, but during my period of governance, we have addressed a good number of these issues and now we have increased the energy generation by 500%, we have increased the percentage of people that have access to pipe borne water from the 26% I inherited in 2007 to 50% more. We introduced free healthcare and that increase the number of people accessing the facility to 500%. The enrolment rate in schools for both boys and girls has increased and in fact, more so for the girls. The infrastructural development in terms of the roads, if you quantified the gains people have made in terms of the time they save to travel from Freetown to Kailahun, to Guinea and to provincial headquarter towns and district headquarter towns is enormous. Our country is a small country but because of the efforts we have made as a government, within five to six hours you at every corner of the country and this is a big achievement not only for the ease of travelling of the people but the movement of agricultural produce and other services. I think more so, on the savings people make in terms of the reduction in the petrol and maintenance costs for their vehicles. These are all issues you don’t quantify but they add up to the living standard.

AYV: So if you want to rate yourself and your government, between one and ten?

EBK: I will not rate myself, I will leave it to the people but I will tell you that I am a modest president and with all humility I will say that my efforts in all sectors have been unprecedented. Nobody from independence to now has made such gains in terms of growth and development in the country. So I pride myself as being a president that has laid the bases for future sustainable economic growth.

AYV: Why Dr Samura Kamara?

EBK: Well, in the first place, all of the aspirants within the party are qualified. It shows the stock that we have of people we have who can do the job. Now you would want to put a candidate out that will heat the ground running, somebody with an impeccable record of a public service and Dr. Samura Kamara has served for a very long time in the country and in the governance structure. He has served as a Financial Secretary, a Minister of Finance, a Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone, he has served in the Commonwealth and the IMF and now serving as a Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. You do not only need somebody that would heat the ground running but somebody that would have national and international acceptance so that is why I believe in him and I know we have a person that is fit for purpose.

AYV: What would you say to those who say he particularly wasn’t the most well-known candidate of the 26 aspirants over there?

EBK: Well, yes it is not a question of popularity. We are in a situation in which we need to provide somebody effectiveness, somebody that can rally round the government but also the party and I believe we find it in him. Somebody that is not tainted, somebody that will not spend his initial period defending off criticisms about himself, about his past and I think whilst all of our people were qualified, I believe that the party took a decision to put Samura forward because of the added advantages he have.

AYV: What would say to the claims that it was dictatorial/ seeking a third term?

EBK: A third term? If I had wanted a third term, I am Chairman and Leader of my party that has majority MPs in parliament; we could have encouraged our MPs whilst reviewing the constitution to ensure that we have a third term extension in it but this is something I am not interested in. I could have introduced other measures for a third term bid; I could have borrowed a leaf from efforts in the past by people who wanted an extension, by holding another Bintumani conference, I could have managed that. I am the Minister of Defense; I could have used the security forces as it happened in this country, time there was when people wanted an extension they organize conferences at Bintumani, send out the military at the time when the people were determining their future, but I have always told people I am not a born-again democratic, I have always been a democratic. That is why if you go back to the archives, in my first statement in my second term I was very clear and emphatic that it is going to be my last term.

With all of these possibilities I have mentioned like it happened in the past, deliberate efforts were made to stay in office. It happened and every Sierra Leonean knew about it. I could have done same. I am a very popular president. This is my last term in office, almost less than six months and I still enjoy the popularity that you see out there. I could have used all of that if I wanted a third term but not so. I am not interested.

AYV: So as Chairman and Leader of the APC do you foresee fallout in the APC? There are lots of disgruntled voices out there.

EBK: The APC is a family of Comrades. We have been together and we will stay together. There are these rumors that are propagated not by APC members themselves because all of the aspirants with no exception have supported the decision of the party and in fact, over this weekend, if you have representatives in Kono they will report to you the meetings of some of the aspirants out there.

The vice president is being in Bo, they have held meetings in Port Loko, Kambia and everywhere. Everybody is rallying behind the decision of the party and this is what we are.

AYV: So how do you respond to rumors that there may be some high profile departure from the APC?

EBK: As I have already told you that all of the aspirants with no exception have supported the decision of the party and they are out there supporting the decision of the party. We are now even stronger as a party than before and from the look of it, very soon you will see us out there as the united party we are, the grassroots party we are and the ordinary man’s party we are.

Let me tell you that the APC has never lost an elections and it will never lose and election that is conducted democratically. That is our pride and come 2018 we are going to win the elections hands down.

AYV: You said it yourself and we have seen it that you are an incredibly popular president and you are incredible. So does your involvement in the campaign disadvantage other candidates?

EBK: I have been popular because of the trust the people have in me and they trust me because I have been honest and sincere with them. When it comes to making decisions, they rely and depend on my decisions. Not that I am dictatorial but I engaged, I am the people’s president and that has made us to sail through as a government, as a president and as a party. So if comes to a very important moment in the History of this country, in the History of the party that is a transitional moment why should I not be involved in the decision making process? In any case, yes I am president, I will ensure that a level playing field for every political party. That much assurance I can give to every political party but also, I am a member of a political party and everywhere in the world you have seen an incumbent supporting his/her political party so I am no exception. I am going to ensure that once there is a level playing field I will ensure that I support the candidate of my party.

AYV: So has this popularity impacted your ability to make tough decisions?

EBK: Well, I will say in a way it has helped to take tough decisions because let me remind you of the difficulty we went through when we had Ebola, the difficult decisions we had to take, decisions that went against the growing of our social and customary fabric. It was tough, these were decisions that even members of the international community warned against but because of the connect and the popularity when decisions were made the people accepted them.

The people know that development comes with a cost, they know that there has been a change out there in term of the circumstances of life and this is a process that we have to go through. We have to ensure that we invest today for the benefit of tomorrow. What is happening in the first word country is not that sacrifices were not made you make sacrifices to build a nation and it goes with a lot of difficult decisions but what is at comfort is that when these are taken the popularity has ensured that they are supported and I am gr

AYV: You have faced Ebola, low iron ore prices and the landslide; how did these episodes impact you?

EBK: I will say that they were difficult moments, Ebola, landslide and the drop in the iron ore prices but I am encouraged by the resilience of our people they have always demonstrated that level of resilience. After the war when it was down and out, everything was down the resilience of the people and support from the international community got us to rally round and we transformed ourselves from a country that was supported to maintain peace to a country that was sending out people to help other nations to maintain peace. We transformed our economy to become the fastest growing economy. Then we have the Ebola and the drop in the price of iron ore again we put in place measures to address these issues and quickly we have rebranded.

AYV: Would have done anything different?

EBK: Well, that is the best we can do under the circumstances. The people were ready and they have a leadership that they trust, a leadership that was sincere, a leadership that that can provide the direction that was needed at the appropriate time.

What do you want to be remembered for?

EBK: Well, I leave that to my people. I came in at a time when this country was completely broken, movement from one place to the other was so difficult, almost impossible in some parts of the country. Electricity was at all time low; much of our city and the rest of the country was in total darkness. Parents found it very difficult to even access health services, pipe borne water in our districts towns and other major towns was non – existent; and the difficulty to access education kept many of our young people out of school and universities… For all of these, I did my bit to alleviate the challenges and to put our country on the path of development. With support from many of my compatriots and our development partners, we have made effort to transform our country’s dilapidated infrastructure and today, social services are being delivered to our people. These are the facts and I am proud to have been given the opportunity to lay this solid foundation for our country’s transformation.

AYV: What do foresee as your role after leaving office?

EBK: I am going to take a break and will inform on my next steps.

AYV: What do foresee as your role after leaving office?

EBK: I am going to take a break and will inform on my next steps.

AYV: What was your most rewarding moment as a president, your greatest achievements?     

EBK: When we established the free Health care, and saw the surge of over 500% in attendance to health facilities; when we reintroduced the school feeding programme and saw those beaming smiles on the faces on the children and parents; when we light up towns and district headquarters and saw the outpouring of emotion from ordinary people; when we turned on the taps in various towns and districts headquarters and saw the spontaneous happy reaction from the public in each and every one of those places; these are the rewarding moments when your people express, on their own volition, their appreciation of your efforts.

AYV: What is your message to the nation (Straight into the camera)?

EBK: We have come a long way, we have experienced too many tragedies, we have experienced too many difficulties, but we have also made considerable progress over the last ten years. Now, going forward, we must all work together to keep and build on the peace we now enjoy, to sustain the transformation we have begun, and to ensure that we never reverse these gains we have collectively fought so hard for. It is our responsibility and our obligation to our future generations to keep Sierra Leone peaceful and united and transformative.