Twenty-four months ago we began our nation’s journey of recovery; retracing our steps to pre May 2014 status. This was a period of unprecedented economic growth in our nation’s history, when foreign direct investment in the extractive and other sectors was at an all-time high, our road infrastructural development, and other expansion programmes set new records, and our young people and other professionals were rapidly gaining employment.
That was before the Ebola epidemic and the slump in the price of commodities. Those infamous twin shocks dealt a devastating blow to our national development. But being the resilient people we are, we picked ourselves up and fought back with characteristic valour and commitment.
We introduced the recovery priorities to improve the lives of millions of ordinary Sierra Leoneans and continue the implementation of the Agenda for Prosperity. We prioritised improvements in our public services, focusing investment in seven sectors - education, energy, health, private sector development, social protection and water and governance.
We invested in a hard-hitting and innovative approach - the President’s Delivery Team (PDT). Their task was to develop and trial the rigorous tools and processes that would improve public service in Sierra Leone. This approach has been commended worldwide, is becoming a blueprint for other nations and has produced impressive results for our own.
In the education sector, we have reduced overcrowding in schools by constructing 225 classrooms around the country, with another 215 on the way. We introduced a new system for school feeding which is geared towards the better nourishment and health of 1.2 million primary school children nationwide.
All of this means better attendance records, and by developing quality lesson plans in core subjects for primary and JSS teachers, and training them in their use, we are ensuring that teaching standards are raised throughout the Government school system.
This progress did not happen in isolation. Collaboration among the priority sectors was designed into the process, to accelerate the recovery, and instil a culture of cooperation between MDAs.
This is why, to make clean water accessible to one million more people in Sierra Leone, the Ministry of Water Resources has worked with the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health to construct and rehabilitate 125 boreholes and 149 water wells in schools, health centres, villages, and other communities around the country. The installation of over 2000 more wells or other sources of clean water is underway.
Of particular note in the water sector, is the Freetown Dry Season Water Supply Plan, which ensured we successfully prevented the water shortages of previous years, through a combination of bowsering, new tanks, solar boreholes and four industrial boreholes.
Through the rapid construction of the 66kV Wellington Express line, we have kept 26,000 customers in the Western Area connected to power during upgrades to the local network. Work continued with the installation of four custom built transformers earlier this year, supporting our objective to double operational power generation capacity from 75MW to 150M and expand access to about 750,000 more people.
Under our Renewable Rural Electrification Project, 50 community health centres around the country will have solar power before the end of July 2017. This will be extended to homes and businesses in the surrounding areas. Another set of 40 larger mini-grids will be installed in rural locations, benefitting around 500,000 people by 2020. The impact of these on education, employment, and better community health cannot be overstated.
Reducing mother and child mortality rates is a priority for every Sierra Leonean. With over 40% of maternal deaths directly related to teenage pregnancy, our investment in adolescent friendly health centres nationwide will provide young people with advice, and protection in a safe environment. We have achieved 76% of our target; the remaining 14% will soon be completed.
Last month, we distributed over 4 million treated mosquito bed nets to help address the malaria challenge and improve the health of pregnant women and children. Community Health Workers have also been trained to provide better care and advisory services to them.
Reducing malaria, typhoid, diarrhoea and other illnesses is also the impetus behind Operation Clean Freetown. We are intensively cleaning the city, introducing door-to-door household waste collection and stepping-up enforcement of the bye-laws to prevent littering and other anti-social behaviour. This initiative has the added benefit of creating employment for over 1000 young people in the city.
Through our investment in improved rice seeds, fertiliser and training in better agricultural practices, we have exceeded by almost 50% our rice harvest target of 1.2 metric tonnes per hectare. And we have kicked off an initiative to maximise our country’s potential to become a successful onion producing country by distributing over 1,800 tins of onion seeds to farmers across the country.
The Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Trade and Industry have been working together on creating local markets for this increased productivity. A 10% procurement requirement among the security agencies for local rice has been introduced. Already, over 12,000 bags of locally produced rice have been supplied to security institutions.
This builds on the business development support strand of the Ministry of Trade and Industry. Survey results of over 940 SMEs show that 99% have improved their business performance based on the support they received under the recovery process. The establishment of the collateral registry also supports this initiative ensuring that borrowers prove their creditworthiness. It improves access to finance, and to date, 23 financial institutions have registered assets worth over 49 billion Leones. And with two courts now fully operational within the fast track commercial court, time and costs of commercial disputes will be reduced, creating a more enabling environment for business owners.
Through a combination of cash transfers and a Labour Intensive Public Works programme, NaCSA, which was the first to achieve its target, has supported over 63,000 vulnerable households. Thousands of women who had lost everything have had their dignity restored. They and their children are enjoying newfound financial security. Young people taking part in the Labour Intensive Public Works programme, have learned new skills and increased their employability. Both initiatives have boosted the local economies where this money was spent.
The poorest and most vulnerable, are most profoundly affected by corruption in the public sector. With the unveiling of the Pay No Bribe initiative, we have empowered them to help in fighting against the menace. Its purpose is to create institutional change within the participating MDAs, by highlighting areas of high corruption. It is therefore reassuring that Sierra Leoneans are gaining confidence in using the PNB platform to report corruption and the MDAs are taking internal corrective measures.
It has been a long but great journey. A journey that offered new opportunities and solutions, and quickened positive change along the way.
To continue this journey of recovery and the delivery of the Agenda for Prosperity, the President’s Delivery Team is leaving behind an emboldened public sector. More than 3,500 participants at both the Central MDA and District Level have benefited from 17 certificate courses through our capacity building programme.
And already, our economy is projected to grow by 7 percent - the result of the combined commitment of our district councils, traditional rulers, civil society, community leaders, international development partners, thousands of ordinary Sierra Leoneans and the men and women in our ministries, departments and agencies who have embraced a new and collaborative way of working.
On behalf of the Republic of Sierra Leone, I thank you all.