|Tonkolili Welcomes President Koroma|
In another overwhelming crowd-pulling streak in a presidential tour of Tonkolili district, Northern Province, President Ernest Bai Koroma has been thanking the people of the district for having voted for him as President. In a meet-the-people tour traversing Mathoir, Mile 91, Yoni Bana, Petifu (Ka Fullahmasa), Mabang, Mamaka, and Rochen Malal (Malal Marah Chiefdom), President Koroma was welcomed by throngs of jubilating crowdsin traditional fanfare and parade.
The tour started on Friday 12th with meetings at Mathoir and Mile 91. It continued on Saturday with meetings at Yoni Bana, Petifu and Mabang, and then on Sunday at Mamaka and Rochen Malal.Various representatives, speaking on behalf of the people, expressed delight at receiving the President in their towns and villages for "the first time in recent Sierra Leone history that a President visits us when it's not election time", as one speaker put it. They praised the President for maintaining the peace, for his political tolerance, and for his motivational drive to develop Sierra Leone.
Notwithstanding, there was a thread of complaints from the various speakers with regards the availability of jobs, the provision of health and educational facilities, road infrastructure, and agricultural machinery and implements.
Before the President responded at Mathoir, the Acting Minister of Health & Sanitation, Mohamed Daudis Koroma, a native of the township, said the people's complaints were in place but that he would have to admit that his people would be hard to help if they did not help themselves. He intimated that when he arrived at the Ministry of Health, he conducted a survey and found out that maternal and infant mortalities were highest in his region mainly because the people are still very much attached to traditional birth/delivery practices instead of using modern methods. He also stated that many people would not grasp the benefit of education, instead forcing their children to either go into business, farming or early marriage. "How can we help you if you don't have the requisite education? We will do our part, but you also have to do your part,"
Delivering his keynote address, President Koroma thanked Tonkolili for the great support given to him during the past elections, as the trip was primarily for that purpose because he had not directly come to the district ever since he was elected. He said he had been holding several closed-door meetings with stakeholders in the district, but what he would categorically state was that Tonkolili has not been forgotten in being incorporated into national governance.
"You've got a substantial share of government's cake in terms of prominent positions," he maintained, naming the Minister of Education, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Health, Chairman of NACSA, Deputy Director of Sierra Leone Roads Authority (SLRA) and key ambassadorial postings.
The President therefore noted that the people's queries with regards areas of health, education, infrastructures etc were an indictment of these personalities who should be able to support their people. He therefore urged the government functionaries hailing from the district to do better coordination in the people's interests.
Notwithstanding, the President said he had not come empty-handed, as the Mathoir market would soon be completed, feeder roads to be constructed, and an adequate provision of tractors, fertilizers and seedlings, together with other farming implements made by the start of the farming season this year. He urged NACSA to introduce the cash for work programme in the district.
At Mile 91, repeating his appreciation of the people's support during elections, President Koroma said "I am a man of my words, and I'll do all that I have promised." He noted that the government's Agenda for Change is geared towards transforming the whole of Sierra Leone, of which Tonkolili is part and parcel, but that "we can't limit our selves to Tonkolili" citing the example of Kailahun, a formerly opposition stronghold now benefiting from the government's developmental drive through road and general infrastructural implementation.
"Be rest assured that Tonkolili will not be left out. Noting the enormous contribution and great potential of the district to national development, making reference to the Bumbuna Hydro project and the Ferengbeya Iron ore deposit all based in the district, the President said, "Tonkolili will not be left out in the provision of energy... the pipe-borne water project has been commissioned and will be fast-tracked for you to get good drinking water.... Work on the community is in progress... the cash for work programme will be intensified.... The police and magistrate buildings are getting facelifts.."
He repeated the message about boosting agriculture in the area through the provision of adequate machinery and accessories, while he urged especially the women to form themselves into groups to seek micro-credit facilities even through the community bank. The President said the people have already seen the Masiaka-Bo Road passing through their township virtually completed.
In his now traditional style of addressing the opposition, President Koroma noted that the country needs a healthy and constructive opposition, "because if they do their work correctly, if they do the work they are supposed to do, we will stay in government for a long time as we are addressing the people's concerns."
The President came down hard on members of civil society and non governmental organizations who are apparently becoming spokespersons for the opposition: "Certain members of Civil society and NGOs are going out of their expected roles. We want them to do their work so that we all can push democracy forward, but when they become more political than political parties, then they are overstepping their bounds. And if they don't stay within the framework of civil society, then we'll start to expose them... I advise them to stop pretending, to stop using civil society as a platform to advance political aspirations."
President Koroma noted that this year would be a year when he would monitor and implement more projects, while declaring that it is now government policy that starting from 27th April this year (Independence Day), user fees for accessing health services by children and mothers would be cancelled.
The President maintained that he did not come to power for the sake of power "but to develop this country. We are sincere, and God will help us to move this country forward. And I promise you that you will see the difference before the end of my first term."
At Yoni Bana, the President gave details of how development-oriented his government is with the completion of the Bumbuna Hydro project, the commissioning of the Kenema- Koindu Road and the recent opening of the Makeni-Matotoka Road. In progress now are the Kambia-Freetwon Road and the Lumley-Tokeh Road which were abandoned by the past government through mismanagement and corruption. He said he is now monitoring the Moyamba-Songo Road, while the award process is on for the Lungi-Port Loko Road, the Makeni Kabala Road, the Bo-Bandajuma Road, the Bandajuma-Mano River/ Pujehun, and the Matotoka-Kono Road. He revealed that by next month, government will start the rehabilitation of the roads in all the provincial and district headquarter towns.
In agriculture, the President said his government is also working with the Indian government to introduce modern irrigation schemes that would facilitate the cultivation of rice for two or three time a year with better yields per hectare.
The President delivered similar messages in all the towns and villages he visited.
President Koroma was accompanied by a galaxy of government functionaries, including cabinet ministers. Education Minister Minkahilu Bah, a native of the district and its APC Chair, chaired all the meetings.
The press secretariat
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