With two years remaining in his term, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Mada Bio told Voice of America to expand political freedom, reform education, hold past leaders accountable for corruption and promote gender equality in their Administration has priorities.
His platform comes amid record-setting government debt, rising consumer prices and continued high employment.
VOA’s Peter Clotti spoke with Bio about his agenda and how he plans to take the country forward. This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.
VOA: You’ve been quite vocal about human capital development. What are you doing about it?
Bio: I started talking about human capital development even before I was elected. I think it was actually on that basis that the Sierra Leoneans chose me instead of any other person. I have told them that Sierra Leone can boast of as many natural minerals as gold, diamonds, bauxite, to me the most important or most precious of them human beings. If we can invest in human beings appropriately, this will be the basis of development. And on that basis I actually used it as the flagship program in my campaign. And in addition to what other people think about human capital development, I have defined it as good health, good education and food security. I realized that not everyone has access to education due to the level of poverty in our country. So, I decided to do heavy lifting. The government decided to pay for free elementary school for each child by the end of high school.
VOA: How are you funding this project and how sustainable will it be?
Bio: This is a very good question because it is quite expensive. But I have always said that it is not as costly as ignorance when the population is not educated. For me, in the 21st century and with the Fourth Industrial Revolution, education is an existential thing. We must have it or perish as a nation. it’s expensive. But what have we done? You know, we have been able to bridge most of the loopholes for corruption in the country. And that’s how we’ve been able to get the original money first. And once we’re gone, we’ve been able to attract a lot of allies. Global Partnership for Education, World Bank, many institutions are helpful.
VOA: Would you say that your administration has implemented measures to ensure that you meet the standards of good governance that Sierra Leoneans expect from you?
Bio: Talking of good governance certainly reminds me of transparency, accountability and ensuring that we free up political space so that all political parties can participate freely and elections are credible. We have done a lot in this direction in the last three years. Today we have abolished the death penalty. It hangs in the law books and has been used by many governments to oust, threaten, silence the opposition. For me, I have decided that this is a thing of the past. And I took it to the Parliament of Sierra Leone, and it’s off the law books today. Seditious libel law – This is a law that has been used to intimidate journalists and many of them have been closed. As I am talking to you, that too is a thing of the past. If you see in our jails today, there is no journalist practicing journalism in jail.
VOA: What is your government doing about gender equality and empowerment?
Bio: When I took over, women were certainly at the fore. They did not have the necessary space. He did not have the necessary support. What I have done, apart from getting a lot of women into governance, is to make sure that they feel part of our development process, they feel a part of being Sierra Leonean. Rape prevailed. I have declared a national emergency, and we have amended the Sexual Offenses Act. And now, the punitive measures are strict. We have set up special courts for this. We have a special, one stop sentence to deal with rape and other issues.