By Finda Judith Ngaujah, Strategic Communications Unit, Ministry of Information and Communications
We have seen leaders capitulate under the burden of the Covid-19 pandemic, with some losing huge chunk of votes. The world has witnessed an unprecedented recession in most economies with some going bankrupt and needing massive bailout from the Bretton Woods institutions.
Bio The Visionary
President Julius Maada Bio has certainly stood out as an exemplary leader in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, showing clairvoyance and purpose. Unlike in the past where leaders sat unwittingly in the comfort of State House/Lodge, President Bio in March when the country had not recorded any case, convened a meeting of health ministry officials and came out with a blueprint to combat the menace. Part of measures to curb, if not eliminate, the virus was the dispatch of 6 medical personnel to the Democratic Republic of Congo to study case management and prevention, with the overarching objective of coming back home and train others.
Next, he killed complacency which is often our bane in fighting any problem, by embarking on a whirlwind tour of the health facilities to assess the country’s preparedness in the face of an outbreak. This measure took him to the 34 Military Hospital, Lungi and Gbalamuya in order to get firsthand information and determine next steps. That was clairvoyance extra ordinaire.
Psychic Build Up
Unlike some leaders who left the public guessing on possible outbreaks, President Bio vigorously engaged the Sierra Leone public and prepared their minds mentally for the possible outbreak of Covid-19. He did not wait for a showdown with an invisible enemy whose behaviour is unpredictable like weather. From the onset, President Bio told Sierra Leoneans that it was a matter of time before we could be breached. Other top government officials effectively went on a media blitz, educating the populace on the virus and its possible outcome on the country. Thus by the time the country got its index case, the people were mentally prepared for it, and faced it squarely with the bravery of a tiger.
A country’s economy is normally the first victim of such crisis and is often the hardest hit as most economic activities either crumble totally like a pack of cards, or slows down gradually like a hungry dog.
Then came an economic stimulus package that could be described as the panacea – the Quick Action Economic Response Program (QEARP). The QEARP is pivoted on 5 pillars.
1. Building and maintaining an adequate stock level of essential commodities and stable prices.
2. Bank of Sierra Leone has set aside Le 500 billion to provide support to hardest hit businesses to enable them to continue operations, avert lay-offs of employees and reduce non-performing loans.
3. Provision of a special credit facility at concessional interest rates to support the production, importation and distribution of essential goods and services.
4. NaCSA providing safety nets to vulnerable groups in the form of cash transfer and dry rations.
5. Support to labour based public works, while providing assistance for the local production and processing of staple food items.
Implementation of the five pillars of the QEARP has left even the most critical minds dumbfounded and bemused. The direct cash transfer by NaCSA has impacted over 30,000 vulnerable people who have now joined the chorus of cheerleaders in praise of President Bio’s programs. Last month, over 74,000 pupils’ parents benefited from dry rations undertaken by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education.
The astute leadership demonstrated by President Bio has impressed world leaders and donors alike. The result has been the attraction of cash by donors to the government in excess of $250m by the IMF, World Bank and EU. Other governments have chipped in with materials needed to stem the flow of Covid-19.
An impressive school reopening program has just commenced with the repatriation of pupils and teachers to their different locations in full swing.
Some of the most successful leaders are those who take measured risks without compromising the safety of their citizens, and President Bio has shown that adequately. At a time when sections of the population were calling for a two-week lockdown, a compassionate President Bio resisted the call and in piecemeal locked down the country without much suffering on the people. In line with his stance that every country has its own way of fighting the disease, President Bio deployed a Sierra Leonean approach to it mixing it with some international flavour – no wholesale copy of others.
If the act implicates him, let the result absolve him from blame, says a political thinker. Some initial actions of the President were greeted with skepticism and misgivings, but the results are making pleasant news to even the critics. The figures are encouraging and showing signs of victory by the people, led by a tenacious fighter in every sense of the word. The latest increased testing is another pointer that in President Bio we have a leader that we can rely on and lean on shoulders on to fight not just Covid-19, but poverty and other societal malaise.
Let’s roll out the drums.