Monday May 14, 2018
Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio has declared free education effective September, in fulfilment of a campaign promise.The marathon speech covered a wide range of issues, from agriculture to human development and health. The president also promised to strengthen democracy and respect the constitution.
The announcement of the scheme which targets primary and secondary school levels, follows President Bio's maiden address to the House of Parliament on Wednesday.
“I am pleased to officially pronounce that effective next academic year starting September 2018, my government will introduce free education from primary level to senior secondary school as promised,” he said.
President Bio also raised the education budget from 11 per cent to 20 per cent, and pledged to sustain funding for the sector.
Returned to power
The president speech at the State Opening of Parliament provided a platform to unveil his government’s development plan for the next one year.
A former military head of state, President Bio returned to power last month through a democratic means following a hotly contested election in March.
He had campaigned on the platform of instilling discipline in governance.
His 41-page long speech also reiterated several of his other campaign promises, including a plan to repeal a notorious Criminal and Seditious Libel Law, review of mining laws and, crucially, controlling government expenditure.
The president said he hoped to increase access to quality pre-primary, primary, secondary, technical and vocational and university education that would enable every citizen to engage in meaningful productive activity.
The president also announced free university education for three children of every school teacher with 10 years experience, a move aimed at motivating those in the teaching profession.
There was also an announcement of a new loan scheme for university students.
Earlier on Tuesday, the free education scheme received a major boost from the World Bank, which announced an initial funding of $10 million for a multi-donor trust fund for it.
The European Union as well as the UK government, have all pledged to support it.
The revenue base
President Bio roused a huge debate last month, just hours after being sworn in, when he declared the West African country bankrupt and appealed for international support.
Sierra Leone’s economy has been going through turbulence since the 2014-2016 deadly Ebola epidemic which coincided with a fall in mineral prices on the international market.
But the new government's revelation of huge external debt revealed an even more serious situation.
President Bio has vowed to end a heavy reliance on mining by diversifying the revenue base.
He also reiterated his position on cuts in government expenditure to raise domestic revenue for his development agenda.