Sierra Leone: We Must Stay Engaged With Our People – President Koroma Avers

As a way of enhancing participatory governance and citizen engagement, President Dr Ernest Bai Koroma has told participants attending a two-day National Conference on Community Engagement and Convergence at the Bintumani Hotel in Freetown that government and its development partners must stay engaged with the people in implementing development projects as well as enhancing service delivery across Sierra Leone.

Jointly organized by the Office of the Chief of Staff and UNICEF, the conference is aimed at building on experiences of community engagement and ownership in the fight against the deadly Ebola epidemic and develops a nationwide strategy for community engagement to support the success and sustainability of the country's recovery process as well as future health and development initiatives.

Delivering the keynote address, President Koroma urged the conference to serve as a platform in bringing together the diverse views of stakeholders, come out with a structure and strategy which will not only be used in the ongoing implementation of the 10 - 24 months recovery programme, but also as a new governance approach in the development and transformation of the country.

The president said the fight against Ebola was successful due to effective community engagement and ownership which saw traditional, cultural and religious leaders fully involved in the fight to end the epidemic. He pointed out that disconnect and disparity in needs, aspirations and cultural practices of communities led to failure of some development projects implemented in various communities across the country, and therefore, emphasized the significance of listening, engaging and sharing experiences with the people in rolling out development projects, adding that every Sierra Leonean has a role to play in the development of his/her community. President Koroma also expressed satisfaction that such engagement will be cascaded to regional and district levels to enhance national embrace of the new governance approach.

According to the Chief of Staff (COS) in the Office of the President, Saidu Conton Sesay, democratic governance is enhanced by positively engaging communities in processes that bring change in their lives. He stressed that the conference will enhance governance, stronger mutual trust between and among citizens, improves transparency and accountability, better results in service delivery, more meaningful community empowerment, and stronger national cohesion. The COS further stated that this framework should accommodate adaptation to changing circumstances and encouraged participants to focus on how community engagement can be mainstreamed among government institutions, the development community and civil society organizations (CSOs).

The Director of Performance Management and Service Delivery (PMSD) in the Office of the Chief of Staff, Abdul Rahman Sowa, said the background of the conference was predicated on the decisive role played by communities and traditional leadership during the fight to defeat the Ebola virus. He described community engagement as an essential component of multi-sectoral response and social mobilization. Mr Sowa went on to state that the confab will help to explore diversified approaches in identifying successes and challenges, establish a common understanding of activities and interventions, agree on strategies to ensure service delivery, good governance and accountability.

The UNICEF Country Representative, Geoff Wiffin, who spoke on behalf of the United Nations Country Team, underscored the impact of community engagement in rolling out development programmes across the country. He added that this trajectory significantly helped in catapulting the country out of the Ebola epidemic, and expressed optimism that the confab will help to develop a common understanding to upholding community engagement structures as well as enhancing ownership on issues affecting communities.

The conference attracted participants from across all facets of society, including paramount chiefs, local councils, heads of MDAs, representatives of both local and international Non-governmental organizations and civil society organizations.

Source: Government of Sierra Leone.

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