President Dr Julius Maada Bio has engaged 113 Village Headmen from Western Rural communities, noting that as with the British colonial administration, local authorities continue to serve as intermediaries between their people and the central government.

Chief Minister, Jacob Jusu Saffa, welcomed the headmen and said the presidency was thrilled to see the level of interface with the local authorities, adding that such interactions would bring governance closer to the rural communities and once abandoned places.

“This is to bring you closer to a government that wants to hear from you, about your concerns and how we can capture them into our governance planning and administration. On behalf of the government, I want to welcome you and thank you for coming,” he concluded.

Minister of Western Region, Mrs Nabeela Tunis, noted that the meeting was long overdue, adding that it demonstrated an inclusive approach by President Julius Maada Bio to show care and respect for leadership at that level.

She said the ceremony would give the President firsthand information on concerns and an idea of how his citizens in those villages could be a part of the development of the country, by taking part in the formulation of policies and distribution of national resources.

Leader for the headmen in attendance, who also doubles as the Village Headman for the York Ward, Alhaji James Slowe, said it was a historic day for them to collectively meet the President for the first time since his election in 2018. He appreciated the Ministry of Western Region for initiating the engagement with the government, saying that it was always very difficult to have an audience with authorities in the central government.

“Your Excellency, my colleague village heads want to appreciate you for the work that is ongoing at the Baw Baw-Tokeh Peninsular Road. It used to be a very difficult terrain. We thank you for the development agenda of your government. We also thank you for drawing us closer to the day-to-day administration of the state,” he concluded.

In his response, President Julius Maada Bio said he had invited them to State House because Waterloo, York, Mountain and Koya, the four wards of the Western Area Rural District, had been neglected and deprived of essential social amenities.

“The other people have lied to you to vote for colours. But even when that has happened, that colour has not made your lives or your communities better. I see you first as Sierra Leoneans who equally deserve healthcare, good roads, electricity, and good schools.

“When we say ‘PAOPA Salone for Betteh’ we mean we will completely refurbish Makeni Government hospital, put in a brand new 163 metre two-lane Magbele Bridge, provide electricity for over 28 northern towns and villages, provide free quality education for every child, provide economic support and the mining sector that provides thousands of jobs, even during an economic crunch.

“What I am simply saying is that if we can do this in the Makeni area, where we know how people will vote, we are ready to work for the people of Western Rural. So, I have invited you here to listen to you and hear your concerns and discuss ways in which we can work together to transform the Western Rural District,” he said.

He noted that various speakers had highlighted challenges and concerns they faced and as a President, he had listened keenly to be able to respond fully to each concern.

“We have made some progress with the issue of stipends at the Ministry of Finance and the Regional Minister will inform you in due course. Regarding the relocation of burial sites, I now instruct the Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning to engage with the Administrative Heads of the Wards so Government can allocate suitable and appropriate land for the burial of your loved ones.

We must also restore orderliness and transparency in the administration of land in the Rural Areas. I now instruct the Minister of Lands, Housing and Country Planning and the Village Heads to develop a cooperation framework to ensure an amicable working relationship going forward. Regarding sand mining, I will instruct the Minister of Environment to establish clear guidelines to prevent further environmental degradation,” he concluded.