By Mohamed T. Massaquoi
The outgoing United States ambassador to Sierra Leone has reiterated his government’s commitment to helping Sierra Leone in its development and democratisation journey.
Ambassador John Hoover said on Wednesday May 24 that his country had no hidden agenda with regards the country’s political situation, adding that they wished for Sierra Leone only what the West African nation desires in its development agenda. He was speaking at a round table discussion forum with journalists in Freetown.
Ambassador Hoover, who arrived in the country in October, 2014, at the height of the Ebola epidemic, said the relationship between the two countries had never been stronger.
Sierra Leone is preparing for presidential and legislative elections scheduled for March next year, and recently a pro-ruling All People’s Congress (APC) civil society activist accused unnamed foreign powers of having a “regime change” agenda.
"The United States has no ulterior motive or agenda in Sierra Leone, everything we do here is done transparently and in a close collaboration with the government and other Sierra Leonean partners in order to support their work and priorities," Hoover said in response to a question from the floor during the round table discussion hosted at the Africell American Corner.
The ambassador also said they had already begun work geared towards ensuring a free, fair, peaceful, and on-time election next March, with the US hoping to provide up to $4.4 million in direct support for the election process in the areas of civic education, public order management and conflict prevention.
"Democracy is not just about elections, but even what happens in pre-elections,” Hoover said.
The forum with journalists was organised by the US embassy to enable the ambassador provide his perspective of the US Government's partnership with the Sierra Leone government during his term of duty which ends in July.
When Hoover arrived in the country, Sierra Leone was one of three countries in the region badly ravaged by the Ebola epidemic that eventually claimed over 11, 000. He said the US’ contribution to the Ebola emergency response was second only to the UK's, among international partners. He noted that that played a pivotal role in ending the viral epidemic.
"By the end of the year , with substantial support from the United States and other partners, we together turned the tide and broke the back of the epidemic," the ambassador said.
Global response to the 2014 - 2015 Ebola epidemic has set the pace for a massive overhaul of the health sectors of the three worst affected West African countries – Guinea and Liberia being the other two.
Ambassador Hoover believes the result of the “Freetown-Washington Partnership” is that Sierra Leone’s health sector is strong enough to handle and contain any future threat of epidemic. He also spoke about what his government has done and continues to do in terms of helping Sierra Leone recover fully from the effect of the epidemic.
According to the ambassador, the US is now investing an additional $300 million in the country's Post-Ebola recovery and long-term development, with approximately similar amount spent from 2014 - 2015 as support to the Ebola Emergency response in the country.
Ambassador Hoover said through its support the US had helped rebuild the healthcare system and given the country the tools it needed to detect and contain future infectious disease threats.
Within the last three years 300 maternal and child health facilities had been or were being renovated country-wide, the ambassador said, adding that all the 1,200 peripheral health units in the country received life-saving drugs with US Government funding. In addition, some 7,000 healthcare workers were trained in infection prevention and control, he added.
The US Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) is training epidemiologists and building the public health workforce capacity. This, Hoover said, had helped create the indulgence in the minds of people so that they had regained confidence in the health sector to receive better basic health services.
After the establishment of the Emergency Operations Centre with US funding, Hoover said Sierra Leone was now expected to continue investing heavily in emergency preparedness in partnership with the Office of National Security and the Ministry of Health and Sanitation.
The US was also instrumental in efforts towards global health security, and some two million of the most vulnerable Sierra Leoneans were provided cash and food, allowing them to plant crops and jumpstart small businesses. The US also supported Ebola survivors by delivering specialised care, preventing Ebola transmission and reducing stigmatisation.
"Together with this vital work in health security, we have also successfully enhanced food security and nutrition, which are so important to all aspects of economic development,” the ambassador said.
Ambassador Hoover said a future plan of the US in Sierra Leone was the strengthening of food security by boosting agricultural productivity in line with its millennium challenge programme, which also seeks to strengthen institutional capacity in the water and power sectors with an estimated investment of $44 million over four years.
The US-Sierra Leone partnership has also sought to strengthen the rule of law and the protection of human rights and democratic freedoms.
Hoover said they had provided funding for and partnered with the judiciary and the prison services to enact reforms to reduce prison overcrowding and make the justice system more transparent, accountable, and fair.
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