Posted on  May 29, 2020  by  Pnafrica

Sierra Leone's first ever and only female Independent Member of Parliament (MP), Honorable Emilia Lolloh Tongi, representing constituency 001, Kailahun District, Eastern Province has said that she does not think Members of Parliament (MPs) have the financial and material capacity to undertake a rigorous coronavirus disease ( COVID-19)  campaign in their various constituencies across the country.

Honorable Emilia Lolloh Tongi was speaking on the level of compliance with the COVID-19 preventive measures in   the border communities of Kissi Teng, Kissi Tongi and Kissi Kama in the Kailahun District, which shares territorial boundaries with   Guinea, Conakry in the West and Monrovia Liberia in the eastern frontiers and the Mano River Union (MRU). Sierra Leone has a good number of official border crossing points plus a plethora of porous and unmanned border crossings which poses a serious challenge in stemming the movement of people thereby making the security of these communities vulnerable to the   spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hon. Tongi said that she had to step in to make sure that the inter-district and border closure measures are maintained.
"My constituency is on the borderline with Liberia and Guinea, we have actually been friends, we are brothers and sisters but for the fact that COVID-19 is existing, we have to stop that brotherly relationship for now and save the lives of each other by letting them stay in their countries and us in ours as well, “Hon. Tongi said.

She said during the advent of the   COVID-19 pandemic in Sierra Leone (31st March, 2020), things were not well established and people were still doing their businesses and cross border trading which she had to intervened into by telling them that COVID-19 is around and is worse than the second world war and Ebola, a disease that seriously affected Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone in the year 2014. She said COVID-19 is a cold bullet that enters one's system and kill and a lot of the people never took it serious as they were doing businesses as usual.
Some two weeks ago, the Parliamentary oversight Committee on Defence undertook an assessment visit to border areas to have a first-hand look at the level of security at the country's border entry points.

“The findings of the Defence Committee were not palatable”, Hon. Afiju Kanja representing Kenema District and also doubles as the Defence Committee Chairman said.

He said they discovered millions worth of businesses just by the seaside waiting to be ferried over to Guinea, Conakry, in violation of the border closure measure announced some months ago by the Government of Sierra Leone.
"When I heard about the situation from my colleague MPs, I went there myself and spoke to the people in our mother tongue. I told them the dangers of such engagements on COVID-19 but they never took it very seriously," She said, stating that the situation prompted her to lodge an official complaint to the Secretary in the Vice President Dr. Mohamed Juldeh Jalloh's office.
The Vice President is the Chairman of the Sierra Leone Police Council and directly supervises the Sierra Leone Police Force.

She said upon receipt of her complaint  of cross border trading activities, soldiers were dispatched and deployed at the area to stop the coming in and going out of people between the three countries. Due to swift intervention by the Vice President's office, the MP said she personally wrote an official letter thanking the Presidency for the action and measures taken to put the situation under control.
She said, it was probable that things were to be taken seriously had she not intervened by officially notifying the Vice President about the security lapses in the border area.

Until two weeks ago, Kailahun District recorded no confirmed positive case of the coronavirus but as at now, it has recorded six confirmed positive coronavirus confirmed cases.
Statistically, Sierra Leone is having a growing number of new cases and increasing number of deaths as compared to her neighbours, making the situation of the pandemic worrisome for the Government, citizens and among the MRU countries.
" I think may be or maybe not, my letter and intervention gave strength to authorities to take the COVID-19 outbreak seriously in the area," Hon. Tongi said.

Responding to a question on how robust has the Sierra Leone Parliament been with the coronavirus pandemic, Hon. Emilia said, " well, I think we have been robust but we are doing our own things privately out of our own resources; buying buckets, soap, buying airtime at radio stations to educate the people, and so on and so forth." She said as the people's representatives they have been doing a lot of work, being on the ground, talking to the people, insisting and persisting so that the people can understand the dangers of the COVID-19. She said, “some of the people really do not know, some of them do not even believe if COVID-19 is real."
Unlike in the period of the Ebola outbreak when the Government provided MPs with funds to embark on massive sensitization and awareness raising in their constituencies, things have been quite different with the   COVID-19 pandemic  with MPs only being given a two weeks break to lead the COVID-19 campaign across  the one hundred and forty six constituencies in the country.
Are the current crop of MPs having the funding and logistical capacity to mount and intensive COVID-19 campaign in their constituencies, Hon. Tongi do not think so. "Well, financially and materially I do not think MPs have the capacity, we are trying to do our best but  the best we can do is to talk to our people, sensitize them and tell them that we are there as their eyes and hears," Hon. Tongi said. She said the people listen more when their elected representatives take the COVID-19 messages to them but insisted that this should be done  constantly and continuously with  other assistance of 'sunakati' as some of  the people observe the holy month of Ramadan.

There has been political tension between the main opposition APC party and the Government with several arrests and detentions of high profile politicians. Hon. Emilia feels this is not helping the COVID-19 campaign and making the atmosphere less conductive to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the country and to her neighbours.
" A lot has to been done in quelling the rising political tension in the country, “She said, noting that there is a need for another lockdown citing that Europe did it for two and more months.
Hon. Emilia said: "If we can really close down the country for at least one week or at most two weeks completely, then we will actually fight and end this pandemic."
There has been divided opinions on the need for a lengthier lockdown in Sierra Leone but this has been a debate revolving around the protection of  lives versus livelihoods, as many Sierra Leoneans live subsistence lifestyle of earn to mouth. Hon. Tongi asked, "So are people preferring death to that of a lockdown, let us compare, you die or stay in the House for a week or two and live."

She nonetheless said that the State of Emergency that was declared by President Julius Maada Bio some close to two months ago is not effective at all with the partial curfew and inter-district lockdown being compromised for money by some unscrupulous officials. She predicted that "people will fall dead on the streets like that if we do not take the situation seriously, probably we are saying our last words, honestly."
By May 18th , 2020, Sierra Leone's Ministry of Information and Communication COVID-19 Update reported a total of 519 cumulative confirm positive cases, 33 deaths (highest in the Mano River Union), 14 active new cases,338 in isolation centers, 148 recoveries, 2,111 in quarantine and 2,532 discharge from quarantine.


Story By Melvin Tejan Mansaray


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