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Beyond the obvious: the challenges besetting statecraft in Sierra Leone

  • Ernest Bai Koroma, President of Sierra Leone

By Umaru Fofana 

In March 2016 Moijueh Kaikai and Mustapha Bai Attila were sacked as Sierra Leone's Minister and Deputy Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs respectively. It followed their involvement in a disgraceful, distasteful and disgusting public brawl of humiliating proportions. There was an outcry. But in a country of sensation and coverup, we let that pass. Without demanding that the allegations made in that public brouhaha be looked into, if only to ward off any such in the future. 

In 2014 the State House Chief of Staff, Dr Richard Konteh was sacked for his alleged involvement in the export of timber when there was a ban on the trade. A State House press release stated that the president had in fact instructed Dr Konteh to allow the export but of a certain quantity only, which he allegedly exceeded. 

No one was concerned about the fact that the president had given what at the very least amounted to an inappropriate instruction for the shipment, no matter the amount, when the ban on the trade had still not been lifted. 

A deputy minister of education, Mahmud Tarawallie was sacked following allegations that he raped a university student who’d sought favour to benefit from an overseas scholarship. We all know how overseas scholarships are awarded in this country - nothing new or strange. Apart from the US embassy who award theirs themselves - and competitively so - virtually every other is based on partisan interests.

Mr Tarawallie would later be acquitted by a magistrate court on the grounds sex was consensual. No one - not even women’s groups - would be bothered by the fact that even if it was, this was a state official in the education ministry doing so with a female student in apparent exchange for a scholarship. That is nothing short of an abuse of office; which is an offence. Next we heard he’d been reappointed as deputy minister albeit in another ministry. 

Now the ladies who replaced the gentlemen as gender and children’s minister and deputy have also been sacked for the same reason their predecessors were shown the door. 

Being the usual public that we are, we’ve been blown away by the frenzy. The good job done by the sacked officials has been lost in us. With three months to election, inter and intra party squabbles plus the gullibility frenzy have taken away. 

There’s no love lost between Dr Sylvia Blyden and me; but truth be told she did some remarkable things in trying to fight theft and other wastage in that ministry even if her approach could be faulted. Her advice in the Muslim pilgrimage, if heeded, would have saved those Muslims - some of them pretty old men and women - the humiliation the last Hajj brought about. For all you know those investigations may soon collapse. When last did you hear about them? Has one of them not been given a party executive position? By the latter question, I’m not blaming it on the anti corruption commission. The earlier our political parties set standards for appointing their officials the better for our system of governance. 

Rugiatu Neneh Koroma neé Turay may have her limitations - we all do - but she’s a very hardworking and remarkable woman. I’ve known her since her days at the Milton Margai College of Education. She’s a life long campaigner against FGM. And she’s made no secret about that. Her boss has had some romance with those who initiate women into that very FGM. That is her right, doubtless. But to have appointed two women so diametrically opposed to each other on a key agenda in that ministry was a fundamental blunder President Koroma made. A recipe for conflict and dysfunction. But let’s leave that and concern ourselves with some of the issues raised in what would be their last radio interview as minister and deputy. 

When Kaikai and Atilla were sacked the reasons for their brawl were never looked into. Atilla raised issues of marginalisation, brinkmanship, the lack of tools needed to function such as vehicle tyres not being replaced, fuel gallonage not given, overseas trips abused, etc. 

The office in charge of public officials - I don’t care to know what it’s called because it seems ineffective - didn’t bother to look into these anomalies let alone correct them. And I know for certain that they exist in other ministries too. Mrs Koroma is now saying that she had cause to twice spend the night on the road due to defective tyres to her vehicle, blaming it on Dr Blyden. I do not think that is for the minister to deal with where things function as they should. 

Now, no Minister should scratch their heads to have their vehicle fixed or fuelled. That is provided the use of the vehicles is for official state functions only. 

The use of state vehicles here is such that you don’t know when it ceases to be for the state, a political party or just some personal stuff. So much so that registration plates are covered with black cloth in broad day light. 

Also, if there’s a dispute between a minister and their deputy is the resolution of such the business of their political party as stated by Mrs Koroma, or should there be a state institution to handle that? 

And parliament is not helping either. For weeks and possibly months they have been named in some of the allegations around the same ministry and they’ve been reticent at best. The House should set partisan interests aside and put the kibosh on issues affecting the functioning of the state. 

Until we get our governance right, until public offices function as they should and officials behave as mandated, these frictions are bound to continue. And the lack of a proper internal means of seeking redress only means they’ll spill over to the public domain in unpleasant ways. Consequently, the mind and time of officials will continue to shift from fighting for the well-being of the state, to fighting each other in their own parochial interests. And the state suffers! We all suffer! 

(C) 2017 Politico Online.