From the editor
A Bridge across the Estuary
Infrastructure for economic growth is vital in pushing national development. It serves as a main module of investment climate. It is a complex matter to economic growth.
Charles Abuka, in Infrastructure, Regional Integration and Growth in Africa said, business communities across the continent have always cited problems with roads, rail, energy, and telecommunications amongst other infrastructure as principal limitations to economic growth in Africa. Fostering regional or even sub regional integration for instance, would require good road infrastructure. Where this is lacking, it hinders the chances of trade between nations. There is so much, countries could gain through regional road infrastructure particularly in improving on intra-regional trade. It therefore makes a great deal of sense when a country puts huge percent of her development funding to improving infrastructure.
Sierra Leone continues to witness increased spending on infrastructure and other capital projects, at one point, listing infrastructural expansion as priority area in her growth trajectory when it rolled-out the largest road construction programme. Last June, the country held a tender process for the construction of an eight kilometer bridge, linking Freetown and Lungi, with $2 Billion funding needed for the construction, expected to last for a period not exceeding six years. The design life of the bridge is 120 years, with potential to create 5000 jobs yearly. The country, based on estimates, will benefit $11.2 billion in 25 years.
With public reaction sharply divided, some see it as a way of addressing the horrendous challenge of travelling from the airport in Lungi to Freetown, a distance of less than 12 nautical miles. However, questions have been asked as to why government could cancel a $318 dollar airport project which had been seen initially as huge spending, but now seeking billions of dollar investment.
Mamamah Airport, about 100km northeast of Freetown, was to be financed by the Chinese through the Export- Import Bank (Exim-Bank), the world’s third largest export credit agency with a mandate to “implement state policies in industry, foreign trade and economy, finance and foreign affairs.” The project was to help bring about economic growth, job creation and easier access. It also was to serve as a catalyst for local economic development with an ability to generate jobs and attract new businesses, help with the city’s extension, bring about new hotel facilities, new settlements, and new public sector investments which were eventually going to improve the economy. But the International Monetary Fund- the IMF saw the project as a “vanity project” claiming, it was going to cost the country over 10% of her Gross Domestic Project. The project was subsequently cancelled in 2018, following the election of a new government.
The public is made to believe that the $2billion (about 18 trillion Leones) Lungi Bridge infrastructural investment will be at no cheap cost. This looks misleading because, funds generated will be public funds even if it is on a model of Build, Own, Operate and Transfer (BOOT) and cost recovered through toll fees. In 2016, parliament ratified an agreement for the widening of the Wellington-Masiaka Highway into four-lanes (62 Km) between the Government and China Railway Seventh Group on a BOT platform- to Build, Operate, and Transfer. The said funds coming from those toll fees are nothing but public fund. So, it would be untruthful to suggest the airport construction will come at no cost to the people of Sierra Leone even on a BOOT model.
Another critical aspect is the need for a sovereign debt guarantee by the state to convince the project lenders that it will take certain actions or desist from taking actions affecting the project. Without a sovereign guarantee, the project cannot go ahead. And this is perilous because no investor would want to invest such huge billions of dollars without some kind of guarantee issued by the host government. Where we default in meeting the payment agreement in the long term, the country may end up having investors taking possession. This happened in Sri Lanka with the Chinese.
No doubt, the country had long needed a bridge linking the capital and Lungi. However, the argument that the bridge will come with some multiplier effects such as the employing thousands of skilled and unskilled Sierra Leoneans does not add value to its justification because the airport project would have done same. Besides, the airport would have been far less expensive than we are now being told of the pending bridge.
It was good having president assure that infrastructural investment should be financed in a way that the public and future generations are not liable for that debt and as such the country was “not going to build a bridge or an airport for which the people of Sierra Leone are going to pay back a high-interest loan for 10, 20, or 30 years.” However, in whatever way one looks at it, asking investors to pump $2billion dollars is nothing but asking them to loan us their money and in return, they recoup with interest.
A $2billion for a bridge across the estuary would mean, adding to the economic difficulties the country is faced with even in the long term. These funds could be used to provide other social needs that are of priority like clean drinking water, reliable electricity generation and distribution and enhancing our broken health and justice sectors.
Prioritizing the fundamentals of human development is strategic. This is all what Sierra Leone would need in the coming decade(s). The government should reconsider and seek investors that would pour capital funding in the energy and agriculture sectors which are also strong engines for economic growth. Spending more on education can also be a good move, which remains a flagship project of this administration through the free education scheme. We must work towards empowering the people even at the local levels.
Seeking investors that would put trillions of Leones into the construction a bridge will come with a plethora of environmental and economic implications. No investor is coming for free; they are coming with a mindset of profit making. The president may have good desires for country growth but the need to diversify our development needs at this crucial time is also needed. A bridge is needed but we rather would need more ‘bridges’ that would better serve us as a people both in the short and long terms.
Enough of the Political Tensions
I am a worried citizen. Worried not because of the difficult economic situations in the country, but given the unending political tensions that keep disturbing our peace and tranquility as a country. We must bear in mind that we have made serious gains over the years as a country and whatever we should do to sustain those gains, we must work towards that.
It is sad that our politicians have not realized that elections are over. There is nothing we could do as a people if we don’t come together and work collectively for the general good. It behooves our political leaders, especially those in power to work towards unifying the country. We expect same from opposition parties, but the responsibility is mostly that of those managing state affairs. It was a good start to have called for a conference on peace and national cohesion. That however isn’t enough; we must put into actions, our commitments and words.
Government should ensure those institutions that are critical to building on our peace, democracy and rule of law are fully functional. It should not be seen as we are in an electioneering period. It is sad, that when we compare ourselves to other countries in the sub region, we are not making realistic progress and this is unacceptable. Let the political tensions come to an end.
Saidu Sankoh- Jui
Donor Funding and Our Development
I am an averred reader of news via the local press. I recently read of our government signing a 50$m financing agreement with the World Bank. The said amount was to help improve our distribution and transmission of electricity. It always remains impressive, seeing institutions like World Bank IMF and even donor nations like the Chinese supporting us. But how long should this be happening?
We appear to be having a challenge with meeting our obligations to funding domestic projects by way of paying taxes and supporting other institutions like NRA and even councils across the country. There is no way we could achieve our development aspirations without us seriously committing ourselves to the process by way of supporting the process. This is where I think we could come in collectively and individually. Whilst donor nations are supporting us, we must be well prepared to also support ourselves.
Thanking the ACC Czar
I write to express my appreciation to the Commissioner of the Anti-Corruption Commission for his strides towards tackling corruption. Agreed that the country was making gains and made good moves by way of empowering the Commission when it was given prosecutorial powers. We saw a lot of prosecutions during the former government and that was a success.
What I have also come to realize is that beyond prosecution is the need to recover funds embezzled. I hold the view, that is a good move and one for which the current ACC Chief should be commended. I would also suggest the commission intensifies its public education drives which I guess will help in the prevention aspect.
Sir, it also will be good if the Commission goes beyond investigating former officials. There must be challenging aspect when it comes to issues of corruption and meeting best practices since the new government was elected. Seeing some actions in this direction will also be good. Overall, I say kudus to the current ACC Chief!
Lucy Brima- Freetown
Commercial Drivers & the Law
There is unending negative attitude of commercial (poda poda) drivers shuttling between Waterloo to Patton/Bombay Street, verse-versa. The legitimately designated final stop for all “poda poda” vehicles coming from Waterloo is Bombay Street and for those coming from Bombay Street, it is Waterloo, with the official fee of three thousand Leones per passenger for either way. However, this is no longer the case especially at rush hours. And this practice is nothing new either.
During rush hours, “half way” is the norm. Is there any law governing these commercial drivers? What is the government through the Ministry of transport doing to remedy such perennial problem? What is the role of particularly the traffic police in addressing this challenge?
I recall when the “New Direction” government was sworn into office and how policemen would force drivers along Patton Street to carry passengers directly to Waterloo. Indeed, their work was applauded as it was yielding dividend. I therefore call on the law enforcement bodies to regulate drivers plying this route.
Ibrahim Tarawallie- Waterloo
Send your letters to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Is Our Democracy Under Threat?
Democracy requires that state institutions like the police, courts and anti-graft bodies should not be used to intimidate opponents. It provides for the media to be allowed to operate freely and independently and civil right groups should be seen to be vocal and providing an alternative voice to critical national issues.
The rule of law and social justice, above all, must not be violated if democracy should thrive. Constitutional order forms the base on which democracy is nurtured, but where constitutional provisions are violated at random, it becomes worrying. How far has Sierra Leone come in this regard? The country has been enjoying multiparty democracy for over two decades. Recent developments however suggest, her democratic credentials have continued to face challenges.
Bintumani Conference on Peace and National Cohesion:
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission todays serves as Sierra Leone’s blueprint for development and national cohesion. But to what extent have we gone in sustaining our peace and national cohesion? The fact that the country is still talking about setting up a peace commission shows we haven’t made much progress.
During the month of May, the government called for a national conference on peace and cohesion dubbed the Bintumani 3 conference. The hosting of the conference was made public by president Bio in May, 2019 during the State Opening of Parliament. The conference came amidst rising political tension in the country. Speaking at the opening session on May 23rd, President Julius Bio encouraged all to “continue our efforts to build solid institutions that will enable us to consolidate democratic practices and enhance national cohesion.”
The fact that three of the country’s main opposition parties, the All People’s Congress, the People’s Movement for Democratic Change and the Coalition For Change boycotted the conference was a clear manifestation of how sharply divided the country remains.
A week to the conference, former Vice President Sam Sumana also rejected an invitation extended to him by the government to chair a session on ‘Promoting Social Cohesion, Culture of Peace and Democracy’ at the conference. The government had earlier, stripped off Sumana’s state security details, arguing that he was not a retired, but rather, a sacked vice president and was therefore not entitled to such facility. The action itself came after the former vice president had visited his former boss, President Koroma, with whom he was having a strain relationship following his sacking in 2015.
Citing inadequate notice to reschedule activities that the former Vice President may have committed himself to, outside the country as a reason for his nonattendance, the National Secretary General of the Coalition For Change, in a letter written to the government, through the Ministry of Political and Public Affairs said they were hopeful, as a party, that “all relevant treaties and/or protocols are adhered to, and that a Nation First approach is adopted as a precursor to social and peaceful cohesion, ultimately resulting in the promotion of real democracy in Sierra Leone.” A nation cannot be seen preaching peace but yet undermining those institutions which foster peaceful coexistence and with appointments being made on tribal lines.
Strengthening Democratic Institutions:
On the occasion of the State Opening of Parliament in May 2019, President Julius Bio spoke of government’s commitment to “strengthening democratic institutions”, not least, the National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR), the Political Parties Registration Commission (PPRC), National Electoral Commission, the Independent Media Commission (IMC), National Commission for Democracy (NCD), and Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). Committing to strengthening democratic institutions is as encouraging as the need to make practical by way of action, such commitments. When such institutions are weak or become too political in the execution of their constitutional mandates, they end up undermining the core tenets of democracy.
The need for an impartial Political Parties Registration Commission is vital to holding on the values of democracy and good governance. Where consultation should be done, it is crucial, such is done. For instance, the appointment of a new Chairman of the Political Parties Registration Commission was done without consultation with political parties as required by law. A spokesman for the main opposition APC, Cornelius O M Deveaux said they were not consulted.
“When our parliamentary leadership was consulted, they directed the government to the Party’s leadership but the government never did”, Deveaux said.
A cabinet reshuffle in mid May 2019 saw the appointment of the country’s ruling party’s secretary-General as the new Deputy Justice Minister, something that clearly points to conflict of interest. His appointment was seen as a positive pointer to empowering young people. However, the fact that he still remained the ruling party’s scribe undermines the chances of reducing partisan politics in the running of state affairs and in building on our gains, democratically.
Whatever the outcome, it is encouraging, also that the president has committed to developing the capacities of democratic institutions “through adequate funding, qualified and competent human resources, as well as efficient and effective systems and procedures.” What however remains a major test is ensuring their independence and making them apolitical, as would be required if our democracy is to be seen fully functional.
Ensuring an Independent Judiciary:
An independent judiciary is also crucial. Given the role it could play in promoting democracy, the country’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission called on the judiciary “not to permit laws or practices to stand which are contrary to justice or which undermine the rights to liberty, equality and justice” and for it (the judiciary) “to uphold the values that underlie an open and democratic society”, including human dignity, equality and freedom.
That the courts have become the new ground for proxy fight between and amongst political parties is not only a worrying development for our democracy, it also undermines the foundation on which a peaceful and tranquil society is built. It took 14 months, against the four months period stipulated by the constitution, for the courts to decide on petitions filed at the High Court against a group of elected members of parliament from the main opposition All People’s Congress. The petitions were brought forward for various electoral malpractices allegedly committed during the country’s last presidential and parliamentary elections that ushered in the current president.
The outcome of those petitions, leading to the APC losing 10 parliamentary seats, drew wider criticism not just from the affected party, but from other opposition parties, including the NGC, C4C and the Alliance Democratic Party. The court outcome was also seen as derailing the sincerity of the peace and national cohesion conference that ended just few days by government prior to the court verdicts. Sadly, the verdict saw people who were not elected by majority votes going to parliament as representatives of the people. Section 146 of the Public Elections Act 2012 wasn’t meant to enable an otherwise unpopular candidate represent the people. Where an election is declared void, the law requires another election.
Another critical issue in building on our democracy is how the country’s Chief Justice is appointed. The appointment of the current Chief Justice, which was done in violation of Section 135 of the constitution was not only criticized by the country’s Bar Association, it also drew criticism from legal experts. Section 135 of the country’s multiparty constitution calls for the Judicial and Legal Service Commission to meet and recommend a name for such an appointment.
Seeming Disappearance of Civil Society Voice:
Civil society groups form the vanguard of democracy, serving as critical component to fostering participatory democracy and in holding government officials accountable. They have always been major players in the country’s peace building processes and in nurturing cohesion, often providing critical voice to national issues. President Bio, during the State opening of Parliament in December 2018 referred to the media and civil society as having “become the bedrock of modern governance” and that in Sierra Leone, both media and civil right groups “are at the forefront in holding state actors accountable.” However, since the 2018 presidential elections there has been an ostensible demise of critical civil rights voice on national issues. While the platform to freely operate without fear appears to be diminishing, there is need to reflect on this disquieting state of affairs in a bid to strengthen our democracy.
In a May 2019 press statement, civil society groups condemned what they described as “repeated attack on activists and human rights defenders” The civil right groups were concerned “at the shrinking space for inclusive political participation and dialogue” in the country whilst also “unequivocally” condemned “attacks and intimidation on civil society leaders including the Executive Director of Campaign for Good Governance (CGG)” someone that has always publicly expressed critical views on governance challenges. The attacks are aimed at silencing critical civic voices on national issues and this has the chance of reducing the space for political participation.
Efforts to mute critical views have been ongoing for a while. In December 2018, government approved a new regulatory policy guideline aimed at tightening operations of Non-Governmental Organizations, known as the Development Cooperation Framework (DCF). The document itself provides for a mandatory membership of all NGOs with the Sierra Leone Association of Non-Governmental Organizations (SLANGO). It also provides for a mandatory administrative structure, which stipulates that 70% of all donor funds to an NGO must be directed to targeted beneficiaries and 30% towards administrative costs.
An extremely contentious provision is that all NGOs and CSOs should bring into line their work or development programs to the government’s growth program. Implicitly, therefore, priorities identified by government must be the priorities of NGOs. Representatives of Civil Society Organizations saw the Development Cooperation Framework as having great prospective to frustrate and diminish civil society space. The Development Cooperation Framework (DCF) itself has severe restrictions that tend to impinge on the rights to freedom of expression and association. Calling for a more robust action by civil society groups, Abdul M. Fatoma of Campaign for Human Rights and Development International (CHRDI) said, “Civil society must regain the higher moral ground by direct citizen action and questioning the political causes of poverty, rather than play the game of accommodation with those maintaining the status quo and denying those causes.”
Allow Democratic Institutions to Work:
The government has the responsibility to ensure those institutions serving as the building blocks to sustaining our gains function effectively. The police should be supported to perform their constitutional duties fairly. Above all, they must be seen to be professional at all times. People should not lose their jobs based on their tribe or region. Depoliticizing the workings of governments, especially those democratic institutions could go a long way in sustaining the peace we achieved over a decade ago and in fostering national cohesion.
The courts cannot be seen to be selective on the administration of justice. The petition cases by both the APC and SLPP and how they have been handled by the courts is a matter of public concern. That, the Chief Justice could not assign or enlist an action of the Sierra Leone Bar Association against the Government regarding the ongoing Commissions of Inquiry is not only heartbreaking but completely against the fairness when it comes to the dispensation of justice. The media should be seen to be operating freely by providing critical voice to issues of national interest. Review of the 1965 Public Order Act must form part of this government’s sincere commitment to strengthening our democracy that should go beyond the theoretical framework. Our democracy must be jealously defended and it takes the country’s collective efforts to do so, devoid of where one stands.
A country should not be heard preaching peace when it keeps sacking people who have security of tenure in the statute and the constitution or when a Speaker is imposed on the majority party in parliament. As the president said at the opening of the B3 conference, governance processes have been characterized by “discriminatory and divisive practices that have unfairly and unjustly excluded sections of our population.” To date, we are still facing the same scenario as a country and this in a way undermines and threatens our democratic credentials.
Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella: Weak parliament, partially effective opposition
Many had seen the National Grand Coalition as a better alternative to the two old traditional parties, the APC and SLPP especially when it had had come with the message of ‘change’ and the Salone Fors’ mantra. Over a year in existence, suggestions are that the party hasn’t lived up to expectations in terms of providing better and sound alternative voice and an effective opposition in the country.
Alhaji Dr. Kandeh Kolleh Yumkella, leader of the NGC in parliament, has had years of global experience, having worked with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) as Director-General. He also was the United Nations Under-Secretary-General and Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for all, amongst other portfolios he held in the UN body.
Born in 1959, Dr. Yumkella, an agricultural economist also served a junta led government when he was in 1994 he got appointed Minister of Trade and Industry under the National Provisional Ruling Council, due to “youthful exuberance” but had to resign because he thought by then “the situation in governance was not right.”
Returning home in 2015 to reengage in party politics, Dr. Yumkella was faced with a lot of controversies, amongst them, his membership with the Sierra Leone People’s Party, his late father’s party. He subsequently left the SLPP when they were according to him, “pushed out by the injustice in the party at that time”, eventually forming his NGC.
In this exclusive interview with SierraEye Magazine in his office at parliament, Hon. Kandeh Yumkella denied suggestions that his decision to leave the SLPP was borne out of some frantic efforts to rule Sierra Leone at all cost. He also opened up on what parliament has been like, stating that it has been weak, strongly convinced too, that the opposition has been partially effective. We started off by looking at his early life:
You were born in Kychom, Samu Chiefdom, in the Kambia District. Can you tell us about your early life growing up in this part of Sierra Leone?
I grew up in a period in Sierra Leone in two phases; phase one as a kid up to ending secondary school. Sierra Leone was a wonderful place. We had the best educational system from primary all the way to college. We had very good teachers who took care of us as if we were their own kids. They made us competitive as well. Phase two, in the university, things were getting harder and we became very militant at that time, advocating for students’ rights, political freedoms in the country. The four years as an undergrad made us mature very quickly because we were always in demonstrations. We were part of the demonstrations in 1977. I was Senior Prefect at Christ the King College (CKC). From that time, we became very much interested and active in politics until from there, when i went to the United States.
What was your dream job? Did you envision that you would play such an important role nationally and internationally?
No. My dream then was just to be very educated. We had our friends whose parents were teaching at Njala University College and they had told us that smart people should have what is called a PhD. We didn’t know what it meant, because their parents had PhDs; so we wanted PhD. Our dream was just education. All we wanted was knowledge and to be very bright. Hanging around my father and my uncle in Bo, Dr. Yillah, of course one had bigger ambitions as well. I wanted to be like them. I just knew that beyond education, I had to be something big. In terms of career, I wanted to be a medical doctor because I admired my two uncles who were medical doctors, while all their wives were also nurses. But my father changed all of that. He insisted that I go into agriculture.
By December 2005, you were made Director-General of the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO), what would you consider your achievements in this position?
That was like the pinnacle of my career in a sense that I got elected to that position as the first black sub-Saharan African. Before that for twenty years, there had been about three or four candidates from sub-Saharan Africa. I won by a landslide, purely out of competence. I was an inside candidate, which usually is difficult but I competed and I got backing from around the world. I did well so that my second term, i went unopposed. I was voted by acclamation. There was no other competitor.
I pushed reform in the organization; I created an energy department which later on had a huge portfolio of programmes. I supported the Environmental Department; I more than doubled the technical cooperation delivery of the organization. When I was leaving, I left huge pipeline of programmes. I built big partnerships with the European Union. When I came in, we were doing projects worth 10-15 million dollars with the EU. By the time I left we had pushed that to almost 30-40 million. The environmental projects grew. I also supported Trade Capacity Building and meeting international quality standards to help developing countries gain markets.
In my second term, I became a little more radical. I decided to bring in Harvard University, Grandfield and Stanford to help us do what we called Change Management in the whole organization; to change the whole computer systems there, through what we called Enterprise Resource Planning system. I introduced oracle into the organization with compete change management. Of course we ran into problem; financing became very tough but fortunately I had built reserves.
It is one of the best jobs one can ever dream of. I was part of the CEO Board of the Secretary-General’s office. In that Board I could view first-hand, the financial crisis from 2007 till about 2009-2010. I was part of the Secretary-Generals ad-hoc committee to lead the Rio plus 20 Summit in Brazil, which was the third summit on Sustainable Development. I did two jobs at the same time; I volunteered to lead energy systems, the UN Energy Group for which I chaired for eight years.
I created Sustainable Development Goal number Seven and I laid the foundation for Sustainable Development Goal Nine. So if you hear everybody talk about Agenda 2030, I contributed to two of the Sustainable Development Goals. Sustainable Development Goal Seven is on energy and Sustainable Development Goal number nine is on industrialization and infrastructure. I was convinced that African countries cannot fight poverty without creating wealth to grow their economies like the Asians have done. You cannot do it without access to reliable and affordable energy and at the same time, they must diversify their economies into industrialization.
You came to national limelight in 1994 when you served as Minister of Trade and Industry under the National Provisional Ruling Council. Why did you accept to serve under a military junta?
Maybe you can say it was youthful enthusiasm in my head. I was still an activist in those days even though I was an Assistant Professor at Michigan State. I was still involved deeply with Sierra Leone issues with a number of other young Sierra Leonean Professors. We were networking; we created a group, called Coalition for Social Democratic Change in the early 1990s. We wanted to push JS Momoh to allow multiparty system. We used to meet with Professor Jimmy Kandeh, Professor IB Abdallah and some other friends. So, we were always connected.
I was teaching then when I was contacted. Call it youthful exuberance; I said maybe I could try it; I consulted colleagues and within two weeks, I packed up and came home to serve. It was war time and tough. I was here when the rebels first got to Mile 38. I was behind the scenes and consulted a lot by the UN about Bintumani 1 and the transition to democracy. Then I resigned and went back to academia and from there I joined the UN. It is also one of the wonderful experiences I had.
What were the circumstances that led to your resignation from this position?
I thought by then that the situation in governance was not right. I had come here with an open mind to serve the country and I felt I was not as effective as I should be. I don’t hold on to position because of titles. In those days, my father and others were trying to revive the SLPP; people were interested in me staying and run for office but I chose to go back to academia. In a way my instinct was right, because three weeks after I left, there was a coup. You can call it divine guidance that my instinct was right that there was something going on.
And you returned home to reengage in party politics. How did you arrive at that decision?
That was a difficult one. As I said, I was, I was at the pinnacle of my career. I was an Under Secretary General; I could have stayed at the UN for another 10-15 years. I resigned and decided to come home at a time when the country still had ebola. I arrived here in August 2015. This was a very difficult period to come home but I made the sacrifice and came. I have been here since then, almost four years.
Under what circumstances did you decide to leave the SLPP?
We were pushed out by the injustice in the party at that time. So a group of us took the decision that we would leave. We struggled through different processes; membership was overturned; we endured to reapply. So we went through all kinds of unconstitutional motions. There were times we were denied access to offices; our posters were burnt in party offices across the country. We faced such hostility and injustice. We went to the courts and justice was never delivered by the courts. We endured for three years and we decided to do something different.
Some of your critics say your decision to leave the SLPP was borne out of your frantic desire to rule Sierra Leone at all cost. How do you react to this criticism?
I left because the processes were not transparent. Rules were not followed; methods were used that were not constitutional. Look at how many times our delegates won lower level elections and how many times they were overturned. People are refusing to understand that we fight for justice and constitutionality and not just power. Countries deserve the leadership they get but we fight for values and those values we have never backed away from.
How will you describe your current relationship with President Julius M. Bio?
My relationship with the present government and the president himself is very cordial. I recognize him as president of the republic; he won the elections. Our party and I have taken a position that we would be a constructive opposition. We have proven for one year that indeed we are constructive and we have behaved as an independent party and very issue focused. We critique, we provide ideas and we support good things that the government has done. When they have also gone against the rules of parliament, the constitution, we have also spoken out.
So, I believe that I, personally, have demonstrated what it means to be an independently minded person that is focused on values that center on justice, constitutionality and good governance. This is a very bipolar country; people expect you to lean and so we have gone through the pains of being vilified when we oppose things that the government is not doing right. We have gone through the pains of being vilified when we support the government. We have chosen to continue as a party and personally as leader of the party in parliament to be independent and focus on the values that made us establish the NGC.
Will you consider an offer of a ministerial or any other appointment from President Bio?
I have enjoyed being a parliamentarian. I have shown that we can be constructive and support good initiative by government. I did the same for APC but people tried to rewrite the narrative. We like what we are doing now and we will continue doing what the people want us to do.
Your party, the National Grand Coalition (NGC) was supposed to be a coalition of all the smaller parties that would have formed a third force to the two main parties. Why did this not happen?
We tried several scenarios; scenario of coalition with parties; scenario of starting a new party; scenario of adopting another party; all kinds of ideas were debated. We felt that the country needed a new platform and we created a new platform-a coalition of progressives, rather than a coalition of parties. At the same we sought to have strategic alliance with other parties. What we realized was, politics in Sierra Leone in particular is very much based on three dimensions; the self is first, the tribe then the community. Nation comes number four or five.
Unfortunately in discussions with people, they assess politics within that frame. We have seen entities we spoke with to have coalition or strategic alliances; everybody wanted to have it their own way and everybody wanted to be on the ballot when indeed they knew, they didn’t have support. Look at the results, none of the other parties could even get 2% of the votes. In a way I was vindicated by some who said they were more experienced than us. We just knew that the youth wanted change.
The first people to protest that something was wrong with the elections during the first round were the SLPP; they did a press release. Second was the NGC; third was C4C then the APC. APC only realized the elections were not good when they started losing and they in fact documented better than we did, what was wrong with the electioneering process. For example, we had already said that all the results for every district should be tallied and announced in the district. In the second round that was what APC demanded. We complained of duplicate RRF forms, that numbers were been changed, but they ignored it in the first round. But in the second round, suddenly the APC itself documented even more than we did, what was wrong.
Now we see that being repeated in places like Tonko Limba. So the whole role of NEC, we have to take a look at that. We believe, if we had not been hounded by the government of the day; they fought my candidacy more than any candidacy in the country. The fact that I am even here one year later is credit to me. People forget what I endured through the campaigns. We did our best in those elections. They deliberately delayed the registration of our party till five months before the elections. We were still at the Supreme Court till the week before the elections.
Quite a number of prominent NGC members have left the party and joined the ruling SLPP, are you disappointed about this? Are you worried about the future of NGC?
Not at all; remember, we are a coalition of progressives and of people who were not happy with happenings in their parties and we had this number of people who had never been in politics. For them, this was their experiment; they came full force, young people; we paid their candidature fees. We did that maybe out of altruism and the belief that we should give an opportunity to people to have a chance in governance. So, when we lost some went back to their political parties.
For some, they wanted short-term victory. Others were in for the long haul. That is another dimension of Sierra Leone politics; it is about patronage. Our corrupt kleptocratic system has built a patronage system. So people know when you get power you have access to wealth, almost like feudal Europe; you are close to the royalty you get land, good education and good opportunity. In Sierra Leone, it is patronage. People know they have to associate and the moment it doesn’t work for some, they move on and go where there is hope that they can also have access to wealth. This is because of the governance structure, the lack of equal opportunity as well as lack of economic space for people to excel as entrepreneurs and so on.
So we hold no animosity to people. Remember what we did. For the runoff, we told supporters they were free to make a choice. So we stay true to our values. So, they who are leaving we have not been angry with them. We understand their circumstances. We know those for whom it has been very personal and some were clear that they couldn’t wait five or ten years in opposition, they needed benefits now.
Now I hear people talk more about tribalism. Those who hounded us the most are the ones expecting us to defend them. We have spoken when we needed to, we have challenged issues; you saw us at Bintumani 3. We went to the peace conference for good reason because we believe things are wrong in this country. Tribalism and identity politics is one of them. We campaigned heavily against corruption. We wanted accountability. Again part of the mafia mobilized money to fight me. We now see those who were ringleaders expecting us to be their cheerleaders. No, we are focused on justice and we have done things to say we hold no grudge.
Are you disappointed that the Supreme Court has not yet delivered a decision on the case regarding your eligibility to contest the last Presidential elections?
There are so many cases in front of them. Ours was finished; all they needed to do was to write judgment which they wrote and everybody went to court for them to read it, they said one of their colleague was not properly dressed and they left. Since then, there has been no word. So this is justice delayed and it is the same for everybody. There are cases put in front of the court by the Bar Association. There are other cases and some are very simple opinions. In the UK, Supreme Court could give an opinion in 3 days. When one citizen challenged Theresa May about Brexit, the decision was given with a reasonable period. Here, no. Things are just left.
I strongly believe that part of the tension in the country is the lack of justice. It is in the TRC report that the lack of justice drove a lot of people into protests, into rebellion and nothing has changed. We saw it right through these four years and it is across the board. The justice system is such a critical part of governance that even for us politicians to defend the right of others, we have to be sure that there is a justice system that would adjudicate in their favor. We have to be sure that even us who will be protesting (it is my right as a politician to lead a demonstration) but I have to be sure that i will be defended in court. And we saw that happening here in the 60s and 70s when judges would say no to the government. But it hasn’t happened here in the last fifteen years.
What has your first year in Parliament been like?
It has been a learning experience. I have seen the importance of parliament first hand. Every law is passed there. All big agreements have to go through parliament. If parliament just rubberstamps every agreement, this country is in trouble. That is what happened for the last ten years. That is so much that went wrong. So, the role of parliament is so crucial that if it works well, you would not even need an Anti-Corruption agency because parliament is in charge of oversight. Every ministry is to be accountable to parliament. But parliament currently lacks that capacity to do all the work we are supposed to do.
Most of our parliamentarians don’t have offices and people leave the provinces to come here. They are supposed to have resources to go to their constituencies. In every other country, they build offices. I have been to Ghana, I have seen their offices. We don’t even have PAs. So imagine you are on five committees and you are supposed to perform. In Ghana, their research group alone received about five million dollars from the World Bank to build their capacity to do economic analysis because they have the power of appropriation. It is parliament that decides how much money goes to each ministry because we have to do appropriation. Government makes the budget but we can change it in parliament.
Our parliament compared to the others is very weak. So I have been advocating for capacity building for parliament for this one year. So it has been a wonderful experience, learning from colleagues who have been there, reading more the constitution now than i ever did before; the rules of procedure and also now having the opportunity to interact with other parliaments to see how they function, the way they vote, the way they analyze. We are there to represent the people, not just to make speeches. We have a long way to go to be able to function as an equal arm of government, to provide the necessary checks and balances, to make sure we don’t have too much power in the executive.
In a 2018 interview you had with Sierra Leone Telegraph, you spoke of hidden actions to prevent you-MPs, from being effective in your job. Are such actions inclusive of petitions initiated against opposition MPs much as we need to know your position regarding those cases and their outcome?
It comes back to the fundamental issue of justice. The constitution is clear. You finish those cases in four months. Leaving them hanging over parliament I think makes parliament dysfunctional. Let parliament settle to do the work. Apart from the councilors, we are the only elected officials. We are not serving at the pleasure of the executive. I hope that my role in parliament will encourage more young people and professionals wanting to be in parliament. You need good parliamentarians if you are going to have good governance in this country, if you are going to have checks and balance and accountability.
In addition, there are some who are deliberately destabilizing our constituencies. They are going after a number of us in the opposition to make sure that we don’t come back. That is ongoing and I can say that as a fact. Some of us have been able to go back to our constituencies to defuse tensions. There is not a fair allocation of resources across the country. This is one of the things the Kenyan Peace Commission does; they look at equity allocation across the country. They do ethnic audit to make sure that one ethnic group does not dominate services in the country. It is by law; no ethnic group should have more than 30%. These are the things I want to work on now.
How effective do you think the present opposition in parliament is?
The current opposition has been partly effective and I think part of it is because of the petition cases. Part of it also is that we have not really organized ourselves to be a formidable opposition. We have not coordinated well enough our positions on issues. But all in all, we’ve tried. It is a learning process. Maybe some things will change in year two. But it has been turbulent parliament but at the same time we have passed a lot of bills.
You had drafted a Bill to amend the law pertaining to dual citizens contesting presidential and parliamentary elections. What happened to that Bill?
We need two-third majority to pass it. I have been negotiating from August last year with all political parties. We have now also built a coalition to work on some aspect. Remember, it is two aspects; one is Diaspora Voting Right, the other is the Dual Nationality. So we are working on those two. I am optimistic that at least one of those we can complete in collaboration with other political parties in parliament.
One of the legislations I want to work on also this year is the Presidential Transition Act. The Speaker is also interested in that. This is to ensure that we have an orderly transfer of power from one administration to the next, even if it is the same party because the Ghanaian one, they saw problem even when it was the same party. When it is a different party, it is a big problem. And particularly when we talk about injustice, it is injustice to just dismiss people who are career professionals in ministries or embassies. It is injustice when they are even relieved off their responsibilities and they are not paid their benefits. This is wrong. I know SLPP also suffered that, I see the same thing happening now. This is wrong! So, this Act, my hope is, will cover some of these for posterity so that this does not happen. This is what creates tension in the country and people are aggrieved.
In a February, 2018 talk you gave to students at Fourah Bay College, you emphasized on “forging unity in a divided nation”. A year on, the country appears more divided and polarized. What should be done to address this critical issue?
It is a fact that tribalism is growing. Regionalism is intensifying and it is a danger to social cohesion, a danger to good governance. Once people rely on tribal sentiment, tribal identity, the wrong people are voted for and appointed to various positions because it is about tribe first then we look at competence later. Those dangers I talked about are very ripe now. You go back to TRC you will see those things there and I think a lot of those factors are prevalent now in 2019 from all sides. So we went to Bintumani 3 because we realized they are a danger and we believe dialogue is necessary .We must have serious dialogue; one event is not enough. We must set up systems on checks and balances; do what the Kenyans have done, we should do ethnic audit of institutions.
If you want to fight corruption apart from Commissions of Inquiries, let us see very transparently who won the contracts so we don’t repeat the same things that we have done before. We should avoid revenge politics. We should not repeat those things that were wrong. They tell us the country owes 530 million dollars to contractors in the country. One of the worst corrupt places is debt management and procurement. Well, let us publish the list of people the country owes and let us see how much and why we owe that such money. These are locals we owe. Are the contracts real? Are they real debts? Unless we begin to do those things then some of what we’re doing will be cosmetic.
Pleasure talking to you
Thank you very much!
Between Aggression and Democracy
By Ibrahim S. Samura
At bedtime March 2018, Sierra Leoneans ushered in the New Direction of President Julius Maada Bio and the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP). This decision by the people to vote in a new president under an opposition party was done with high hopes for a united Sierra Leone, stronger democracy, better citizens’ welfare, improved capital and human development, which many perceived the previous All People’s Congress (APC) party of President Ernest Bai Koroma failed to do or meet adequately . President Bio and the SLPP campaigned to Sierra Leoneans with messages of hope, committing to upholding the rule of law, strengthen democratic institutions, develop human capital and bridge the nationwide divide, among others, under the New Direction ideology. Electorates were lured into those promises.
The country’s present states of affairs are characterized by politics of retribution and hate, a shaking democracy, where the rule of law and due processes are losing grounds. Political intimidation and tit for tat continue to abound the once trumpeted New Direction. Coupled with increasing hardship, poor economic management, the current administration is busy adding to the sufferings of the people. Opposition parties and their membership are now in daily running battles with the police, provoked by injustices and bad administration. The government’s war on corruption now appears as a political witch-hunt, with accused persons (mainly opposition members) arrested on Thursdays and Fridays to spend the weekend behind bars. The massive and illegal sackings of workers employed by the previous administration are still alarming and continue to widen the political divide. Elected on a democratic platform, one is pushed to ask how democratic the New Direction has been.
Shortly after winning the March 2018 elections, there were reports of nationwide intimidation and attacks on supporters of the ousted APC party by SLPP supporters. In Kailahun, eight men allegedly gang raped an adult named Satta Lamin, an APC supporter. In Kono, thousands had to flee the District to the north for their safety. In Bo, houses of perceived APC supporters were targeted. In Freetown, an APC youth leader was killed with no action taken by the government. Soon, people started realizing that the New Direction is implacable, and bent on satisfying one political sect or region.
In Parliament, government did not hesitate to disenfranchise APC MPs (the majority) in the election of the Speaker. The ruling SLPP petitioned about 16 APC MPs in court, which was also followed by the APC, who petitioned about 30 SLPP MPs in court. The courts have still not listed cases filed against the government or the ruling party, which are still waiting to be heard over a year now. On the 31st May 2019, following a High Court ruling in Freetown that disqualified 10 APC MPs from the Sierra Leone Parliament and immediately replaced by SLPP MP candidates, the Sierra Leone Police resorted to an hour long firing of teargas canisters into the headquarters of the opposition APC party headquarters, suffocating and injuring several of unarmed peaceful protesters. Rulings have been given on the ruling SLPP cases filed against the opposition for similar grounds. This selective justice by the judiciary is strongly condemned by proponents of good governance.
Despite the government’s 3 day Peace and National Cohesion Conference (Bintumani III) from May 23rd – May 25th at the Bintumani International Conference Centre, nothing has changed. The courts and the police are still engaged in activities that militate against consolidating peace. Recommendations and opinions given at the 3 day conference have been shelved under the carpet.
The government through the police has employed bullying tactics against presumed opposition members. There has been the removal of security details from the Former Vice President and Former President, actions that have increased the level of political tension and divide. Citizens have frowned at the high handedness of the police in engaging the public during protests. When this continues, it has the potential of undermining the very foundation on which the police force was established.
The unwarranted attack on the former Vice President by the Sierra Leone Police on 16th June, 2019 was beyond reproach especially as we have been trying to heal the wounds. Opposition parties are a vital component to democracy; they often serve as a government in waiting. The country should do whatever could be done to ensuring they fully operate without intimidation. Aggression and political intimidation must not form the platform on which state machineries are managed. Room must always be provided for free and fair electoral process. The election violence in Tonko Limba was a class example of how state institutions should not collude with political actors to steal the people’s mandate.
The New Direction was expected to end the vicious circle in Sierra Leone politics. Change was all what people wanted and this change they promised, is far away to be achieved. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Man must evolve for all human conflict a method which rejects revenge, aggression and retaliation. The foundation of such a method is love.”
Had this administration embraced all and sundry, Sierra Leone would have achieved tremendous goals and the lives of the ordinary citizens improved. We cannot afford to become a failing nation again. We must rise above the politics of tribe and region. Media propaganda and hostility are now the order of the day and this curtails our growth democratically.
Food Self Sufficiency, Beyond the Political Rhetoric
John Baimba Sesay & Austin Thomas
Sierra Leone’s economy is strongly reliant on the agricultural sector which, by 2014, had contributed about 47.9 percent to Gross Domestic Product. The sector also employs over two-thirds of the population and generates about a quarter of the export income. With an estimated 5.4 million hectares of arable land, abundant farmland, wide-ranging ecosystems and sufficient rainfall, the sector alone can serve as an engine for socio-economic growth and development through commercial agriculture and the promotion of private sector involvement.
The country keeps spending over tens of millions of dollars annually to import rice. It sadly hasn’t been able to fully afford food self-sufficiency despite the political commitment by governments. By 2002 government had pledged “…to work even harder to ensure that by 2007 no Sierra Leonean goes to bed hungry.” These were mere political commitments that didn’t meet the test of time till date. Successive governments have invested heavily in the sector by improving transport infrastructure to ease the movement of goods, encouraging and supporting private sector investment, as well as lending support to farmers.
The previous administration had set as goal the need to “move away from subsistence to commercial agriculture, agro-processing, adding value to our agricultural products and realizing maximum benefit from the richness of our soil. A major strategy was pursuing a Smallholder Commercialization Scheme within the framework of the National Sustainable Agricultural Development Programme and the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme. Budgetary allocation got increased from 1.6% in 2007 to 7.7% in 2009 and stood at 10% by 2010.
To what extent is the current administration committed to properly using the agriculture sector in attaining food self-sufficiency? The political commitment is to ensure agricultural development continues to be centrepiece of the country’s drive towards economic diversification and reducing poverty. In a bid to increase food crop production, the current administration is committed to continue to:
- Improve the seed bank system to attract reliable private sector players
- Support the private sector for large scale agricultural food and cash crop production, processing, and marketing
- Support local industries engaged in the fabrication of farm tools and the supply for other farming inputs
- Establish cash crop cooperatives and provide training in processing to ensure our cash crops become competitive for export.
Support from development partners:
The sector has always attracted support from development partners, not least the World Bank, the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Islamic Development Bank, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Union. Going by the words of the president, development partners were able to mobilize about US$220 million for the development of the sector in one year and an additional amount of over US$45 million was to have been approved last June.
USAID has also been supporting integrated agriculture-aquaculture systems and rice value chain programs to increase private sector investment in agriculture, raise farm household incomes, and improve nutritional status. In addition to supporting activities to improve food access for vulnerable households and communities that have recovered from the shock of ebola, USAID also supports: community-based savings and loans schemes, linking farmers to microfinance institutions, providing innovative grants to small and medium sized enterprises, strengthening linkages between farmers and markets, and providing business training to producer associations.
The result appears to be the cultivation of over 3000 hectares of oil palm, the construction of an additional 25 Agricultural Business Centres and 841 hectares of Inland Valley Swamps rehabilitated with the rehabilitation of 600 km of feeder roads. We have also seen 59 small agribusinesses and 9 medium to large-scale businesses supported by Smallholder Commercialization and Agribusiness Development Project (SCADeP), according to statistics given by president Bio during his May, 2019 address in parliament.
What would also be required are investment incentives. The Ministry of Agriculture has spoken of promoting large-scale private sector investment in the sector. Incentives could therefore come in the form of : exemption from corporate income tax; exemption from withholding taxes on dividends paid by agribusiness companies; exemption from import duty on farm machinery, agro-processing equipment, agro-chemicals and other key inputs specifically for the project; tax deduction for expenses on Research & Development, training and export promotion, among others.
Developing and harmonizing procedures for private land acquisition for agribusiness investments could also be a way of encouraging large scale private sector investment. The country has significant portion of arable land, most of which remains uncultivated. Encouraging private sector operators to engage in large scale mechanized commercial farming activities is also vital. It therefore came as good news to learn, that government has engaged foreign private sector players “to invest in large scale farming in the Torma Bum-Gbondappi areas in the South and in the Rhombe and Samu areas in the North.”
Beyond political talk shows:
Moving beyond the political commitment and engaging on practical action points is what the country needs at this crucial period. A shift from subsistence farming to commercialized one should help the country achieve some better results. The country’s productivity level remains low, compared to other countries. Improving productivity is crucial to effectively utilizing the potentials of the sector.
This can be done through value chain-from research, to extension, to value addition to market. The Sierra Leone Agricultural Research Institute (SLARI) could play a role in identifying the key commodities; pathways to the market and eventually increasing yield. SLARI must work in a much more collaborative, integrated fashion and in much more innovative ways and approaches that will ensure maximum impact.
It sounds beautiful, the nation being informed by the president that revenues collected domestically in 2018 improved to Le 4.35 trillion or 14.0 percent of the Gross Domestic Product likened to Le 3.34 trillion or 12.6 percent of GDP in 2017, representing an increase of about Le 1.0 trillion. Beyond this political statements and beautiful presentation of figures, the country must begin to have a true feel of how such funds are used, in a judicious manner for her growth process. To this end, the agriculture sector deserves more by moving beyond the political rhetoric.
Banking Sector, the solution is digital
The Bank of Sierra Leone has a critical role in ensuring an improved regulatory framework more so in fostering effective supervision of banks to ensure a safe and vibrant financial sector and to protect depositors. This is extremely vital given that Sierra Leone continues to witness a high-pitched surge in commercial banks in the last decade. This is a noteworthy leap for our growth path, but at what cost?
The country has a market that is wider than the available financial resources or the available banking options. The need for wider financial inclusion by making financial services accessible at affordable costs to all individuals and businesses across the country is also core to the sector. Discussing the apparent increase in number of banks in the country would require an assessment of the scopes which permeate the sector. There are critical indicators like access to finance, number of banks per hundred thousand of the population, number of branches per hundred thousand population, financial intermediation, percentage of credit requirement that is served and the need for banks to be able to cut across in the less advantaged areas and be able to go to small, medium and micro scale enterprises.
With all these indicators, when Sierra Leone is rated across the sub region, across Low Income Growing Countries or even across sub Saharan African countries, it does not rate too high, according to Dr. Walton Ekundayo Gilpin, Managing Director, Rokel Commercial Bank and this eventually provides more room for banking intermediation. In his view, Sierra Leone does not necessarily need more banks; rather it needs banks that could go deeper into financial intermediation, deeper into financial inclusion, and deeper into providing financial services. Providing services to a wider sector of society so as to meet the needs of the economy and help enhance our GDP growth and human development should be a strategic goal of the banking sector.
Forex Value/ Leone Depreciation:
The boom in the banking sector has it upheaval difficulties. From competing for the ‘not too encouraging’ banking population, to struggling to provide better service to customers, the sector is also faced with negative public perception over forex and how it is being traded in the unofficial economy, the black market. There have not been official statistics for this but public concerns are that some banks are colluding with those operating the unofficial economy.
With millions of dollars auctioned by the central government as a way of curtailing the depreciation of the legal tender, not much of that was felt in the economy, with banks not having enough to sell to the public. The decision by government to auction millions of dollar was not a prudent one since the Leone continues to depreciate. This is a major concern especially for the business community. Prices of commodities are tied to the exchange rate of forex. Public perception has not been good for the banking sector. Government should therefore find ways of curtailing that. If forex is readily available through the official economy, people would not need to go out and buy from the unofficial economy.
With currency depreciation, two things would normally happen; one is having a current account deficit (by way of balance of payment) or there is a reduction in a nation’s international reserve. Persistent deficit would require funding by either increasing sales, eventually getting foreign exchange or by depleting foreign currency reserve. Unfortunately, Sierra Leone has a high import propensity. Not much is being done towards diversifying the economy. Agriculture could be a way of building on our economy and in addressing the Leone deprecation if we had done better in improving on our export in that sector.
Forex inflow could also come either from the Non-Governmental Organizations, from Foreign Direct Investment-FDIs or from the export of our commodities, goods and services. Tourism, when properly marketed and its potential thoughtfully utilized could also help bring up the forex base.
Serving the Urban Poor:
Notwithstanding the above, the surge in commercial banks has also led to their branch networks expanding, eventually touching every corner of the country. This is an encouraging development because it largely helps serve the rural community, the urban poor and the rural less advantaged, something Dr. Gilpin of Rokel Commercial Bank agreed with, saying, banks should not just be looking at banking fundamentals, the macro and micro economic fundamentals are also critical since the banks themselves cannot be divorced from the whole psyche of the economy. If banks collapse, the system will collapse and the economy will struggle.
Having outlets across the country is critical since there is a subset of the population that would need financial services. The advent of mobile cash transfers is good development. But this too comes with limitations; it doesn’t give users access to the financial ecosystem. Mobile cash transfers allow users do their remittances but with no access to loans or even access to small overdraft as the normal banking system would provide. Being in the rural communities should also provide the banks an opportunity to be able to cater for the farmer, the rural kid who wants to be able to know what it means to have an account.
Banks may not need to build massive structures across the country in a bid to serve the rural poor; small outlets could serve the same purpose as a big structure. For less cost, banks can effectively serve the same population; one approach traditional banks have taken. Traditional banks in the country have been making steady progress in going out of the capital, many of them, not least, Rokel Commercial Bank.
Digital Revolution In the Sector:
Beyond the commitment to serving and making profit should be revolutionizing the banking sector by way of digital banking. This provides customers with faster service and enables them manage their accounts almost anywhere. But to what extent have we come as a country? “The solution is digital” for Dr. Gilpin. There is no way banks could survive today in a world that is going aggressive every day without having digital solution to what it does. Going Fin-Tech (Financial Technology) is therefore the way banks should follow.
What today pertains in many developing countries is that every individual with a phone is being able to have a facility to access their finance and transact business. There is also a better profit margin in all of this for banks. In the words of Dr. Gilpin “If banks can effectively do that with the public who are part of the banking ecosystem, have accounts that are utilized, even the banks can make profits from the little commissions they get from such transition. So, digital is the easy way to go.”
By 2017 when he took over as MD, exploring available opportunities for the bank was one goal to achieve. Then came one; the bank was having a large loyal market with a proportion of that market that had been poached by other banks because RCB seemed to be going down at the time.
Attracting the customers became a strategic goal to be achieved. The bank had to build on the area of digital revolution and strategic marketing, added to improving on the ambiance of the bank’s infrastructure itself. A coordinated approach towards bringing success out of the bank got the bank moving and growing. For Gilpin, Rokel Commercial Bank is a Sierra Leonean bank that should not fail else, it becomes a laughing stock for the whole region; that foreign banks came and dominated us. This is a challenge for all locally owned banks, more so given the competitive market they are faced with today.
Strengthening the digital financial systems of our commercial banks in critical to sustaining our economic growth and in providing better service to their customer base across the country. There are challenges to innovation and one could be effectively delivering solutions that ensure a real difference in the lives of customers. The time is now for banks to foster economic growth by taking advantage of the growth in technologies, eventually ensuring efficiencies in service delivery.
Hospitality industry: Huge Demand, Less Investment
For a growing economy like ours, the tourism sector can serve as a perfect vehicle for economic progress and in providing job opportunities as well as in enhancing foreign exchange earnings when properly utilized. This is the case with The Gambia, with less than 3 million people. The sector makes 20 percent contribution to their Gross Domestic Product, further serving as a great source of foreign exchange for the economy.
Safe and reliable destination is vital in marketing the industry. A politically stable environment is all what visitors would be looking for. By 2017, Sierra Leone topped the list of fastest-growing tourism countries in the world according to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). This notwithstanding, the sector is faced with serious challenges, not least weak policy and regulatory framework, limited human capacity, poor infrastructure, and an unfavorable country image. The attendant adverse effects of a decade long civil conflict, with an apparently far reaching negative impact of an ebola scourge on her image globally have all helped to water down the strategic importance of the country and its contribution to growth, with fewer visitors venturing yearly, compared to other West African nations.
Creating incentives for the internal market in a bid to support the industry and inducing greater local private sector involvement remains an existing challenge. Government has set aside key objectives of using the sector to increase domestic revenue, help in job creation as well as promote the country’s traditional heritage. Specific policy actions, according to President Julius Bio during his address in parliament in May this year will be:
- Improving the policy and legal environment
- Developing historic sites
- Developing the relevant Infrastructure
- Promoting marketing and improving International Image
- Furthering skills development
- Diversifying tourism products.
Tourism remains a collaborative industry that would need support of other sectors like energy, health, security, and infrastructure. Pursing infrastructure and development finance to stimulate the economy should form part of the country’s commitment. Stimulating the economy would also require those untapped sectors be properly utilized, not least our tourism sector.
Efforts must be embarked upon to foster a strong linkage between tourism and other domestic sectors of the economy. Growth in infrastructure is extremely vital if we are to effectively make use of our tourism sector in our economic growth. Without good infrastructure, not much of the country could come from the sector. Economic infrastructure for tourism should be built on else it continues to impede the expansion of the sector.
Greater expansion of infrastructure to tourism areas should be considered in the country’s development strategy. There is huge unmet demand for business hotel accommodation in the country, having West Africa’s most stunning and undeveloped beaches, with wealth of eco-tourism sites.
At present, there are 78 hotels, with 39 in the Western Area, according to statistics provided for 2018, by the National Tourist Board. The arrival of new brands like the Radisson Blue and the Atlantic Lumley Hotel with 60 guestrooms, owned partly by Hong Kong-based Cinda International Holdings, opened in October 2017, amongst others have helped in enhancing the sector. These new brands have been major players in the country’s economic performance. Radisson Blu for instance, was one of the few that opened to serve international aid organizations and workers who flew into the country during the ebola period.
Beyond this, investment in the hotel industry, for instance, has not been encouraging. There has been huge investment in sectors like education and health, with less given to tourism. Injecting more funds and attention to it would help bring more visitors yearly. By 2018, the country was ranked 130 out of 137 on the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Index and 131 out of 136 on the Tourism Competitiveness Index. This isn’t encouraging. Indigenes should be seen fully involved in the sector at all levels. There must be a shared and mutual interest towards a sustainable increase in the number of tourist arrivals and encouraging expenditure on the sector.
To bring about sustained growth in tourism, the country should do all it could o improve the hospitality industry, especially by building the infrastructure it would need to support it. This would require the support of all players in achieve a competitive and sustainable sector. Huge demand remains in this sector, but with less investment.
Media & Society
Sedition & Libel Laws, Time for Repeal!
By Abu Bakarr Sulaiman Tarawally
Much has been said about repealing what many local journalists describe as obnoxious, Public Order Act, 1965. It comes across as obnoxious because, Part five of the Act criminalises free speech. Media professionals, especially Journalists adjudged the inclusion of Part five, in the very Act, as a specific attack on press freedom. The Criminal and Seditious Libel Law under which journalists, broadcasters, newspaper vendors, or even printers and poets could be imprisoned instead of fined, has been denounced by press freedom campaigners as backward and seeks to muzzle free speech and expression.
The media’s collective responsibility is to serve as society’s watch dog. Much as accountability is a core tenet of democracy, a section of society equally fears that much power given to the media and it practitioners would give them the impetus to injure the reputations of well-placed people in society. The argument has always been, journalists should guide the process and help in crafting better laws that should replace the very Act. The argument has always been: a bad law is a bad law- and the wrongs of the past do not make even the today’s laws right by keeping them in the books. The demand here is not to repeal, rather, expunging such laws.
The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) prefers the affirmative order “expunge,” which, according to them holds a stronger position statement. Inalienable rights are those accorded human beings by virtue of being born humans, though there are limitations to some rights in laws. This works in tandem with all the Universal declarations and the United Nations’ charters on human and people’s rights and principles. This does not in a way, open a window for media practitioners to be reckless and thrive in their trades to make a world of their own full of mavericks, slanderous people, hate-speech makers, maligning individuals and defaming people.
The fact that the profession had come of age is enough for repressive laws to be repealed. The 1965 Public Order Act prohibits not only the freedom of expression, but civil liberties; freedoms of association and a critical and vibrant press. This conflicting text zone is what the political class appears to have rallied round with. The truth remains, though that journalism and Journalists are a game’s tool. In fact, it clearly would appear, the governing definition of the media in Africa generally is the tools’ definition- the politicians use the media to pass their campaign messages; reach out to the mass populace and win the votes. In the end, all manners of persons would express their views, opinions, and comments freely, but the journalists whose freedoms of expression and speeches are prohibited by some laws on criminal libel.
Over a year in office, President Julius Maada Bio’s promise to repeal the 1965 Public Order Act remains a major promise for a free and pluralistic press. Prior to being elected president, Bio’s ‘New Direction’ manifesto saw the media as very useful in informing and educating the public on governance issues, though highlighting as greatest challenges, among others. This concept, as it was appealing then to the opposition, attracted meaning and spoke to the consciences of the political class that had seen the need to have virile press, from that side of life, when not in power.
President Bio told the country’s media body- the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) in a May 2018 meeting that, it is a commitment enshrined in his party’s 2018 ‘New Direction’ Manifesto to do away with the law. For him, the Criminal Libel law criminalises free speech, undermines creativity in arts and stifles the growth of journalism. Hear him: “The media is an important component of society that plays a critical role in the democratic process, especially in deepening transparency and accountability in public institutions,” and even called for media practitioners to be given the free space to operate by creating the right environment for private sector investment in the media.
All of this, over a year now, only remaining in paper as pure political commitment as it has always been the case with previous regimes. Take this scenario; speaking at a press conference at State House 8th December 2009, then President Koroma reiterated his election campaign promise, that, the aspects of the law (seditious, libel law) was bad and needed a review and even committed himself to a timeframe, that “[a review] will be done before the end of my first term as President.” That first term ended in 2012 and the law was and is still here, hunting the practice of journalism and press freedom.
President for SLAJ, Kelvin Lewis during the 2019 press freedom day commemoration made clear that whilst journalism as a profession was grateful with President Bio’s assurances, what was also needed was practical action. “Since you are that “talk and do” president, we recognize that you have spoken, we now want to see you do it,” Lewis said as part of his statement marking World Press Freedom Day.
Sierra Leone’s democracy is at the crossroads. The time to pay heed for yesteryears mistakes is now over. The political class should lead the true state of transformation and join trends with the rest of the world in making greater gains. It is lamentable knowing the degenerating effect the law has on the growth of media landscape in the country particularly its characteristic attribute of disregarding the truth as defence. Clearly, politicians have taken advantage of the law to punish journalists with the apparent intent of scaring them away from uncovering corruption and maladministration. This is where the current administration and particularly the president could make a clear difference by ensuring practical actions towards repeal or expunction.
The country’s media regulating body, the Independent Media Commission when effective and truly functional can help in ensuring better regulation and monitoring and also help in supervising the conduct of the media with professional lenses, than criminalising free speech. Other professional bodies like SLAJ and the Guild of Newspaper Editors could also play a vital role in dealing with issues of ethics and moral principles.
The English Premier League, today, is by far the most publicised league because of the power of the English media and investment in that sector. The economies of advertisement, television rights and image rights contribute hugely to the UK’s economy and all is from the media power business to innovation. The successes of the social media and media technology based initiatives should be explored and save the day beyond news reporting and political narratives. It is impressive that former president Koroma and now president Julius Maada Bio have used the right to free press and media pluralism as yardstick to when discussing their human right records. This should hold same as the pinnacle to lure investors, especially private sector investment in the media landscape. But we must start with dealing with those existing laws that muzzle free speech.
Death Penalty: Abolish or Commit to the Moratorium
Countries the world over continue to make great strides in abolishing the death penalty. The AU as a continental body has seen greater strides in recent years. For instance, the Death Penalty Project (DPP), a London based legal action charity that uses the law to protect prisoners facing execution and to promote fail criminal justice systems says, the AU today has 20 abolitionist states for all crimes- States where the death penalty has been abolished. Statistics further show, there are 18 abolitionists in practice in the AU- that is, States where the death penalty is implemented but no executions have been carried out for at least 10 years and have a policy or established practice of not carrying out executions.
Kenya last executed in 1987. In 2009, it commuted all death sentences to life imprisonment, a decision that was believed to have impacted thousands of death row inmates. By the end of 2017, that country’s Supreme Court declared as unconstitutional, the mandatory death penalty. At the regional (ECOWAS) and sub-regional (MRU) levels, countries have embarked on efforts that have signaled a positive push to abolishing the death penalty. Guinea, which had been an abolitionist country for years, applying a moratorium on executions since 2002, adopted, in 2016 a new Criminal Code, removing the death penalty from its statute books for ordinary crimes and in 2017, abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
The Gambia and Burkina Faso have also reportedly made important strides towards abolition of the death penalty, according to Amnesty International. The Gambia this year commuted the death sentences of a number of prisoners to life imprisonment. Burkina Faso in 2018 abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes only by adopting a new penal code, paving way for “more credible, equitable, accessible and effective justice in the application of criminal law.”
Moratorium on Execution:
Sierra Leone last carried out execution in October 1998 when a firing squad publicly executed 24 military officers for allegedly taking part in a military coup. It should be stated that the implementation of the death penalty in the country has always been based on political motivation, much as it remains mandatory for murder convictions. As of May 2019, the country has 50 death row inmates, including 48 men and two women. By 2014, the country committed itself before the United Nations Committee against Torture to abolishing capital punishment in law and to commuting her last death row prisoners to life imprisonment. This notwithstanding, dozens still remain on death row with more sentences in 2018.
This is a worrying development. There is no linkage between death penalty as punishment and increase or otherwise of crime rate. To suggest that death penalty serves as a deterrent is unacceptable. One unquestionable fact is death penalty, once carried out, is irreversible. When once one is executed, no amount of new evidence would get back the life. But where one is committed to serve long jail term and provision is made for an appeal, new evidence and supplementary information may help a convict leave prison. In most third world countries, the death penalty is mostly for the poor and vulnerable people that have difficulties to access good lawyers; with a good lawyer, an accused hardly gets convicted of murder; chances are a reduction to manslaughter.
With Sierra Leone’s apparent weak and challenged criminal justice system, starting with police investigation to prosecution, the stages to the entire criminal justice system are troubled with obstacles. Besides, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recognizes that “Respect for human dignity and human rights must begin with respect for human life. Everyone has the right to life. A society that accords the highest respect for human life is unlikely to turn on itself…” The Commission thus recommended the abolition of the death penalty and the repeal of all laws authorizing the use of capital punishment.
The country also remains a member of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which recognizes right to life and this further places the country on an irrevocable path towards complete eradication of the death penalty “…in the foreseeable future.” The closure of the death penalty will therefore mark an important and symbolic departure from the past. It also would help improve on our country’s international image and lend credence to our core values to respecting the right to life.
There have been right groups’ campaigns on abolition of the death penalty in the country. AdvocAid is an access to justice group, dealing mostly with woman in a holistic framework. For them, girls and women in Sierra Leone deserve access to justice, something they achieve through the delivery of free legal aid, a major component of their work.
“Death penalty is a concern to our work”, says Rebecca Wood, Executive Director of AdvocAid. They have been working with the Death Penalty Project. It was on the invitation of AdvocAid that Saul Lehrfreund, Executive Director and Amanda Clift-Mathews, Legal Director and In-House Counsel visited Sierra Leone in June, 2019 to have a view of the country’s justice sector especially its criminal justice system.
For AdvocAid, removing the mandatory aspect for even murder and replacing it with a Judge’s discretion and the Chief Justice issuing guidance on sentencing could be a good start. The call for an end to the death penalty goes beyond the psychological torture attached to the existence of such a law in the law books of any nation. There is the sad reality of possible wrongful conviction.
The Death Penalty Project (DPP) is of the view, too, that the risk that innocent people will be executed can never be removed altogether. It says, in 2017, there were at least 55 exonerations of prisoners under sentence of death from six countries around the world, representing just cases “investigated and innocence was established.” DPP strongly argues that fair trial violations could also lead to arbitrary executions, citing, as key factors, amongst others:
- Use of forced confessions
- Excessive and unjustified delays in trial or appeal processes
- General lack of fairness of criminal process and lack of impartial courts
- Lack of effective representation during all stages of criminal proceedings (from interrogation to appeal)
Amnesty International has for decades been leading the campaign against the death penalty in Sierra Leone. The organization believes such a law is not fashionable in a modern world. “A bad law is a bad law” said Solomon Sogbandi, country director for Amnesty International, arguing further, that “Over 80% of countries have moved towards abolition” not knowing why Sierra Leone still have such law.
Like AdvocAid, Amnesty International, Sierra Leone believes, the current government should commit itself to abolishing or at least, to the existing moratorium especially not knowing the posture of current government. “The former government did well by signing a moratorium on the death penalty. However, we are afraid that it is still in our law books. Government can use any other punishment but the death penalty when someone commits a crime”, says Sogbani.
Ensuring a complete abolition would come with challenges, as it won’t come so easily or shortly. A referendum won’t get it because public opinion won’t give the needed support. What is required is the public will. Public opinion is vital but it should know there are human right issues attached to taking one’s life for a crime. There has not been any example of nation that has abolished such a law based on public opinion. Equally so, there isn’t any nation that has abolished such an obnoxious law and is later faced with public outcry. What is required is the political will.
Government should therefore be thinking of abolishing or at least committing to the existing moratorium. Reviewing the Criminal Procedure Act of 1965 could also be encouraging. In early 2019, the country made penetration of minors punishable by life imprisonment. Not forgetting the failure to have followed the required procedure to having such a law, what came out clear was the need for stiffer punishment other than execution.
Similarly, replacing the death penalty with life jail term should also provide an opportunity for offenders to know the severity of their crimes. Right to life should not be denied any individual. This is fundamental and must be respected. We must join other nations in moving ahead with time by either abolishing or at least committing to an existing moratorium on death penalty. All this needs is the political will.
Markmuday’s Rise to Stardom
Though the name Nelson Idrissa Kargbo might not ring a bell, with the name Markmuday, reputation precedes. Last year the National Entertainment Award (NEA) awarded Markmuday as the best RnB artist of the year. The harmony, melody and emotion in his voice, leave listeners with goose bumps. His rise to stardom shook the nation by surprise.
On 13th March 1991 in Freetown, at 34 Military Hospital, an Afrobeat star was born. Markmuday’s rise to stardom is like any Hollywood blockbuster movie- from the Gullies of West Freetown to the nation’s hall of fame.
As a child growing up at the Wilberforce Barracks, Markmuday exhibited profound love for music when he started using milk cans as imaginary musical instruments, while murmuring the beats. “My mum was not a fan… and any time she saw me playing with these cans, she would chase me to go and study,” Markmuday said, smiling as he gracefully panned his iconic tomahawk hairstyle backward.
“You know in African most people see music as a career for dropout. People respect and admire you when you are in traditional jobs, dressed up in suit and tie in an office. Interestingly, music plays a great role in our society. It’s therapeutic; after a hard day’s job, it helps you relax and ease your stress.”
For him, it was a challenge between the career that he loved and my mum’s approval back then. “I was determined to prove her wrong. I wanted her to know that music is a career like any other and you can be successful as a musician. My passion which was grounded in determination eventually convinced her and she started supporting me, but passed away before she could actually enjoy the proceeds of my passion”, he explained.
The Markmuday Nickname:
Music was not his only passion as a kid; he was also fond of cars. “As a kid I also used to run around the barracks with a basin cover as if it was a steering while; pretending I was driving. Because of this I was nicknamed ‘chauffeur’. This was my first alias before Markmuday. ”
The slim six-footer singer, relaxed on a black leather sofa with an ear to ear smile on his face, recalled how he got the name Markmuday. “I was always neatly dressed whenever I had a studio session; because of my style, a friend of mine called Arkman said I resembled his Lebanese friend who was a sales man. Thus he started calling me Markmuday.”
He added, “At first it was a name that I disliked because of the way Arkman would shout out whenever he saw me in the studio. I thought he was making fun of me.” However, the name became prominent when the lead singer in Sierra Leone’s Afrobeat trio, Nega Don gave him a shout out ‘Markmuday’ in their hit song ‘Ose Dae Burn’ and also featured him on the music video. For Markmuday, that was his “rebirth.”
Markmuday said that Nega Don was a major influence in his career. After completing high school at the West African Methodist Collegiate School, he proceeded to study Audio Production at Auycade School where he met Nega Don.
“After the course I started producing and signing gospel songs.” However, “I was introduced into singing secular songs by Nega Don, and after the ‘Life Goes On’ hit with Rozzay, there was no turning back, my path changed.”
Notwithstanding, Markmuday pointed out that his love for gospel has not been a total write off. “The themes of most of my songs are anchored on moral principles hope and faith,” he said, adding that in the future he would be thinking of returning to Gospel music.
Kabaka multimedia entertainment (KME):
Speaking about his rodeo with KME, Markmuday explained that the CEO of KME Kabaka has always been a fan.
“I had been producing constant hit songs and my name had already become household name in the country, so he came to know me through that. We met on several occasions; I never knew he was Kabaka until I was introduced to him by Rozzay. He requested for a meeting which we had and I decided to join his record label KME after he explained his vision.”
However, Markmuday has now gone solo and he is the founder of Slim Nation. “It is not a brand,” he said. “I see it as a family home where young talented musicians can nurture their talent and eventually grow.”
Back then when he was an upcoming artist, he had to struggle to get money to pay for studio time, as “to get producers to work for you was another uphill task” adding, “I have been to several programs, and seen lots of talents that need that extra boost to take them to the next level.”
Slim Nation, he said, is all about helping young potential talents. “I want people to see the human resource potential in Sierra Leone and start investing just like what’s happening in Nigeria and other countries around the world. It’s time to embrace ours,” the singer averred.
Markmuday disclosed that he is intending to do collaboration with top Nigerian artists and his dream is to be the first Sierra Leonean artist to bring the BET Award home. “In this industry you need to be able to sing, have the relevant contacts and God’s favor and I know I have all three.” He assured fans that by the end of this year, Slim Nation will storm the industry like a tsunami. “There is an upcoming project in which I’ll be featuring top Nigerian singer Solid Star.”
Johansen, crossing the stormy pitch of football
Sierra Leone is making strides in allowing women to top managerial positions. One sector that saw the glass ceiling being broken in terms of women taking center stage is the game of football through the election of Isha Johansen as president of the Football Association.
In 2013, the then 48-year-old became the first female president for the Sierra Leone Football Association. Johansen had first come to prominence in 2004 when Johansen FC. Her bid for the presidency came with huge support, both local and global.
In fact, prior to her election, the country’s interim Football Association’s committee disqualified three others from contesting. Johansen later got appointed as member of the Committee of Women’s Football and Women’s World Cup at football’s world governing body FIFA.
Johansen had seen Sierra Leone as a great sporting nation that would deliver “opportunity for our young people, and sustain economic growth ” but only “with good governance, the political will and commitment from the private sector, participants, spectators and administrators” , writes Abubakarr Kamara, a local sport writer.
She successfully used the power of football to help change the country’s global image from a war torn to one with high hopes, aspirations and a better future. Through her football club FC Johansen, youths were to see a brighter hope. Her rein came with better result; with training of more coaches from D to A licenses and FA competitions organized across the country.
Though seen as having a controversial posture, her presidency also proved women can break barriers especially when faced with societal challenges and can perform when provided with the opportunity.
Despite the zest to improve the game of football, her rise to fame also came with challenges with her commitment to cross the rocky pitch of football hitting stormy waters, paddling against the waves. Johansen’s presidency was marred with challenges, at some point, she got humiliated and intimidated by the political powers that be.
In 2016, just hours after announcing her decision to rerun for the presidency of the FA, she was detained over allegations of graft but later released without charge. She also survived moves by her executive members to oust her.
In 2017, she was, together with her Secretary General charged to court on corruption allegations. Sierra Leone’s anti-graft body, the ACC, alleged both Johansen and Chris Kamara amongst other offences, misappropriated donor funds given to the Association by the Confederation of African Football meant for conducting Magnetic Resonance Image tests (MRIs) on thirty members of the country’s Under 17 National Team in Niger, allegations they had always denied.
After lengthy two years of court trials, the two were in May, 2019, acquitted and discharged by a High Court, presided by Justice Reginald Fyn, paving way for both to resume their roles at the Football Association.
The acquittal by the courts also saw FIFA’s ban against Sierra Leone lifted. FIFA suspended the country from the international football for what they referred to as government interference in the administration of football, a charge denied by the Sierra Leone Government.
FIFA’s intervention was promoted by government’s decision to forcefully stop Johansen from serving as FA president, when armed police stormed the premises of the FA to enforce the decision. Later a caretaker executive was appointed. This led to FIFA intervening by suspending the country from international football.
Johansen had always wanted to be a pioneer of good governance in the game of football, advocating for gender equality in a bid to make a difference. She still loves the game of football despite the traumatic legal battle she went through. In a recent interview with CNN, she said, it was disheartening going through all what she went through but came out with no anger, no rage, just sadness.
The pitch of football in Sierra Leone has always been dominated by men, as it is with the running of the country’s FA. When a woman pushes to cross that stormy pitch, it may look hard and a tedious task to accomplished but one that is surmountable.