by Sierraeye

“I write to inform you that it has pleased His Excellency the President, Brig. (Rtd.) Julius Maada Bio to appoint you as………….”.

Such a letter brings fulfilment to a recipient who craves a coveted government job. It is however a rarity that a recipient gets thrown out of a high profile job barely four months after being appointed. The removal of Ibrahim Brima Swarray as Commissioner General of NRA was a bolt from the blue. Why would a man appointed to superintend over the central body responsible for the assessment and collection of taxes and specified revenues and for administering and enforcing our national revenue laws be ousted from this job so soon? Many questions obviously come to mind. Was this a “fish out of water” appointment that was done at the President’s pleasure that went rotten? Did Parliament merely rubber stamp the appointment with the usual “the ayes have it”? What seems to be true however from many people who had some interaction with the agency was that his brief tenure was a disaster that needed to be mitigated.

Since the re-election of the President, we have been fed a weekly diet of appointments. Indeed, the constitution does grant the President a wide prerogative to make appointments, many not requiring Parliamentary approval. There are obvious concerns about how some of these costs could be borne by an overburdened Treasury. There are also concerns about how much vetting of candidates goes into those appointments that need Parliamentary approval.

It is not an easy task for a President to make such appointments as there are many considerations apart from competence and qualifications to contend with. These may include but are not limited to regional balance, gender balance, party considerations, loyalty etc. Many of us may not be privy to some of these. Important positions like this which significantly impact our economic performance should obviously warrant a more careful consideration of the appointee’s credentials, which, apart from other attributes should include a proven ability in public administration and financial management.

All our Presidents have made some appointments that are questionable. There may be need for a more rigorous scrutiny of some Presidential appointments.

Section 61 of the 1991 constitution gives the President power to constitute offices for Sierra Leone, make appointments to any such office and terminate any such appointment. Other powers of appointment vested in the President (section 70) give the President the power (under certain conditions) to make a host of appointments including the Chairmen and members of Boards of government corporations and the Governor and other members of the governing body of any State Bank, Banking or Financial Institutions.

All of our Presidents have made several appointments to ministerial and high positions that have set tongues wagging. The jury is still out on how many of the appointees by the current president will fare in their jobs. Questions are also being asked about certain high profile sackings that seem odd. Many wonder for example why so many of the heavyweights from Kailahun District, which offers the highest support at elections for SLPP were sidelined from their jobs. These include P.K. Lansana, Minister of Water Resources, Foday Jaward, Minister of Environment, Sahr Jusu, Financial Secretary, John Benjamin, Presidential Adviser, Samuel Jibao, NRA Commissioner General and Maada Mustapha, Executive Director, National Investment Board. Some also wonder how people who had been sacked before, ostensibly for poor performance and others who have had bad press relating to shady deals, including ex Parliamentarians have found their way back into top positions.

But how could this scrutiny be done?

The political parties themselves could unofficially scrutinize appointments. A President should not necessarily be there to only serve his own party, but within the party, members should have a right to know whether there is fairness in treating party members across the Board. They could at least demand to know how and why some decisions are made that may seem to sideline certain groups.

Bodies like the Judicial and Legal Service Commission should better scrutinize appointments. After all the President does these appointments in consultation with them. The Press, civil society and Professional Associations could also weigh in on appointments.

The group that has most power in my view is the Parliament. But is Parliament using its powers judiciously? Rumours swirl around as to how Parliament gets to ratify Presidential nominees. I will refrain from repeating these as I understand they have a dungeon at the basement for incarcerating people for “Careless tok”. The Committee on appointments and public service, which conducts confirmation hearings on Presidential nominations for appointment to the Public Service has a lot of power and can block any Presidential nomination.

They often start their reports with:

“The Committee strictly adhered to its established procedure of questioning the nominees on wide ranging issues pertaining particularly to their educational background, suitability in terms of character, track records in public office, declared assets, tax obligations and their visions for a nationally successful tenure of office.”

All well and good, but for the life of me, I can’t remember when last they failed anyone. There is usually unanimous approval of the appointments.

Despite all of these appointments made over the years, the public sector has steadily become more inefficient – as costs have increased, but productivity has declined. Many political appointees have been parachuted into positions without prior experience in the organisation or field, despite being vetted.

Presidential appointments may sometimes go to lower levels of management that may not even be subject to parliamentary approval. Multiple layers of management have been inserted into organisations not because they have a function to perform but because they are a way of promoting people into senior positions. These layers of management add no value to the organization. In many cases, these political appointees create a toxic operating environment. Many skilled public servants then leave the organisation, exacerbating the problem.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs in which one person is allowed to have so much unbridled power either because of the nonchalance or opportunistic tendencies of people who should provide checks is a source of concern. It is also unfortunate that older political parties, which had always prided themselves in indulging in consultation and speaking truth to power have now chosen to be silent on many issues.

It is high time we had a national debate on these issues and stop the rot which has always existed. Institutions tasked with scrutinizing appointments can go a long way towards addressing a situation in which a President has so much power to make appointments. Appointments may be the President’s prerogative but scrutinizing appointees should be an imperative.

Ponder my thoughts.

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