By Umaru Kamara
Sierra Leone is in need of national dialogues on critical issues, not least those around good governance. The need to work towards fostering national cohesion and bring social fabrics together is critically vital for our fragile democracy. Here is a reason to brace up and get our acts together – the 2019 Global Peace Index was terrible for us. Not shockingly, the country dropped 18 places down from 34th in the world to 52nd in only one year, moving the country from 2nd position to 6th in Africa.
The Global Peace Index assesses a country’s peacefulness. There are 23 indicators used to establish each country’s peacefulness score, among them; level of violent crime, level of perceived criminality in society, intensity of organized internal conflict, ease of access to small arms and light weapon, number and duration of internal conflicts, political instability, political terror and number of homicides per 100,000 people. Sierra Leone ended her civil war close to 20 years ago. Agreed we are no longer at war but the country continues to experience levels of political instabilities and this is worrying. It came as no shock, therefore that we perform poorly in the Global Peace Index; a nervous, inherently unstable and contentious country!
One institution working on issues of good governance and participatory democracy is Campaign for Good Governance. It is worried that the political divide “is creating problems” given that “instead of sound economic and governance policies, we see the government taking decisions to score political points in the face of political opponents.” Politicians, especially those in governance, must realize that, in a society like ours, decisions should be taken in view of citizen’s welfare. The collective issue of ‘us versus them’ is getting us into trouble and must be addressed.
Government, CGG’s Marcella Samba Sesay believes, is not just about a party in power; it takes into account even the opposition, which in actual sense is a government in waiting. Sierra Leone would need a national convening to look at those perilous issues vital to our growth and stability. We must rise above partisan slant, especially when it comes to national issues. For instance, beyond and above the political interest and slants, we could look at why there has been a constant depreciation of our currency at such an astronomical level.
Public service isn’t different from the actual output of government. Economic realities are now an outcome of political decisions and this should not always be the case. Jobs should not be given to secure a given tribe or region. Public life goes beyond one’s tribe or region. In present day Sierra Leone, people with security of tenure are being sacked contrary to the law. This is against the spirit of national cohesion. It is obvious, new people would be appointed into jobs when a new government comes into power.
“What is sad is to look at everyone in government offices as allies of the previous regime.
To relinquish the knowledge base of someone that has served an institution for a decade, all in the name of satisfying your political base is detrimental to national development. Recruiting new people means, learning on the job which would take months or even years,” argues CGG’s Marcella Samba Sesay.
The ‘winner takes all’ model isn’t working for us. So, for CGG, a national conversation is critical on how for instance, state institutions like the National Electoral Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission and the Independent Media Commission operate. These are strategically relevant in positioning the state above political power influence.
Also, we would need a legal framework on how effective transition within a democratic system is ensured. If we are to progress, the political class must see the state as one institution functioning as an entity of continuity. “Institutions like NEC, ACC and IMC are the buffers in society and when once they begin to have issues of public trust, it becomes worrying. They must have high public confidence level,” says Marcella Samba Sesay.
Institutions must be allowed to operate freely and within the limit of the law. For instance, the NEC should not be seen taking decisions based on the furtive directives of a given political party, same with the police. The police have a duty to be professional if they are to regain public trust and confidence. Where that is lacking, it undermines the foundation of a perfect society.
Parliament has not been better either in the last two years; the wrong approach to the election of speaker and deputy, removal of legitimately elected MPs have all had a bad taste of that institution vital to representative democracy. Parliamentary representatives must be the real ones elected by voters. It becomes undemocratic and an attack on the country’s values when those who were not democratically elected are seen representing people in parliament. And given how those institutions have performed lately and the seeming disappearance of public trust, it won’t be a bad deal to examine our electoral systems.
But here is another thing; we would only have these sorts of discussions when we realize that there are pathways to address our problems. This brings to mind the judiciary which has not helped the process either. Have we actually sat back to look at why is it that the judiciary has become a tool of the political class? How is it that it could assign a political case (NRM vs. APC) to a presiding Judge within a day but it takes donkey years for other matters like those of the Bar Association to be assigned?
“If you have the capacity to assign a case within hours, it means a lot,” according to CGG’s Executive Director who also has called on the Chief Justice “to exercise some amount of accountability in delivering on his roles and responsibilities. He is not assigning matters and the right of people must be respected. These are the accountability entities that hold the state. People should feel confident that when they put their complaints, they would be heard and someone is listening.”
Another area is the fight against corruption which also hinges on a lot of social opportunities. Government, for instance, should look at the Auditor General’s report and examine systems proposed and do a cleaning up of Ministries, Departments and Agencies. We should think above the mere incarnation of people when we talk about fighting graft. It is about the systems’ approach. Systems and procedures must be in place. Corruption is not just about pilfering state resources; it is also about nepotism, like putting wrong people in the right positions. Above all, civil society groups must be allowed with the platform to work properly and freedom of association should not be under threat. As it appears, there is not much latitude of late for their operations, and this is a disturbing trend. Government looks somehow repressive. Political stability is a concern. Government must balance the equation. There is a difference between a party in power and the government. That distinction has not been drawn in the last two years and as such, everything is seen from a partisan side and this is not good for our democratic credentials.