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COMMENTS & OPINIONS  

AFRICELL, RADIO STATIONS AND PROTECTIONISM
By Andrew Keili
Mar 20, 2013, 17:04
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I have followed both sides of the debate surrounding the granting of a licence to a company owned by the mobile phone company Africell. Both sides have been compelling in their rationalisation of their arguments.Basically one side says this will kill local radio stations who would be deprived of advertisement revenue. The other side says withdrawing the licence would be tantamount to protectionism-this is a free market, they argue. Various sections of the media  have taken sides but I find the arguments put forward by Philip Neville (give the devil his due) persuasive. He has made a good case about the need to protect local radio stations and has mentioned that Africell tries to do everything by itself including providing its own music and PA system for public functions. I however chuckled when a gentleman from a Health NGO joined the fray on the side of Africell with the justification that this was a human rights issue ( my head spins!).So many interest groups have joined the debate that I shudder to raise my head above the parapet lest I be pilloried. Suffice it to say however that after much obfuscation by Natcom and the Independent Media Commission (IMC) in the cause of justifying their actions, I applaud the Ministry of Information calling for a temporarily suspension of the licence whilst it further considers the issue, notwithstanding their initial alleged complicity in the issue.

 

In fairness to Africell, it has mentioned that it will continue to provide the advertisements and other inducements it had been providing for community and commercial radio stations and intends to reflect this in an MOU. The problem though is that the MOU may not be ironclad and may only be for a brief while.Community and commercial radio stations provide a valuable service in information dissemination that help bolster our fragile democracy. They run marginal operations at best. If other mobile phone companies or commercial companies follow in Africells footsteps the problem could be compounded. It may however be possible  for the problem to be resolved to the mutual benefit of all parties.

 

Engendering local participation in supplies and services should be taken seriously by various foreign owned companies. Although the matter of stimulating community benefits is more germane to the mining industry in this country, it applies also to other sectors. The Local Content Policy does attempt to address this issue and if experience is what we should go by, companies will not necessarily encourage local participation in their businesses voluntarily. The new Local Content Policy, aims to ensure a sufficient linkage between foreign enterprises and the local economy. It clarifies Governments expectations of investors regarding workforce and supply chain development and sets specific performance targets.

 

This is now the norm in many other countries. It is becoming common in mining policies that contracts include a schedule of graduated benefits to the local community; that is, a certain percentage of employment in the mine,  must go to local community members. The company should also have an obligation to provide training to local community members to make them employable. There is also often an obligation to procure an increasing percentage of a companys outsourcing from local providers, with a similar training obligation.  For some operations individuals from the surrounding communities could be taken on temporary employment through village contracts to provide services in property security, rehabilitation and housekeeping. Companies could also be engaged in projects to provide financial assistance to local suppliers to allow them to improve production and supply the mining company.

 

Many wrongly think this borders on protectionism and will not allow us to develop a competitive private sector that can hold its own in the global economy.Indeed in terms of the perceived capacity of local service providers to meet the requirements of investors, many of the local service providers are faced with financial and operating capacity issues. A gradualist approach can however be taken to address the problems of capacity limitations by a combination of training, funding and other provisions.Without the proper incentives in place, well-intentioned local supplier development initiatives can easily fail. 

 

The figure for utilisation of local supplies in Sierra Leone is alarming for some sectors. According to a recent study, it varies from 0.1% in the oil & gas sector to 5.8% in mining and 45.6% in banking. There are many practical things the Government can do to redress this situation. Have we ever considered why we import furniture for big government and industrial contracts when we could actively encourage local companies to set up shop? Can we not mandate that only locally produced rice may be sold to the prisons and Government institutions? Can mobile phone companies not be mandated to procure certain services locally as suggested by Mr Neville? Obviously these cannot be done overnight but the Local Content Policy may allow us to nibble at them gradually. May be -just may be we can learn something from this radio station imbroglio.

 

THE PA SYNDROME

 

Pa is so commonly used in Sierra Leone in so many different contexts that when you are called Pa you would have to carefully examine the motive behind the bestowal of this title in order to appreciate it. Time was, when Pa was venerated. It stood (and still stands in some instances) as a title for an old person as a sign of respect. Ours has always been a society that respects and venerates people.

 

Pa is now so accepted nationally that it defies any tribal strictures. It is used in so many diverse situations that one has to take a closer look at the prevailing situation before appreciating it. Here are a few examples of its use:

 

The respectful Pa: This respect can either be because of the age of the conferee or his perceived status.. An older driver or gardener may even call his boss Pa. Of course some may be overly biased in their respect at the detriment of others. I recall a new chauvinistic driver I had aggressively questioning my wife when she asked her to take her somewhere with my vehicle.You don tell the Pa eh?, he questioned. Needless to say his employment was short lived for this and other equally chauvinistic misdeamenours -no prizes for guessing who did the sacking.

 

The derisory Pa. Many a time those calling you Pa especially De Pa want something from you which they seek with flattery- De pa, You Bobor day ya oh. In this day and age when youths think they know it all and are ably represented in various spheres of life, they could use Pa in a contemptible form- Den Pa de sef , We nor want any Pa na ya, nar we compin young man we want.

 

The political Pa: President Kabbah was normally amiably called Pa Kabbah. This was because of his leadership and advancement in years. This was said fondly. President Koroma has not been called Pa Koroma probably because there are so many other ways his ardent supporters may refer to him.Supporters however managed to refer to him as De Pa -more or less conferring on him the status of the ultimate authority in the country. A normal campaign slogan during the last election was De Pa day wok. It soon caught on and was used by the party especially to convince the public that he was producing positive results particularly in the infrastructure area. APC is probably eternally grateful for the slogans De Pa day wok and 4 for 4 which made several otherwise unpopular candidates hang by the coattails of a seemingly popular President. Ministers constantly make reference to the Pa in his wisdom inspiring and supporting one effort or another as if to say they themselves are totally bereft of any initiative. One even managed to place infinite before the wisdom-pure sacrilege! On another note, I dont know if the story that made the rounds during my younger days about a bald headed tennis player (name withheld) is true. It is said that as a partner of the then VP, Kamara Taylor, he would pull out his hair every time the Pa missed, cursing under his breath Dis Pa pwell(and that was often) but then after making eye contact with him would say hard luck sir. His baldness was attributed to this perennial feat. Hapless fellow!

 

Despite all the adulation, our leaders are often not lulled into a false sense of security as others have been. History is replete with such examples in which rulers are given a god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise. It is said that Togos Gnassingb Eyadma  maintained an extensive personality cult, to the point of having schoolchildren begin their day by singing his praises. Stalin  at his own instigation was often referred to as the greatest leader,sublime strategist of all times and nations.What modesty! We havent gone that far yet. We just refer to ours as De Pa.

 

Ponder my thoughts.


© Copyright by Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

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