Hon. Sufian Kargbo, of the ĎOld APCí regimes of the late former presidents Joseph Saidu Momoh and Siaka Probyn Stevens has granted an interview to an overseas news outlet in which he has exposed abuse of privileges and state office by the two former APC Leaders. Awareness Times is reproducing the main parts of the interview today so as to firstly, alert civil society to the possibility that such might re-occur and secondly, to impress on the minds of the public just how far Sierra Leone has come away from those days when the practice of patronizing abuse of the State by selfish politicians, was the order of the day. These past APC leaders, as exposed below by Hon. Suffian Kargbo, shamelessly handed largesse to their political followers in order to satisfy followers whilst the majority languished in poverty. In the process, they and their stooges became powerful and also fattened their pockets. The interview between Patriotic Vanguard (PV) and Hon. Suffian Kargbo provides quite a few lessons to be learnt about how not to run a Nation. According to Hon. Suffian Kargbo, not only has his reputation never been up for sale but he stood firm against selfish business monopolies and also defied the past APC leadership. He remains one of the few Sierra Leonean politicians who resigned office in protest at their leaders. Read on:-
PV: What can you tell our readers about the Magbass Sugar Factory, which was built with Chinese economic assistance? Is it still serving the purpose of producing sugar for domestic consumption? Do you see it producing sugar for consumption needs outside of Sierra Leone?
Kargbo: Magbass Sugar Farm is still serving the purpose of producing sugar for our people. However, the company is now exporting much of this sugar to meet the cost of foreign exchange component of production. In fact, the Magbass Sugar Company is negotiating with the Ministry of Agriculture and the land owners to acquire more land for increased production.
PV: You were credited as the person responsible for making the availability of sugar through agents around the country rather than allow Eric James and Ibrahim Basma continue with their monopolies? Why was it important for you to champion that cause?
Kargbo: In 1986, I accompanied late president Momoh as his Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources & Forestry to the Peopleís Republic of China on an official visit. The Chinese authorities objected to the then existing monopolies that involved the sale of sugar and ethanol produced at Magbass and urged us to scrap it. They were very blunt and informed us that the project was in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone and not for two individuals and unless we did something to disband the monopoly, they will reconsider their involvement. In other words, they will go slow. Having heard their blunt message, late president Momoh turned to me in the presence of the secretary general, one Mr. Leigh and said to me" Mr. Minister youíve heard the message. It is your assignment to end the monopoly when we get back to Sierra Leone." For me, that was all I needed.
PV: So what did you do upon your return to Freetown?
Kargbo: Upon our return to Freetown from China, the first thing I did was to summon Mr. Eric James who was then the monopoly trader of ethanol and Mr. Ibrahim Basma who was monopolizing the sugar trade. When Sierra Leoneans endeavour to participate in national development, it is our duty to encourage them because at the end of the day, it is Sierra Leoneans who will develop the country. If there is any assistance from friends outside, we would welcome it but the core input should be from us.
I informed both gentlemen of the message from China and made it abundantly clear to them that I was not interested in disbanding them just like that or overnight, otherwise I will be disrupting the smooth running of their companies. In plain language, I informed them that what was not negotiable was the continuation of their monopolies; they have to be disbanded.
PV: What was their response?
Kargbo: Well, first of all, I asked them to come up with a proposal to phase out the monopoly in such a way that they were not adversely affected. I informed them that they will continue in the business of sugar and ethanol but it will now be traded throughout the country. I asked them to think over the issue and report back in a month. So, they went out of my office and came back after about five minutes and gave me what I considered was an ultimatum. "Mr. Minister, either you continue to give us all or we take nothing" they said. I was shocked and thought I did not hear them properly and asked them to repeat what they had just mentioned. You see Abdul, in those days; there were people who thought they had the right to dictate to government. In a very clear message, I told them of my authority and my determination to carry through with the decision in the interest of the people of Sierra Leone. Again, I asked them to take a month, think over and come up with ways to disband the monopoly.
PV: What happened this time?
Kargbo: After a month, I called them back and they came and their position remained the same; they wanted all or nothing at all. I told them that they were challenging governmentís authority and as a result, they will hear of my actions within a week. As they left my office, I called on my director general of agriculture and the chief agriculturist to discuss about dismantling the monopoly. In about half an hour, we came up with our decision to choose seven selling centres that could have direct access to Magbass, no longer through them. Can you imagine someone from Magburaka wanting to buy sugar and had to travel all the way to Freetown when the sugar was and is still produced at Magbass? So we dismantled the whole monopoly. The next day I presented it to cabinet and it was the first paper president Momoh called up for discussion. In less than ten minutes, it became a cabinet conclusion. It was approved and was sent to parliament where it passed overwhelmingly. Perhaps, both men thought I was joking. Thus, the way sugar became available throughout the country.
PV: Can you tell us about the 1987 sugar scandal which led to your resignation as minister of agriculture? Some saw this as a testament to your decency as a man who would not compromise his integrity for the sins of others; in this case the government which you were serving was asking you to accept full responsibility in order to safeguard its reputation.
Kargbo: Good question. I am glad you asked. The same question came up during the Beccles -Davis Commission of Inquiry. It was over the sugar episode. You see in all my public life, I have always entered office with a determination to go in clean and come out clean. This is because my reputation has never been for sale in the market. In fact, I donít think anybodyís is on the market for sale. We all have to protect our reputation. In the case of the sugar issue, before late J.S. Momoh became president, late president Stevens had a way of doing things to kind of appease his supporters at the district and national levels. When women came from their districts be it Port Loko, late C.A. Kamara-Taylorís Kambia district or from Tonkolili district or from any district, he used to give them notes that instructed them to go to a particular department. For example, he may send them to Sierra Fisheries to pick up cartoons of fishes to go sell and share the proceeds amongst themselves. Or he would give instructions to whosoever was in charge of SLPMB to give say one hundred or two hundred bags of rice. This way they will return to their constituents feeling happy and supportive of government. I must hasten to say that Siaka Stevens never asked them to sell and bring in the money for his own pockets. He never did! Now, when president Momoh came to power, I think he wanted to copy the exact same thing. During the harvest period of the sugar scandal, we went to a cabinet meeting where I proposed a distribution list giving MPs about 50 bags of sugar to sell to their constituents. However, what I failed to do was to make an allocation to State House.
PV: Why was State House not included in your list, sir?
Kargbo: Believe me; I did not think it was necessary. Better still, I just did not see it necessary for president Momoh to have a quota.
PV: What was president Momohís reaction after he realized that he did not get his share?
Kargbo: Well, after our meeting he called and said "Mr. Minister, I have just taken up office and you know these are the things we use to appease our people. Why did you not allocate a quota of sugar to me?"
PV: What was your response to President Momoh?
Kargbo: My answer was simple. "I forgot sir" I responded and told him I wished he had raised it during our cabinet meeting before the conclusion was reached. "What do we do now, sir?" I asked him. Then, he said to me "go back to the ministry and make your adjustments." But you see, each time a cabinet conclusion is reached, each minister goes with his paper to his ministry and the officials of that ministry have possession of that conclusion. He did not suggest that we withdrew the paper but rather instructed me to go back and make adjustments and put aside something for State House. I went back to my ministry and called my senior officials and told them that we had to reduce the allocations offered to each minister so that some could be put aside for State House. Thereafter, I informed him.
PV: What did he do after you informed him that you have had to reduce the quota allocated to each ministry just to put aside some for him?
Kargbo: He got one Mr. George whom I believe was his private secretary and probably handled his mails. This gentleman and late Hannah Momoh, then first lady, were working together. Now, President Momoh would issue slips of papers with instructions