From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Sierra Leone: Is Koroma now Running the Country like Nobody’s Business?
By Abdul R Thomas (Leeds, United Kingdom)
Mar 26, 2009, 17:19

In stark contrast to the prevailing deteriorating security in the country, it will be recalled that less than two years ago, Sierra Leone was gripped by elections fever, with almost a carnival-like atmosphere. The airwaves and newspapers were filled with songs lambasting the SLPP government for being inept, corrupt and lethargic, whilst the opposition parties’ campaign songs echoed the chorus: "Agenda for Change: it is time for change, and we will make a difference." Who will ever forget the opposition APC leader’s promise, to ‘run the country like a business’ if elected? Sadly, today the people of Sierra Leone could be forgiven for thinking that, what the President really meant to say, was that he would ‘run the country like nobody’s business.’

The airwaves and newspaper headlines are now beginning to sound and look pretty much as they did during the elections campaign in 2007, although this time, they seem to be extolling what is seen as the naked abuse of power, corruption, ineptitude and lethargy of the APC government, whose promise of change and strong leadership, provoked so much popular support from the people of Sierra Leone who for far too long have been yearning for economic prosperity, improved health care, better infrastructure, and an end to the culture of corruption.

As we witnessed the return of the President from India having undergone ‘a routine health check’ which we are led to believe the medical services and doctors in Sierra Leone are not equipped nor capable of providing, one cannot help but note that for the poor people of Sierra Leone who cannot afford to travel abroad for routine medical check ups, life expectancy will continue to be cut short at 40; pregnant mothers will continue to die unnecessarily during child birth; and many newly born babies will continue to die before they attain the age of 3.

The President in the meantime of course, will continue to "happily and heartily" enjoy playing squash and challenging the few in the country with the strength and stamina to compete against him, courtesy of the Indian National Health Service, and at a cost of millions of Leones to Sierra Leone’s tax payer.

The President is also proud to inform the people of Sierra Leone that he has returned feeling "happy, hale and hearty". But he has returned to a country that is more divided than it was 24 months ago – with running battles involving both opposition and government supporters; a country whose infrastructures are just as dilapidated as they were 24 months ago, if not worse; a country whose rate of unemployment amongst the youth has soared in the last 24 months, thus alienating and impoverishing the very young people we should be looking up to for a better future.

Without wanting to sound unfair or biased against President Koroma and his team of ministers, we must acknowledge that whilst the former SLPP government had succeeded with the help of the international community in creating a peaceful and stable environment, with relatively strong democratic, public institutions, and constitutional rule of law, the economy inherited by President Koroma was not much to celebrate about either.

Much could have been achieved by the previous government if the economy had not become overly donor driven, thus stifling entrepreneurial innovation and personal enterprise. Higher levels of economic growth could have been stimulated through a concerted and co-ordinated strategy aimed at developing the private sector as a central part of a National Economic Development Plan.

There was also sufficient evidence to suggest that foreign investors had held back their finances until after the outcome of the elections, and aid donors had turned off the taps largely because they too had become a part of the problem rather that the solution, and were nakedly promoting democratic change to suit their foreign policy agenda. Indeed the international community in Sierra Leone had been accused of micro-managing the country’s affairs, with their behaviours inimical to those of ‘Shadow Directors’ of a public limited company.

Of course no one would have criticised the aid donors if they had ensured that the opposition APC had put in place not only a manifesto for electioneering, but a shadow cabinet and a 10 year Strategic Development Plan with quantifiable outputs and outcomes, which today could have informed the basis upon which the performance of each government minister was to be assessed prior to the recent cabinet reshuffle.

Sadly, the people of Sierra Leone will never be any wiser as to what performance targets were set for each minister of state, not to speak of public access to the results of the performance review that was undertaken by the President in secrecy, prior to the reshuffle. What a lapse from a government that would like to take pride in it’s much touted ‘Open Government Initiative.’

The irony now of course is that it would be quite difficult for the President to convince the people that the reason for removing or demoting ministers from their offices to other less critical areas of government policy, was simply because they had performed excellently and are now needed to utilise ‘their management skills’ to transform those departments that are failing.

It is now eighteen months since APC took over power, so where are we now? The economy is not doing well; the health sector is as poor as to warrant the President to seek routine medical check up in India; the roads have become death traps; the much promised new built public markets in Freetown are still at the planning stage, with market traders converging on and annexing pedestrian footpaths; the country is still divided with tribalism polarising public appointment decisions and the rewarding of public contracts; the youths are running wild in our streets, causing mayhem and fear.

But what lessons can the opposition SLPP party learn from the experiences of the current APC government in their bid to tackle deep rooted problems of massive unemployment; poor health care provision; poor infrastructure; rampant corruption; tribalism; and a very high percentage of youths suffering from psychosis secondary to substance misuse and the brutal effects the civil war?

The outcome of the Kenema convention to elect the Executive is a good start. But it is just the beginning of a very long and difficult journey to transforming itself to a credible opposition. Work should now start in producing the manifesto, and more importantly in appointing a shadow cabinet team that will ensure that a draft 10 year Economic Development Strategy is formulated in anticipation of the outcome of the 2012 elections.

A shadow minister must be appointed for each of the respective ministerial roles, so that attention and focus can be given to objective criticism of the current government’s failings and shortcomings. This should create a better and healthy opposition, rather than the current personalising and trivialising of key issues that are affecting the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans. This positive engagement with politics by the SLPP will serve to educate the masses as to where the current APC government is at, in terms of their performance.

An appointment of a shadow cabinet will also ensure that an elected SLPP government will hit the ground running come 2012, rather that embarking on ‘a wild goose chase’ searching for ideas, solutions and development strategies that are half baked and lacking in conviction and substance. Indeed, they will need to avoid being accused of running the country like nobody’s business.

To the present APC government this advice should be offered: The elections of 2007 have shown that the people of Sierra Leone are capable of exercising their democratic right to choose at the polls, irrespective of tribe, religion, gender, or class. Those public policy instruments and initiatives that are currently glaringly absent, but which could make a difference to the lives of ordinary Sierra Leoneans, cannot be described as ‘rocket science.’ They are plain common sense, that would require VISION; EMPATHY; COURAGE; LEADERSHIP; HONESTY; AND A QUANTIFIABLE PLAN OF ACTION, for their formulation and successful delivery, if the government is serious about achieving economic prosperity and social advancement for the benefit of the people of Sierra Leone.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.