Freetown – June 30, 2010. This is the third edition of our monthly Press Briefing. In our inaugural and second editions, we presented the position of the Party on the following salient issues:
· National Constitutional Review
· The London Mining Agreement and Existing Legislations
· The Petroleum industry
· Diplomatic Missions
· Free Health Care Policy and the
· Re-Appointment of Christian Thorpe as Chairperson, National Electoral Commission
On the Constitutional Review, we are still awaiting a concrete policy statement from the Government on the way forward especially as we approach the 2012 elections.
On the London Mining Agreement, as expected, Government defended its erroneous and surreptitious position. London Mining through its Managing Director also wrote us a letter fallaciously defending its position on the matter. We have replied to their missive through the same medium they adopted in disseminating their correspondence to us.
Even though Government did concede to the authenticity of the position of the Opposition on the issue of transparency and probity in the acquisition of interests in the Petroleum Industry and assured us of work in progress on this matter, regrettably, to date, the public knows very little of what is going on with respect to the nation’s oil. The SLPP would like to reiterate the following:
· All acquisitions of interests in the petroleum sector must be done by public tender.
· Government should publicly disclose petroleum agreements and details about licensing to public scrutiny.
· Government should establish as a matter of urgency the necessary legal and regulatory framework for the petroleum sector and the process should be open to public consultation
On Corruption, among other things, our position is that: …. we detest and will continue to vehemently oppose selective justice and the existing prevalence of ‘untouchables’ and ‘sacred cows’ in the fight against institutional graft. In this regard, we call on the
Commission to thoroughly and impartially investigate and where possible charge those responsible for the NASSIT ferry debacle, the Indian Rice saga and the Income Electrix scandal which issues have suddenly taken an unjustified stillness".
We are equally concerned at the performance of the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) in the absence of a Commissioner and Heads of Intelligence, Investigations and Prosecution. We call on Government to immediately fill these positions so as to ensure the efficacy of this all important institution established by the last SLPP Government to fight graft that was institutionalised by the then APC one party Government.
Regarding our diplomatic missions, Government continues to be silent on the inexcusable and disgraceful behaviour of several heads of our diplomatic missions abroad.
On the Free Health Care, we are still concerned that drugs in most Peripheral Health Units are inadequate, there are limited health facilities, there are inadequate trained doctors and nurses and the transportation system is poor for delivery of drugs and supervision. Also, Government is yet to come out with any prudent policy direction that addresses the sustainability of the ongoing free health care service to pregnant women, lactating mothers and children under five when donor funds run out and how to expand this service to other vulnerable groups.
Despite our Party’s position on the re-appointment of Christiana Thorpe as Chief Electoral Commissioner, the President has once again in blatant disregard of our views and in consonance with his definition of ‘Consultation’ as confined to ‘information’ rather than building consensus, forwarded his nomination to Parliament for approval. And again despite a walk out by our Parliamentarians and their vehement opposition to the report of the Appointment Committee and other procedural impediments to her appointment in the well of Parliament; again the President’s nominee was approved by simple majority.
In this Press briefing, we shall be presenting our position on the following:
· Re-introduction of District Officers
· The Goods and Services Tax (GST) Receipt Deal
· Government’s misinformation of the public and the world on the Statement of the Secretary General of the United Nations to the embarrassment of the nation and the chagrin of Sierra Leoneans.
(i) Re-introduction of District Officers
On Thursday June 24 2010, the Minister of Internal Affairs and Local Government made public the decision of Cabinet to re-introduce District Officers (DOs). The District Officers were delegated staff of the central government (Ministry of Local Government), part of the provincial administration and directly supervised by the Provincial Secretary. With the dissolution of the Local Councils in 1972 by the All Peoples Congress, the DOs assumed more responsibilities including supervision of chiefs and government departments and at a point even served as District Returning Officers for the then Elections Office.
In 2004, following the introduction of Local Councils, the SLPP administration wisely decided to abolish the district offices and transfer some of their functions to newly created position of Chief Administrator (CA) in the Local Councils. The raison d’ętre for the abolition of district offices was to avoid overlap of responsibilities between district council offices headed by Chairmen of Local Councils and district offices headed by District Officers and demonstrate Government’s commitment to decentralisation.
There is ample evidence of the effectiveness of the Local Councils in state administration, service delivery and rural development. Notwithstanding, the All Peoples Congress is now determined to re-introduce the District Officers. According to the Minister, the district offices shall, among other things, address complaints from the chiefdoms and supervise activities of Non-Governmental Organisations.
The SLPP holds the view that there are other mechanisms to put in place to ensure effective supervision of chiefdom institutions. This may require defining an institutional framework that takes into consideration what ever lacuna that might have been created by the abolition of the district offices.
Alternatively, Government can consider reviewing the Local Government Act (2004) and the Chieftaincy Act (2009) within the context of a robust decentralisation policy (which we still await). In particular, we can revisit the functions of the Local Councils and responsibilities of Chief Administrators to include addressing matters relating to chieftaincy institutions. Enhancing the capacity of provincial offices to be more effective is also an option.
Regarding the coordination of activities of Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), the local councils are best fit to perform this role. Any attempt to transfer that responsibility to another office will be chaotic and render district development coordination ineffective.
The SLPP is also concerned about the high cost of re-establishing district offices in terms of additional staff, logistics and recurrent expenses for functions that can be performed by already existing institutions.
Overall, the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) views this decision as political and retrogressive and the first step by the All Peoples Congress to undermine and reverse the decentralisation of state administration. The responsibilities of district officers shall surely overlap with the chief administrators. With the DOs accountable to the central government, there will be conflict between the district offices and the Local Councils. This arrangement will create chaos in district administration
Finally, the SLPP holds the position that the APC is disturbed by the fact that they do not have absolute control of all districts despite the fact they are in charge of central government. The APC is particularly disturbed by the fact that as a ruling Party, they can only influence 10 out of 19 Councils.
We therefore call on all Members of Parliaments, Local Councils, Civil Society Organisations and the international community to advise Government to think otherwise.
(ii) The Goods and Services Tax Receipt Deal
The Sierra Leone People’s Party is most concerned and startled at recent publications in the local media which seem to suggest that US $ 9, 617,317 ( Nine Million, Six Hundred and Seventeen Thousand and Three Hundred and Seventeen United States Dollars) was spent on just the printing of GST receipt books. To exacerbate an already depressing situation the said printing was allegedly not done in this country but in Ghana. Also baffling are recent revelations that sources in Ghana have indicated that the amount the Ghanaian Company that was contracted to do the job stated in their proposal was slightly less than US$ 3 million, way below the whopping sum of US$ 9, 617 317.
The Sierra Leone People’s Party would like to raise the following concerns:
· The transaction was not approved by the Board of the National Revenue Authority (NRA)
· Some senior government officials including a Deputy Minister of Finance and officials of the NRA have been named in the fraud.
· The transaction was a total breach of procurement rules and therefore an act of corruption
· This amount is more than what was collected from GST in Quarter I (January-March 2010) and almost 25% of projected annual revenue from GST
· The illegal contract was grossly if not criminally overpriced.
· The amount could have been utilised to modernise and upgrade our Government Printing Department to effectively and expeditiously do the work at a far lesser cost and with greater benefit to the economy and people of this country.
· This transaction involving such huge amount cannot take place without knowledge and approval of the Minister of Finance and the Office of the President. The Deputy Minister named in the deal might be the front.
The SLPP would like to urge Government to make a statement leading to an in-depth inquiry into this serious allegation of misuse of tax payers’ monies by senior members of Government.
The SLPP Party also calls for immediate action by the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC). If the ACC is currently under-resourced given the many cases with them, Government can consider the setting up of a time-bound independent and impartial investigative panel to expeditiously and thoroughly investigate this allegation and make recommendations for immediate action by the relevant law enforcement agencies where anyone is found wanting.
(iii) Government’s misinformation of the Sierra Leonean public and the world
on the Statement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on Sierra
The Sierra Leone People’s Party views with dismay the recent incorrect and misleading statement issued and disseminated by the Press Office at State House. The said Press Statement inter alia alleged that the visiting United Nations Secretary-General to Sierra Leone, Mr. Ban Ki-Moon endorsed the unpopular inquest into the deaths of former Inspector General of Police, Bambay Kamara and 28 others in an answer to a question posed by one of our local journalists during his encounter with the local press.
Few days after the said release was circulated in the World Wide Web, the United Nations Secretariat in New York took great exception to the misleading and illusory quotation contained in that release from State House. This embarrassing situation in the world stage again compelled Government to retract and correct the records with a further Press Release issued and signed by the Secretary to the President dated June 21, 2010.
This latter Press Statement expressly states that the UN Scribe never made the statement contained in their earlier statement supporting an inquest into the said deaths. Rather ‘such a matter should be a decision of the Government of Sierra Leone and should be addressed in accordance with the recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and in the spirit of national reconciliation and peace building.’
Our party welcomes and endorses the statement of the United Nations Secretary-General while in Sierra Leone and we utterly condemn Government’s continued incessant misinformation of the public and constant use of false propaganda to propagate policies that are not in the interest of national cohesion and development.
On behalf of the people of Sierra Leone, the SLPP would like to publicly apologise to the United Nations for such a national disgrace. The SLPP also demand that the Government publicly apologise to the United Nations and the people of Sierra Leone for such a disgrace.
I thank you all.