Extracts from Statement by Mustapha M.K. Sesay, National Secretary General, SLAJ delivered at Sierra Leone Labour Congress
Freetown, September 4, 2010: Colleague SLAJ and potential SLAJ members, other media practitioners and concerned parties present here, all protocols observed as I welcome you to this important Press Conference and Interactive Media Session on the SLAJ National Constitution, as a means of broadening your horizon on SLAJ and other related matters.
I address you with some amount of mixed feelings as a result of the current stalemate within the executive rank of our Association which has led to high display of betrayal and double standard from certain quarters we least expected. But I seek solace in the fact that freedom is not free and pledge to pay for it - if it must be me - in the process of restoring sanity once more to our noble association.
As you are already aware, within the last three months or so I have been subjected to systematic lampooning and vilification …for simply shutting the doors to the SLAJ Headquarters for barely four working hours in June in protest against the faulty manner in which he has been administering the Association.
As it is contained in your invitation letter, the purpose of this joint event is to clear misconception about me regarding the impasse within the executive rank of the association and to broaden your knowledge base on the Constitution, with a view to enabling you constructively engage in SLAJ debates whenever the need arises.
This event is the first in a series of four regional events to be hosted in preparedness for the 2010 Biennial Conference, which I presume will be exceptionally heated.
Never in my almost four-year history in the SLAJ National Executive and over a decade long history as active and dedicated SLAJ member have I been subjected to this kind of administrative challenge for simply standing up for what is right, than this year. But I have no doubt that truth will reveal and that good will end up triumphing over evil, because evil only thrives when good men refuse to act.
As you are also aware, the circumstances leading to this impasse are already a subject of enquiry by a legally constituted investigating panel set up by SLAJ. Therefore, I will deliberately avoid dealing with then in detail as a comprehensive statement backed by convincing evidence has already been presented to them.
However, it is my relief to give you a synopsis of the unfolding events for the benefit of those who may not have been abreast with the facts of the matter. On the night of June 10 this year, I sent out a public notice to colleague National Executive Members informing them about my decision to temporarily shut down the door to the SLAJ Headquarters instant, in protest against the flawed manner in which our noble Association was being administered.
…Several issues came up and were discussed. In the process, I unreservedly apologised to the President, colleague executive members, our affiliates and general membership nationwide for the act of shutting down the office and my apologies accepted in good faith by all. Thereafter, a consensus was reached that the circumstances leading to that unfortunate action especially my grievances be looked into immediately. Thus, a three-man Committee was set up led by an eminent SLAJ member and distinguished journalist in the person of Kelvin Lewis, to deal with the matter and propose the way forward.
Those who attended that meeting including members of the panel can attest to the fact that an indirect motion to impeach me was unanimously frowned at before it was thrown out. That was followed by a vote on a motion to have me suspended before the start of the investigation, but it was humiliatingly defeated by 54 votes to 4. There and then the committee started its work.
On July 21, I faced the committee after the President, based on a formal invitation and presented a comprehensive statement, backed by supporting evidence as earlier indicated.
On August 3, 2010, that was precisely 51 days into the investigation and 13 days after I have appeared before the committee, another so-called General Meeting was illegally convened …to have me suspended based on the June 14 already defeated motion stated earlier.
Precisely, from what I know about democratic civility and proper administrative rules and procedure, which I am convince most of you equally know, a matter can not be in the hands of the investigating committee which is yet to complete its task, just …to call another meeting to institute punitive measures against me, especially when the decision was based on “a resurrected” and therefore illegitimate motion.
I am of the opinion, as I believe of you do, that any further action, punitive or not, regarding this matter, should be proposed by the Investigating Committee which must seek a consensus of a fully constituted General Assembly.
Besides, my understanding of the Constitution and SLAJ customs and tradition/ judicial precedence, is that an executive member can only be suspended or removed from office by a resolution and a vote of no confidence for failing to perform his/her functions or otherwise incapacitated. And this must be the outcome of an Extraordinary General Assembly called specifically for that purpose, a notice of which must state so. But all of these protocols were glaringly ignored …only for me to be allegedly suspended under Any Other Business (AOB) in an Ordinary General meeting, worse so when I have never reneged in my duties and responsibilities to SLAJ.
Also, to convene all SLAJ meetings have strict procedures to follow as stipulated including those contained in Article 11.9 (c) ii of the Constitution. That is, the President or whosoever is acting in that capacity must instruct the Secretary General to convene the meeting based on a prior executive decision.
…Suffice to say that such extreme acts if they go unchallenged could be considered as an affront to the intelligence and integrity of the general membership.
It is against this background that I and I believe anyone of you that has respect for democracy, the rule of law and responsible leadership, have not, and certainly will never recognise nor accept that decision to suspend me, which I am prepared to challenge at any level.
Moreover, for those interested in knowing my other reason for not attending that meeting beside legitimacy issues, …I was not prepared to toy with the integrity of SLAJ by going public with the sensitive information already presented in confidence to the investigating panel regarding high level illegality in the administration of the association.
That said, may I also draw your attention to the fact that lobbying for my replacement in all public institution and committees where I represent SLAJ [has been ongoing], giving them the false impression that I have been suspended from SLAJ. These include the expanded Policy Committee of the Independent Media Commission (IMC), the Sierra Leone 50th Anniversary Celebration Committee and the Sierra Leone Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (SLEITI) where I serve as head of the Communications Sub-Committee and on the verge of implementing its Communication Strategy.
Facing the fact, even if the suspension was genuine, it is from the position of National Secretary General, not from SLAJ. Thus, that should not affect my representation in any public institution including those already stated especially when I am legitimately representing the Association and not performing secretariat functions there.
An immediate strategy that I intend using is to continue attending the meetings and programmes of all those public institutions or committees where I represent SLAJ.
Also, as indicated earlier this month, I remain undeterred in my resolve to assert my authority as the legitimate National Secretary General, while awaiting the outcome of the investigation and in ensure that arrogance; illegality and dictatorship do not reign over SLAJ.
Meanwhile, looking at it from another angle, if the decision to suspend me ...was legitimate, I will never have ventured to be using my office as I still do.
Finally, I am gratified by your turnout and wish to urge every one of you to actively participate in the discussions that will soon follow during the interactive forum. And from now on we must realize that it is high time SLAJ members be meeting from time to time to discuss the Constitution so that the organization could be more effective not only in the defense of press freedom and freedom of expression, but also in ensuring respect for the freedom of individual members as well.
Let me conclude this by stressing that I am not under any form of suspension. Anyone wishing to prove this should visit me in my office at the SLAJ Headquarters. I thank you all and may peace and stability prevail once more in the association.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.