The O’Jays advising government? I know-your head may be spinning, but read on!
The development challenge in Sierra Leone is preeminently a political one. It involves building institutions–in the state, politics and civil society. This will channel citizen participation in constructive ways and deliver minimally decent, accountable and effective governance. Over the past few months, the opposition parties, civil society groups and the media have complained about the existential threat to freedom of expression by the government, corruption and marginalization.

The opposition, especially the SLPP has complained about all kinds of issues ranging from corruption to threats to the country’s survival as a democratic state. The government has a substantial majority in parliament and can control anything in the legislative wing of government, especially with a depleted and divided opposition in the house. The opposition has decried the “oppression of the minority by the majority”. Civil society groups have been equally scathing in their criticism on all kinds of governance issues-corruption and threats to freedom of expression have loomed large in their agenda. The media has basically complained about the same problems and been very vocal and united on the issue of their members being dragged to the police by top government officials for reasons of defamation. The government obviously has given a different side to these stories.

It was therefore considered a good thing by many that the President had invited these various groups for consultations on a whole range of issue. From every indication the consultations seem to have gone well.

According to reports, SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis talked on issues bordering on criminalising free speech and the recent clamp down on the Media. He lamented thus: “When government ministers have no regard for state institutions, how can they expect the public to respect these institutions and by extension the offices they themselves hold?” Lewis also asked that the case between the President and other Journalists be dropped as Journalists “are not bad people.” Again according to AWOKO, President Koroma said, “as a government, I am of the view that I have maintained a good relationship with Journalists,” stating that “I have created the space for Journalists to practise their profession and nobody has been unduly incarcerated or imprisoned.” He said “I am of the view that there has been some improvement in the practice, but there is still room for improvement.” He also said he is committed to reviewing the 1965 Public Order Act.”

It also seems the meeting with Civil society went well. They brought forward a myriad of issues and it seems there were no holds barred. Even a normally critical member mentioned that the President “seemed genuine”.
The group of politicians comprising representatives of the ten opposition parties seemed very pleased and cooperative. The President is said to have admonished them to work together in promoting tolerance and unity as a way of building stronger trust and confidence among politicians and a positive political culture. One newspaper claims, “a process for resolving national issues, through political inclusiveness and engagement was established. One report claims: “the Chairman of the SLPP Chief Somano Kapen said President Koroma has displayed determination and commitment to move the country forward by engaging parties to discuss issues affecting the country”. He reaffirmed his party's commitment and faith to work with decisiveness for what; he called the “Agenda for Dialogue and Mediation”. Not to be outdone, the PMDC’s Charles Margai, noted that trust and confidence are very paramount in any interaction among political parties and commended the President for the “novelty of the process”.

And they lived happily ever after? Not so fast! The issue of money seemed to have marred the meeting with the politicians. Apparently the President gave the ten opposition parties $2,000 each for “transport money”. This has caused some brouhaha in the SLPP camp. One livid member complained that the SLPP should “bring enough pressure to bear on their leaders to send this gift back”. Another was more critical: ”Returning the money is not enough for me. Those shameless, greedy and morally bankrupt officials implicated in this matter should be asked to step down or be impeached for betraying the trust of the SLPP membership. The most scathing critic of all said: ”Bluntly and brutally put, it is labelled
"CORRUPTION". In terms more euphemistic, it is the use of improper influence, or, the improper use of influence, something we should never put past both the Government and the Opposition Parties. What better way to bloodlessly neutralize, paralyze, and maim these Opposition Parties! It is strategic silence without brutal violence.” One dissenting voice said: “In our “African” culture and practice after all, we believe in ‘big men and women’ doling out cash as befits their status”.

Quite apart from the money palaver, there also seems to be of some concern that President Koroma may be adopting a “good cop, bad cop” approach to some of these problems. A critic opined: “It is instructive that most of the complaints seemed to have been made against the President’s ministers and other officials who were noticeably absent at these consultations. President Koroma may have given the impression that these meetings signified a “mea culpa” of sorts on his part for the “sins” of his subordinates. Whatever the motivation, he is going to be viewed as the “good cop” by critics. These problems should not have been allowed to fester in the first place and people should be brought to book. Consultations are good, anyway as long as the motive is genuine”. Clearly there must be the political will at the top of the system to make our institutions work, to press for freedom and expose wrongdoing. Our democratic institutions must be made to thrive- and thrive meaningfully.

Ah , well, whatever the case, the O’Jays, the revered 70’s R&B group, puts the case very well-especially the one relating to money changing hands in their classic, “For the love of money”.

For the love of money
People will steal from their mother
For the love of money
People will rob their own brother
For the love of money
People can't even walk the street
Because they never know who in the world they're gonna beat
For that lean, mean, mean green
Almighty dollar, money

Money can change people sometimes
Don't let, don't let, don't let money fool you
Money can fool people sometimes
People! Don't let money, don’t let money change you,
it will keep on changing, changing up your mind.

The O’Jays’ advice in their other classic, “Give the people what they want”, would seem to provide some salient advice to government:

Well, it's about time for things to get better
We want the truth, the truth and no more lies
We want freedom, justice and equality
I want it for you and I want it for me

You, you, don't you?
Got to give the people
Give the people what they want

People want better education now
People want better food to eat
People want here better homing
People need money, money

People need equality
People need understanding
People need freedom
And gotta……..

Ponder the lyrics of the O’Jays!

Another attempt is made to define a few expressions that will be carried through 2014.

“His Excellency, in his wisdom made this possible”
Prizes really should be offered to any government Minister of top Government functionary that does not use these words in speeches and interviews- “His Excellency in his wisdom thought about this project and took strides to make it possible”, they wax. These are repeated more often when personnel changes are imminent. Some may even go as far as adding “infinite” before the wisdom. The last time I checked, the only one that was omniscient was the Almighty. Good thing they don’t refer to his “omnipotence”, though.
Actual meaning should be-“Pa, nor forget me O, ah hope say you yeri way a day bato you.”

“Testing, testing, 1234”
Whenever there is a public occasion, over exuberant public address system attendants move round to various places around the hall testing their microphones in various positions to give themselves assurance that the PA system will run without a hitch. No sooner does the occasion start than you start hearing screeches and then finally the microphone would go mute. Attempts at resuscitating it could prove futile. This is often sorted out by the attendant advising the speaker to turn sideways when talking or to hold the mike by the “throat”, or some ludicrous suggestion. I was recently told I had to turn sideways with my back to the audience for the mike to work, when chairing an occasion-this was the last straw-I refused!
Actual meaning should be- “You better get ready to shout because I am giving you notice that this mike will stop working when the speeches start.”

Ponder my thoughts.

About CEN 755 Articles
Critique Echo Newspaper is a major source of news and objective analyses about governance, democracy and human-right. Edited and published in Kenema city, eastern Sierra Leone, the outlet is generally referred to as a level plying ground for the youths, women and children.

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