What better way to start the year than reflecting on the past year. There is a potpourri of issues to mull over and, admittedly such reflections would be subject to the whims of the reviewer. I started with a long list and whittled it down to a few key issues which shaped 2013, some of which still loom large over the national landscape. Here they are.
Improvements in the electricity supply, the array of road projects, signs of resurgence with the water supply situation can all be said to be impressive. One small snag though: that little word called “sustainability” needs to be kept in mind. Infrastructure projects continued during the year but the furore over potholes, and inconsistent supply of electricity also continued. There have been complaints about the cost effectiveness of some programmes, though one cannot dispute the fact that there are tangible projects which will help with our socio-economic development.
A SPIN TOO FAR
There is no denying government’s accomplishments in certain areas. Why they have to put a spin on anything negative however defies understanding. Plaudits for accomplishments in the areas of doing business and some aspects of good governance, especially carrying out reforms would make us proud. The mere mention of any failure however revs the spin machine into overdrive. Apart from relevant official Government functionaries, the spin has extended to statistics and monitoring agencies. The latter question everything from the sample size to the methodology and even the motive of the purveyors of bad news. Meanwhile the EITI and MCC failures did not do us proud. Why don’t we just accept that there have been some lapses and work on them. And, oh, for goodness sake, do not use OGI-as one observer has noted “Den make lie gains man”.
CONSTITUTIONAL REVIEW WONT SORT EVERYTHING OUT
Everyone and his dog has something he wants changed in the constitution, as if it is a panacea for sorting out all out ills. It is good that it has been met with so much fervour and interesting to see the views of various civil society organisations and interest groups. Some call for more than a mere tinkering of the constitution and clamour for addressing the fundamental problem of economic governance at the local level. Others ask for everything of interest to be enshrined in the constitution. The Chairman Justice Cowan urges caution whilst admitting the constitution should be people led. All of this makes for a healthy debate. One worrying aspect though is the suspicion, however unfounded it may be of a hidden hand by Government to tinker with the constitution to its advantage. The jury is still out on this.
EDUCATION: COUNTING TEACHERS TILL THE COWS COME HOME
It is noteworthy that the Minister of Education gave his first interview in six years after taking respite from teacher counting. Counting teachers for six years could be exhaustive. Too much time spent on “sins of commission” may result in an inordinate amount of “sins of omission”. Educational standards continue to plummet at all levels. The paucity of facilities was especially noticeable particularly at the tertiary education level. The government’s antidote for the educational debacle was implementing the recommendations of the Gbamanja commission of enquiry, essentially lengthening schooling by one year. The jury is still out on how effective this will be. Initial observations are that without sorting out other underlying problems, this may not be a ready panacea for our educational woes.
SHUFFLING THE RESHUFFLE
No sooner did president Koroma announce his new Cabinet after the last elections than tongues started wagging about a reshuffle. The Cabinet announcement after so much anticipation with naysayers shouting “throw the rascals out” was met with a whimper-over 80 percent of the old cabinet was retained. The faithful still had hope-this was just a temporary cabinet and after 6 months the sword of Damocles which was hanging over their heads would finally fall. Well, a year later, the sword is still hanging, even though the rumour mill has been in overdrive over the past two months. But as one observer noted "a football team has to have disciplined players who keep to the game plan and the coach should make sure there is cohesion amongst team members. New players you want may have to be thoroughly vetted". Indeed, there is no point in just changing a team for the heck of it. Meanwhile even at the start of the new year, the “buying of new players” to avoid “relegation” is still being discussed.
SUCCOUR TO THE MARGINALIZED
The appointment of women to top positions has been admirable. The Auditor General, Administrator and Registrar General, NRA Commissioner, Executive Chairman of EPA, Chief Justice, amongst women appointed to high positions have all increased the profile of women. On the youth front, young Ministers Momodu Maligi and Miatta Kargbo, as well as a host of other positions for young people give cause for hope. The disabled also have hope with the appointment of Mustapha Bai Atilla as a Deputy Minister. Some may not be performing well but I cannot help but be impressed with people like Lara Taylor Pearce, the Auditor General, Jatou Jallow, Executive Chair of EPA, Momodu Maligi, Minister of Water Resources and Atilla (hype and needless attacks on SLPP, notwithstanding). The building of institutions dealing with the marginalised and adherence to the host of legislations will go a long way to proving that this is not superficial. In the final analysis there needs to be the political will to make such changes more pervasive and also not to put square pegs in round holes.
THE “BAD” BOYS IN BLUE
Mistrust of the Police has been rife. Human rights abuses by the Police were much too commonplace and many of these fell right at the door of the SSD. An institution that was meant to protect a vulnerable public is now adept at assaulting them. Ugly incidences involving trigger happy policemen have become far too commonplace. They obviously gave excuses galore but independent observers are of the view that instead of becoming protectors they were perpetrators of violence. From shooting down striking workers at African Minerals to shooting schoolboys, rules of engagement were flouted . They have indeed made the boys in khaki look like saints.
PROSPERITY AND LOCAL CONTENT
Economic statistics have been extremely kind to us. GDP growth rates of between 6 and 25 percent depending on whether or not you include the mining sector have been enticing to the extent that spin doctors have been effusive in their praise for the government. On the flip side this “prosperity” may not be trickling down to the common man as seen in the year’s end abject poverty reports. The local content policy has therefore been welcome news. Sierra Leoneans could be employed in numbers and their businesses will grow in leaps and bound s as they will be given a leg up with supply contracts. The Bollori-London Mining saga has brought this issue to the fore. A considerable amount of work has actually been put into addressing this issue by government, with the help of the World Bank. AfDB, DFID and GIZ. There still remain so many salient issues to address however.
SLPP-OWN GOALS APLENTY
Since the 2012 elections, SLPP has perfected the art of scoring own goals. The party has embarked on election malpractices, intimidation and violence and intolerance of each other’s views, with some of its members adopting hegemonic tendencies that would shred its mantra of “one country, one people”.
I would quote liberally from Justice Tholla Thompson’s PPRC report on the complaints brought to him on the recent SLPP convention/elections.
“Political Parties should not be too eager or anxious to interfere with their Constitutions, more so when the interference is seemingly to compensate or accommodate an individual or personality. In the Commission’s view, the origin of the present impasse in the Party was due to the deliberate interference with Clause 6 (h) v of the Constitution, by the National Executive Council to inject Rtd. Brigadier Maada Bio, the then Flag bearer into the administration of the Party. Clause.6 (h) v states: “In the event that the presidential candidate of the Party loses the Presidential election both Presidential candidates and running mate shall become ex-officio members of the National Executive Council.”
He added: “The Party then drifted into a factional fight and the struggle for supremacy and control of the Party was born.”
He lamented the lack of free speech in the party: “Therefore what is desired at this stage is to identify men and women of goodwill and honour, self-respect and integrity who will not indulge in frivolous, unwarranted imputation, expression and comment against other members of the Party who do not share their views, when those members exercised their fundamental rights of engaging in free speech as is enshrined in Sec. 25(1) of our national Constitution…..So long as the freedom of speech is exercised in good faith, there will be no problem or quarrel or discord in the Party and fairness will reign supreme.”
Meanwhile, party elders and others influential members keep quiet and “fiddle while Rome burns”. Two court cases pending present no cause for alarm. One observer noted “They are clutching defeat from the jaws of victory and essentially the country is without an opposition party.”
SLPP could do well to heed the advice of Justice Thompson-“We call on you all to refrain from the politics of division and embrace the politics of compromise and inclusion.”
My prayer for all of us this new year is:
For the year before us, O what rich supplies!
For the poor and needy, living streams shall rise
For the sad and sinful, Shall his grace abound
For the faint and feeble, Perfect strength be found