For over 10 years, Sierra Leone fought a brutal war that took us nowhere and it was only in (2002?) that the decade long civil war officially came to an end, following the destruction of property and the killing of hundreds, if not thousands of innocent people. In 1996, Sierra Leone had its first democratic Presidential and Parliamentary elections, which ushered in President Tejan Kabba as President of the republic.
But not long after that, following what a Sierra Leonean journalist , Suliaman Momodu, in a piece titled, ‘Four Years On: What SLPP Should Learn From APC’ called, ‘carelessness’ , President Kabba was toppled from power. That event saw another sad history in Sierra Leone’s politics. The coup led to the unwarranted destruction of property and it also accounted for the country going back to a seeming state of collapse.
But all of this became history, as a result if the willingness on the part of Sierra Leoneans to bring an end to the decade long civil conflict. Kabba was restored in 1998, almost one year after his removal from office. Following which, we witnessed the reconstruction of the country’s infrastructure and we carefully witnessed the setting up of institutional reforms like the NRA, NaCSA, Nassit, IMC and others.
In fact had it not been for the apparent ‘carelessness’ on the part of the President Kabba’s government, (had knowledge about the coup three days and no action was taken) the coup that we went through in 1997 could have been prevented and our development strides cold not have been hindered. But a religious believer would want us all to believe and think that, that was what God had destined for us. How religious and philosophical it sounds though. How ridiculous and wicked have we always been with God, that we often and again tend to blame Him for our predicament even when they occur as a result of our clear negligence?
Notwithstanding that sad aspect of our history, one must state that we are a progressing nation, more so in terms of consolidating the peace we fought for, and in determining the path we should take in chasing that apex of development. Let us look at few areas I want to use in justifying my argument that Sierra Leone is progressing, especially within the last four years; the health sector; fight against corruption; revenue generation at the local level; provision of electricity and the media landscape, among others.
Sierra Leone’s health sector:
Health, they say is wealth. When President Koroma’s government came into political prominence, a number of areas were considered as governance indicators when rating the successes or failures of its government. And from a practical standpoint, much has been done in terms of upgrading the country’s health sector to the point that there was the introduction of a free health care scheme in the country about a year ago.
The Guardian newspaper in the United Kingdom on Friday, 21st October 2011 reported that that “…Blair cites Sierra Leone’s free healthcare programme for pregnant women and children under five as an example of what can happen under the right leadership. The idea for free healthcare had been “knocking around” for years, he says, but only under President Ernest Koroma did things take off last year. AGI [African Governance Initiative] supported the government in developing a plan for abolishing fees for health services, getting donor backing and implementing system-wide reform…. But while the scheme has been welcomed and is showing positive results – the number of women giving birth in hospital has doubled, for example, and child deaths from malaria have fallen… (http://www.guardian.co.uk/global-development/poverty-matters/2011/oct/20/africa-tony-blair-poverty-democracy)
The free health care has been a great success since its introduction. The MediPharm New in Sierra Leone of September 2011 quoted President as saying that “…the people of this country are poor, and many of them do not have the means to buy the drugs, we abhor to witness our citizens dying prematurely only because they cannot access five or ten thousand Leones to buy drugs…” (Page 18) And indeed we have seen an increase in terms of the number of people going for treatment today in our hospitals. In fact the increase in the drugs purchase from an encouraging 7.7 million dollars to about 11 million dollars must have been as a result of the increase in the number of pregnant and lactating women visiting our hospitals today.. The figures, according to MediPharm News, increased from 800 per year prior to the introduction of the scheme ‘to over 9,000 in eight months after the health care was launched…this shows a 60% drop of women and children who were dying as a result of complicated cases…” (Page 41) .In essence, President Koroma has scored great marks in this direction. The reelection of President should also be determined from his efforts to saving lives of people, especially our children and lactating women.
Fight against corruption:
This is another area that indicates we are as a nation, making progress steadily. When he assumed office in2007, President Koroma did promise to give more powers to the anti corruption commission by prosecutorial powers to it. This, in itself was a serious political decision that President Kabba, who by profession is a Lawyer, never took throughout his tenure in office. But because President Koroma knows that transparency is paramount to the sustenance of democracy and good governance, he took that decision even to the seeming disadvantage of some of his trusted allies. For President Koroma, country comes first, thus the granting of those powers to the ACC.
Today the ACC must be enjoying its work, with Joseph Kamara having the free hand to do his work, with NO POLITICAL DICTATES!!! Not only that, as a result of the political will on the part of government to allow the ACC have a free hand, the government has today recovered billions of Leones from corruption related cases. This was NOT THE CASE years back. Corruption appears to have been minimized under the Presidency of President Koroma (ACC Commissioner-in an interview with Torchlight newspaper, October 2011) within the last four years of his rule. Transparency International ranking, according to reports, was 158 out of 180 countries in 2008 and 146 out of 180 countries in 2009. Today, the country has been ranked as the most-improved economy in terms of doing business (Concord Times, 21st October, 2011) For Mary Agboli, head of IFC in Sierra Leone, this latest ranking shows that “…despite being a post-conflict country, Sierra Leone can move forward to encourage entrepreneurship”(Concord Times, 21st October 2011,Page 3)
Revenue collection under Koroma:
The National Revenue Authority was created through an Act of Parliament in 2002, with the responsibility of generating revenue for the smooth running of the affairs of the state. Indeed, when it was initially created, a lot of revenue came into government coffers. But the level of revenue generation today can’t be compared to how it used to be years back. We have today witnessed a situation wherein, the revenue target set for the NRA by government has tripled, with the present target standing at well over one trillion. For the year 2010 alone, the Authority was able to collect over 950 billion Leones, despite the then global trend and this is where I think the NRA workforce should be commended, notwithstanding the apparent challenges they are faced with in the execution of their duties. We have also seen the automaton of the operations of the Authority, with particular reference to the Customs department of the Authority and the Domestic Taxes Department.
The introduction of the Automated System both at Customs and the DTD is today serving the country well. We now talk of a ‘one-stop-shop’ in doing our business registration and in clearing our goods at the Queen Elizabeth 11 Quay. There must be some revenue leakage but not as it were before the introduction of ASYCUDA at Customs and the automation of DTD. And with plans, according to sources within the NRA, to get operational areas like Gendema, Gbalamuya and Lungi automated we are sure of getting more revenue from the NRA, under the Koroma leadership.
However, the power-house of the NRA-which is at Bathurst Street, should be seen distributing the needed ‘light’ to the operational offices, if they should continue exceeding their target year in, year out. I think Haja Kalla Kamara has been of success but she actually needs the support of all the ‘Lieutenants’ in the Authority; I mean all. If the NRA is commended for exceeding its target, it is as a result of what the operational offices-CED, DTD, NTR are generating, coupled with determination of Madam Kalla and all her Managers. Haja Kallah has shown that women can do better, what men can do.
Richard Tamba M’bayo is a scholar in media and communication. In a work, titled, Press And Politics In Africa, and in attempting to look at the government-press relationship in Sierra Leone, M’bayo et al wrote that, the relationship between the press and the government in Sierra Leone experienced “some tumbling…from a level of relative cordiality and respect…to a depth of near animosity and mutual suspicion…”
The history of the media landscape in Sierra Leone, in terms of its relationship with politics and politicians has not been positive, especially when viewed from the perspective of politicians wanting to mute the media. We have witnessed a scenario wherein, it almost became a tradition for each and every passing government to at least jail a media practitioner. Paul Kamara, current Minister of Employment had his ordeal with the erstwhile government when he was imprisoned for merely saying what he believed in.
This has been a different scenario in today governance. Daniel Lerner in Communication And Change In The Developing Countries argued that “…even in the most weak and unstable country the mass media must still retain to some degree their most basic functions: that of serving as an inspector general to the entire political system, so as to provide the necessary public criticism to ensure some degree of political integrity among the power holders…” Realistically, President Koroma has been providing the environment for a free and pluralistic press since he assumed office in 2007, with no report of harassment or jailing of media practitioners.
In fact, what the Koroma administration has done is to show that media practitioner can as well help in shaping the development path of the country. There are well over three media people today in governance, with almost a dozen appointed at pres attaches to our foreign embassies by THIS GOVERNMENT. And one should commend President Koroma for this trend in his governance style. In fact even the most critical media outlets are enjoying a better friendship with the Koroma administration, thus answering a recent question by my brother, Mohamed ‘One-Drop’ Sankoh on why our able Vice President, Sam Sumama is enjoying media support from especially the critical press.
In governance, the role of the press cannot be downplayed. Media scholars are of the view that if the press is o abandoned its critical role, it will not only turn its back on its potential development as a social institution, “but it also deprives the whole society of a most important element which is essential to national development…”and this element must be the benefit of objective criticism. When in opposition, President Koroma relied on media support and that support, he was able to enjoy, and as such, he too has been grateful to the media by bringing media practitioners into the running of the affairs of the state.
But in sustaining all of the above development, we need to be united. I have also argued recently that despite the determination of the present government and with all the strides we are taking, there is need for political oneness among us. “Our political dispositions”, argued Larry Johnston, in Politics An Introduction to the Modern Democratic State, (page 165) “are not innate but are learned or acquired at various stages of our experience of the world…”.For the sustenance of democratic governance, there should be unity, though with some level of diversity.
Politically, belonging to the opposition does not and should not, turn a man into a ruffian, rather due to their role as watch dog in society and because if the breath their inject into democracy, opposition parties should be seen conforming into the democratic dictates of a given state. It should be said, that if we are to sustain our democracy, we need to see it as a way of life, of thinking and behaving (Adame Ba Konare-History, Democracy, Values New Lines of Direction, Page 18).Let us support President Koroma for the good of us all by extending his mandate for another five years.