January 12, 2016 By Titus Boye-Thompson (Communications Consultant)
The noise surrounding the leaked letter from Hon. I.B. Kargbo concerning an advisory on the possibility of importing rubbish on a waste to energy proposal between Lebanon and Sierra Leone raises a number of issues, many of which are clouded by sentimentalism rather than pragmatic realism. The concept of other people’s rubbish being moved around especially in Africa easily raises the obnoxious idea of toxic waste dumping reminiscent of the nuclear waste imbroglio that engulfed the Western super-powers in the mid to late seventies. Whilst the matter was being touted on social media as a security concern, anathema to the good life enjoyed by the nation, inimical to environmental sustainability, the reality of the correspondence was lost on many. It must be noted that on the matter reaching His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma, his astute understanding of the sensibilities of a wanton public led him to take swift and disciplined action, calling on the ONS and the Police to mount a full scale investigation.
However, lest the public is not intentionally waylaid, the discussions that have ensued must be put in context. There is no doubt that a letter circulated on social media and now freely available traced the discourse on this issue to the Office of the Advisers to the President at State House, and Hon. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo identified as signature of such a correspondence. The letter’s authenticity may not be under scrutiny or doubt but it is clear from the contents that the letter communicates a picture different from what was initially reported. Another unfortunate incident is also cited as confirmation of Government’s inimical ploy to engage in nefarious activities through a completely misinterpreted version of a radio interview granted by a State House official and badly relayed by one Jesmed Suma in the USA as cogent facts when in reality they were pure fabrications.
The investigation launched by President Koroma is timely and indicated his avowed position that at no time should any of his officials be engaged in acts of impunity. At the same time, President Koroma is also on record as being a fair person, not to allow the unwarranted stigmatization of those close to him simply to make political or contemporaneous points and witchhunts. If I.B. Kargbo is innocent of any wrongdoing, it is clear that the investigations would bear that out. However, in order that his detractors are vaunted from attacking the President of covering up for his friends and close associates, it is necessary to point out the facts as they already exist in the public domain.
Some have pointed to a phrase in the letter from State House to the Dutch company leading the discussions so far that “Meanwhile the proposal to ship the non-hazardous material is acceptable pending further negotiations through your local agents in Sierra Leone” as culpability on Hon. I.B. Kargbo’s part. This misalignment of context and understanding is not uncommon for those who have a less clear appreciation of the written word. Other than an attempted misdemeanour on the Queen’s dictum, there is no acquiescence on this phrase other than confirmation that under our laws as they stand, there is nothing illegal about the transfer of non-hazardous material from any country to Sierra Leone. The wrong use of the word “pending” is the grave error in that phrase. It should have read, ‘depending on’ and not ‘pending’ for the simple reason that any such transfer would have to be based on approval at all levels of the administrative chain, whilst ‘pending’ connotes that the action can happen during negotiations and pari passu, before full approval has been granted. Unless I am mistaken, and I stand to be corrected, the construct of the letter and the syntax errors much graver here than any intention to mislead!
It is also despicable that those who cite this correspondence as inimical refuse to cite also the clear instructions contained in the letter, the conditions it places on the recipients and the caution that it conveyed that it is merely an advisory and not by any measure a cogent authorization. The furor is therefore misplaced, the intentions fabricated and the sensational reporting just a mere ruse to gain prominence in an already crowded field.
There is also the attendant import of the correspondence itself and the discussions that portends to have gone behind its design. It is clear that Hon. Alhaji I.B. Kargbo has executed himself well. For someone others would easily refer to as an old man, here is one who has demonstrated the ability to think outside the box. He has not allowed himself to be constrained by the ravage illiteracy that beguiles some of our educated elites in this nation. The exigency of a Presidential Adviser offering an advisory as response to an enquiry that would have yielded income, jobs and energy supply to Sierra Leone cannot be easily discarded ignominious.
In an era of carbon credits and environmental sustainability, the convergence of waste treatment and the construction of a heat and power plant driven by waste should not be disregarded nor discountenanced. The developmental states of Korea, Japan and Thailand made a quantum leap in the trajectory of their growth due to the singular decisions that they took to embrace technology whilst at the same time combining their internal culture and traditions of self reliance and a community based approach. They countered and defeated corruption by institutionalizing it and engaged its incidence as economic rent. They created rent-seeking as a legitimate pursuit within their economic framework and through that, were able to separate accruals to the state and open up opportunities for private wealth creation.
The World security and development nexus has also reduced the significance of sovereignty and imbibed a culture of globality. Neo liberalism is now the dominant ideology and through its expansive nature, has allowed those who may have comparative advantage to benefit and the use of technology, especially in communications and jet travel, has made the World more interconnected. For all these reasons, it is indeed thinking outside the box to allow waste from Lebanon to be processed in Sierra Leone and that processing to yield electricity power for this nation would be a positive outcome all round. It is disgraceful that some are clouded by their prejudices.
One of the reasons why most would be aghast is because the waste we are talking about is to come from Lebanon! The sensibilities of past interactions with the Lebanese community raise some mixed perceptions and some would play to such nepotism than countenance the realism of a practical income earner for Sierra Leone. For some, it is a matter of pride and prejudice. That we should allow waste to come over from Lebanon is the ultimate sell out of the nation’s national pride, yet some of those would easily accept the same waste to come from England!
The conclusion of this matter would perhaps bring to light some of the issues that need to be confronted as a nation. The generic growth that is required may not come from outside, but by definition requires that our leaders are prepared to take the unpalatable and tough decisions to make that difference. I applaud Hon. I.B. Kargbo for thinking outside the box. I decry those who are moved by platitudes and political point scoring rather than by the dictates of an interconnected World.