September 3, 2020
By Jariatu S. Bangura
The Parliamentary Oversight Committee on Information and Communications has promised to provide their fullest support to help draft a strategic plan that will help boost the Sierra Leone News Agency (SLENA).
The committee has the mandate to oversee the activities undertaken by the agency and how monies given were expended by the agency for the financial year 2019, and the second half of 2020 respectively.
According to the Director General of SLENA, Yeama Thompson, the Agency was established in 1997 and by the time she took up office a month ago, there were only five staff members, zero finance and zero human resources.
She said the country’s quest for quality news is undeniable, but that SLENA is facing an existential threat, adding that more than ever before they are reliant on support from public and private partners to support their existence.
She stated that the allocated one hundred and nine million Leones was still to be processed, a commitment of fifty million Leones from NATCOM yet to be received, and inadequate equipment including computers and printers still poses serious challenge to their operations.
She said they were finding ways to start operations with new vendors and that they have reactivated the newspaper and based on the quality of the paper, interested partners like SLICO and Rokel Commercial Bank had to come in and help boost the Agency.
She said the Agency was now trying to encourage collaborations from other institutions for them to bring it to speed it to the new digital dispensations.
“We are yet to go in for strategic plan as we really need funding and now that Parliament has promised to give their support it will be good as we will find ways to fight against fake news before the foreign support will come. We are still waiting for proper handing over but we plead that time be given for us to work on the strategic plan,” she said.
She said SLENA became the national pool in gathering and disseminating local news and information and won the confidence of diplomatic missions and international organizations, which greatly relied on their daily news bulletin for objectivity and reference.
Madam Thompson commended the committee for the expertise they wanted to provide, adding that they have been working with the Strategic Communications Unit at the Ministry of Information, the government press officers, the press attachés and Ministries Departments and Agencies.
Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Maada Lebbie said the agency should have a strategic plan as it would help them bring up the office for the next three to five years.
“We don’t only need your challenges and objectives as a committee, we are expecting evidence based expenditure or reporting. What kind of support or threat you might need. We want to change the narratives,” he said.
Hon. P.C Bai Kurr said he was not impressed initially when the documents were given to committee members but with the explanation given, he was well satisfied.
“How many reporters are there in the Agency to help to produce the accuracy and publication of the paper? This is a challenge for us and make sure you remind us to make it more valuable. We want you to maintain that standard and keep it up because the newspaper is well loaded with accurate news. How many partners do you have now as an organization? It is a challenge for all of us to boost SLENA. The current location is not conducive for such an institution. We need to mention your concerns in the Well when Parliament resumes,” he said.
Also, the Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Maada Lebbie, said they should make sure to set out clear key priorities for the daily production of SLENA.