By Sheku Dumbuya
I was disgusted but not in the least surprised at the scaling attack on Sierra Leoneans by the Member of Parliament from Port Loko, MP Ibrahim Bundu on the Good Morning Salone show on Radio Democracy Thursday, May 8. Hon Bundu was on the programme to talk about the infamous extra time or third term and related issues but strayed from the topic of discussion to reinforce preconceived notions that are prejudicial to Sierra Leoneans.
MP Bundu had said Sierra Leoneans are not competitive compared with Lebanese and people of other nationalities. He further asserted that Sierra Leoneans do not deliver on contracts, noting those awarded by NaCSA in the past as example. He was basically trying to drive home the point that we cannot be trusted with delivering on contracts. Granted Hon Bundu is not intelligent and he is not a good communicator but to make such an outrageous outburst relying wholly on unproven claims makes one sick to the stomach.
MP Bundu is prone to gaffes. I can still remember in an election year in 2012, MP Bundu had in response to a question on the achievement of the APC government, which were many by the way, could only remember the mouth-watering increase in salary and other perks for MPs compared with what they were under the SLPP of Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. Now to the million dollar question: Is this something any politician could sing and dance about, more so in an election year? This was exactly what MP Bundu did. It did not occur to him that the salary of MPs under the SLPP of Tejan Kabbah was above the national average for public sector workers and that he is doing no favours by drawing attention to the bumper increase under the APC government.
Since he chose to talk about salaries, even though no such question had been posed at him, you would expect any smart politician who has gone off the rail to do some damage control and also talk about how the government had improved the condition of service for public sector workers coupled with other achievements, but he chose to ignore this. In the wisdom of MP Bundu increasing the salary of MPs, which was already way above the national average under the SLPP, is the only achievement of the APC government worth talking about. Fortunately for him, he went away with it, thanks to the SLPP and the media. In politics the rules of the game are simple. For politicians to remain relevant they should talk what they are doing for the people, especially the poorest in society and not what they are doing for themselves. MP Bundu went against this basic rule. His was a message of a government working for itself and not the people whose welfare should be the priority. You could imagine how furious Logus Koroma would have been.
This is unpardonable for someone who had spent decades in the United States and has seen politics in that part of the world at work. MP Bundu knows no party or politician in the United States will measure achievements of government based on improvements in the condition of service of elected politicians. I remember when I was in the UK, around 2008 the MPs had wanted to increase their salary by a percentage point that is higher than public sector workers to cushion the effect of the credit crunch. They had to abandon such plans because of the backlash from the public who thought they should not benefit from it because their salary is above the national average. With a salary of £64,000 per annum, it was thought they already have enough.
I was surprised Bundu’s comment passed-off without any media scrutiny or the SLPP using it to score political points. Well, in the case of the SLPP I can understand the situation they were in. They were too busy defending their Presidential candidate Julius Maada Bio to focus on other issues including attacking the APC. For the Sierra Leone media, it is not in the business of scrutinizing every word that comes out of especially politicians. This is why our politicians could spew out any garbage and go away with it. Now, you begin to appreciate why they are not under pressure to think through every word they say. Take the case of Ghana; gaffes by politicians are relayed on a radio station over and over again, sometimes running into a month.
I had resisted the temptation of taking on MP Bundu at the time because I had more important things to do. Also, I thought I should not be seen to be doing the job of Tamba Sam of the SLPP and risk being labelled as the unofficial spin doctor for the party. But now that MP Bundu has added insults to gaffes, I feel a duty to step up and challenge him.
MP Bundu had said on the radio talk-show that Sierra Leoneans are not competitive. I guess he is talking about competitiveness in the business sector. But since he was not specific, I will approach the issue from a general outlook to be on the safe side. Let me hasten to say, all countries including the United Kingdom have skills that are in short supply and MP Bundu should know this. Recently, the British Government brought in sixty Mathematics teachers from China to boost the teaching of the subject in public schools. I know MP Bundu is trying to reinforce stereotype within a section of the political clique that Sierra Leoneans lack the capacity to compete. This could be an easy excuse to favour foreigners and at the same time play into the hands of foreign ‘investors’ who will exploit it to bring in their compatriots. This is what even the mining companies are exploiting to bring in skills we have in abundance.
MP Bundu may not know this, in terms of employability and competing on the job market at international level Sierra Leoneans are not doing badly. I would challenge him to prove me wrong. I would advise him to seek information on the nationality of staff on the various UN Mission and the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a percent of their country’s population as a case study. This will make for an informed opinion on this subject.
For Liberia, Sulaiman Momodu and Osman Benk Sankoh of the UNHCR and United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) respectively could be of help if he needs one. Augustine Sowa and Maria Kamara could help with United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the ICC respectively. In case MP Bundu does not know this, around 2006 three Sierra Leoneans – Dr. Francis Kaikai, Zainab Hawa Bangura and Dr. Sam Sesay – were heads of Section/department on UNMIL. The question for Bundu is this: If Sierra Leoneans can compete within the UN and the ICC why is it that they are struggling to compete at home? Is this due to a failure of political leadership?
In the area of business or the private sector, there could be several reasons why Sierra Leoneans are struggling to compete. This is partly because they do not have the loans they need to form companies and compete. Let’s explore some possibilities relating to banks loans: who between Sierra Leones and non-Sierra Leoneans receive more loans and what is the volume of such loans? Also, the issue of collateral is not as straight forward as you would imagine. The procedure is strewn with trickery. I heard that it becomes an issue only when the bank wants to deny you the loan. Take the case of Kabbah Kalu for example. I guess MP Bundu may have heard about the scandal relating to a loan of Le12 billion to Kalu by the Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, a bank that is owned by us. Now, if the bank can give that quantum of money to one person, is there any excuse for not giving a loan of Le10 million to a new graduate from college? I know you will retort that Kalu had collateral. But have you stopped to ask, where are the collaterals? You guess is as good as mine.
Another question For MP Bundu: Are companies formed by Lebanese and non-Sierra Leoneans larger and more diverse in their composition than those formed by Sierra Leoneans? I’m not talking here about multi-nationals. Also, how many foreigners including Lebanese actually bring in money to invest? On the other hand, is our lack of competitiveness the result of a failure of the education system or the education policies of past and present governments? There have been questions around courses offered at colleges in terms of creating the skills especially in science and technology to enable us compete globally. Also, is the economic empowerment of Sierra Leoneans seen as a threat to the political establishment hence the decision to favour Lebanese and foreigners?
Lastly, could MP Bundu find out why it took a Lebanese one phone call to secure a loan to clear his goods from the port recently?
I know the next question is: where is the evidence? The ‘rule’ in Sierra Leone is skewed against the persons making allegations because it is he/she who has to produce the evidence to prove his case. Let me hasten to say, this should not be one-sided. Both accuser and the accused have a reasonability to produce evidence to prove their case. The point I’m trying to drive home is that unlike the SL Port Authority (SLPA), I do not have unlimited access to resources and do not have power at my disposal to prove my case apart from the faith I have in my source. But I will challenge the SLPA which has both at its disposal to do a forensic audit and prove me wrong.
MP Bundu also spoke about Sierra Leoneans not delivering on contracts and mentioned specifically those awarded by NaCSA to build school, health centres etc under the previous government. Maybe MP Bundu would like to explain why the contracts were not given to foreigners since in his view they are better contractors. Is it because the quantum of money involved is small and foreigners are not interested?
The next question is: why did Sierra Leoneans fail to deliver? Is MP Bundu aware that contractors have to part with ten to fifteen and sometimes twenty percent of the value of contract as kickback? I’m sure MP Bundu would not pretend this is news to him.
Since only the big men benefit from the kickback, the contractor is left at the mercy of other staff who like vultures would demand in a very aggressive manner that they be given their own share. At the end the contractor is milked to an extent there is not much left to deliver the quality of output spelt out in the contract.
Now you appreciate why MP Bundu should always do his homework before rushing to the airwaves to say negative things about people. This is demanded of all responsible politicians.