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Our ministers need coaching on how to deal with international organisations and agencies

By Rashid Justice Dumbuya

It is no gainsaying to opine that a good deal of Sierra Leone’s ministers need coaching on how to react to international organisations and agencies. I noticed with great consternation that the newly appointed ministers are really flaunting on this issue big time. And if such trend is not curtailed, there is every tendency to put the country in a bad light and frustrate the laudable efforts that these international organisations and agencies are investing in the country.

As genuine and objective as the criticism over the EBOLA OUTBREAK IN WEST AFRICA was, I am still amazed as to why the Deputy Minister of Information in Sierra Leone should take offence and go public to contend one of the most reputed International medical group that has helped the world voluntarily to handle serious outbreaks and health crisis everywhere they have occurred.

Let’s objectively review both statements below from DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS and the Deputy Minister of Sierra Leone and see who is actually not been objective here.

‘’The outbreak is “totally out of control” and the governments involved and international organizations are not doing enough to combat it”, a senior official with Doctors Without Borders said Friday. ”More health experts are needed as is more education about how to stop the spread of the disease”, said Bart Janssens, the medical group’s director of operations in Brussels.’’

‘’But Sierra Leone’s Deputy Minister of Information and Communications, Theo Nicol, said that the criticism is unfair, saying that his country has worked hard to educate people about how to stop the spread of the disease and has declared a state of emergency in the area where people have died.’’ “So if (Doctors Without Borders) is now saying that the disease is out of control, then we all share the blame for it being uncontrollable,” he said.’’

NOW, in analysing the two statements above, one would note that, the Official from DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS, is making a case for more attention and support to be provided by the International Community to help curtail the spread of the EBOLA Virus in West Africa and not necessarily trying to cast aspersions as the reply of the Deputy Minister of Information seems to suggest.

Even in doing so, the Senior Official of Doctors without Borders apportioned the blame on International organisations as well and not just the governments. This therefore makes a clear ridicule of the Deputy Minister’s reaction. That beside, he didn’t say, governments are not doing anything but rather he said, ‘both governments and international organisations are not doing enough to combat the spread of the EBOLA disease’. (that’s objective, since he included both governments and international organisations to which Doctors without Borders are a part).. And this could reasonably be true given the number of EBOLA deaths that have recently been recorded by WHO in the three West African countries. (330, the highest so far in history).

Furthermore, the senior official talked about ‘governments’ and did not mention Sierra Leone specifically which perhaps could have warranted a direct reply from Sierra Leone in rebuttal. The use of ‘Governments’ here could have meant the government of Liberia or the government of Guinea. So, I still cannot understand why the Deputy Information Minister in Sierra Leone should have taken offence AND QUICKLY reacted over this statement as if the pronouncement was specifically directed at Sierra Leone.

Please, this unprofessional behaviour of some of our ministers must stop. ‘It is never good to be at loggerheads with the fingers that feed you more so when you are yet in a position to buy a spoon.’ At such a time as this, the need for DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS in Sierra Leone cannot be over-emphasized!

And to add insult to injury, the new Minister of Health also did the same mistake few months ago when a credible international agency launched their report on the health status in Sierra Leone. The Minister was also quick to challenge the accuracy of the report and the credibility of even the international institution. And meanwhile, she had just been appointed few months before the launching of the health report with little knowledge of the hidden realities of the health challenges engulfing the country.

Whilst, I understand the synergy that usually comes with new ministerial appointments, it is perhaps also the right time for the government to have an apparatus or a procedure in place to be vetting the speeches and reactions that ministers intend to make especially when credible international organisations and agencies make findings and reports on Sierra Leone. It is very important to understand the intent behind these pronouncements and reports before even coming out to challenge them so that the country does not score an own goal on itself. These reports are largely intended to make a case for more support for the country…So, there is perhaps no need for the hustle and bustle!

 After all, these organisations have always been around to help us. Hence, the fact that they differ with our objectives sometimes does not necessarily mean we should be antagonistic with them and risk losing their committed support in the long run. Certainly, we cannot successfully fight EBOLA without the support of these international agencies. A Change of result must require a change of approach….and it must first begin with the way our ministers do things.

All Rights Reserved

*Rashid Dumbuya is a practicing Barrister and Solicitor from the Republic of Sierra Leone and an International Human Rights Advocate and Public Defender. He holds a Master of Laws degree in International Human Rights Law from the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, South Africa and has worked for the UN Special Court for Sierra Leone and the UNDP Access to Justice Office in Freetown.

Rashid is currently a Commonwealth Scholar and an LLM candidate pursuing Petroleum Law and Policy at the University of Dundee, Scotland, United Kingdom.