April 19, 2021
By Alusine Sesay
First of all let me commend President Bio for his bold step to subject himself to media scrutiny-his move was a novelty. I could safely say that, in the history of Sierra Leone he is the only president that has taken such move and we should commend him for setting the pace for others to follow. After three years in power, President Bio’s media tour naturally revealed his personality –his response to questions, his emotion, composure, sense of reasoning and tonation-all combined to tell us the kind of President we have as a country. His move revealed how he perceives issues and his approaches to them. Again, I would not hesitate to say that I was personally impressed because he made me understand him better and be able to evaluate the kind of leader we have as a country. Notwithstanding, however, this piece of writing would attempt to diagnose the President’s utterances, especially on Radio Democracy 98.1.
When he assumed power in 2018, President Bio declared three wars on corruption, indiscipline and poverty. Standing on that leg, he instituted the three Commissions of Inquiry to investigate the misdeeds of the past All People’s Congress (APC) administration. While a few former public officials were let off the hook, others including the former President Ernest Bai Koroma, were found wanting with recommendations to confiscate some of their assets to the state. The move was largely viewed by the opposition as a witch-hunt and a calculated ploy to get rid of the opposition in this country. One of the main instruments used to try former public officials in the APC administration was the Auditor General’s Report.
In his response to the 2019 audit report on the missing four hundred billion Leones, President Bio fumbled big time, saying that the said colossal amount of money was not necessarily stolen but that people failed to account on how they used it. In other words, President Bio was saying that people are free to steal as long as they can prove it on paper. In actual fact, President Bio was saying that failing to be accountable under his administration is not tantamount to corruption but a mistake that needs to be corrected through paper work. His response regarding the missing four hundred billion Leone reinforces the notion that his stance against corruption only focuses on targeting members of the opposition because the audit report he is seemingly discrediting today was one of the documents used to investigate former public officials of the APC. By his statement, he directed and seemingly stifled the work of the Anti-Corruption Commission to investigate various issues raised in the audit report.
Can the president tell us the difference between stealing and not being accountable? Unless otherwise, but there is no other name we could device for such order than stealing. The money was stolen and nothing else! In a transparent setting, one should not wait to be audited before producing proof of spending public funds, but follow due procedures and failing to do so results to nothing, but blatant corruption. They must be held accountable! A cooking pot for the goose should also be a cooking pot for the gander.
Although the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has received several accolades including the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Compact which was largely questioned by critical minds, we have seen cases where public officials in this current administration were let off the hook even though it was glaring that they were caught red-handed with their hands deep in corruption. Come 2023, the New Direction administration would bear the burden to tell the people of Sierra Leone about the whereabouts of the Chinese Government rice donated for the school feeding programme.
Public officials including the current Minister of Labour, Alpha Timbo, were arrested and charged to court but later released for want of evidence. That singular action of the ACC, whose tongue changed from having incontrovertible evidence to want of evidence, exposed the nakedness of the institution and its leadership.
When Francis Ben Kaifala assumed office as the Commissioner of the ACC, he was invited at the Ministry of Information and Communications weekly press briefing where he was ably represented by the current head of operations at the commission, Koivia Amara. At the said press conference, I told Koivia that the commission had been losing cases after a lot of publicity, citing the GAVI matter in which the former Minister of Health under the Ernest Bia administration,Dr. Sheku Koroma and five other medical doctors were acquitted and discharged for want of evidence, after some publicity stunt. I asked him as to what difference they would make under the new administration? Koivia responded that they would go back to the drawing board to see where the problem was, and subsequently make amends where necessary, especially in the area of charging people to court for corruption related offences.
Now that they have gone to the drawing board, where is the Chinese rice after those accused of syphoning it were let to walk free? Is it that the minister and those charged to court were just scape-goated? Some of us critical minds are suspicious that some top officials of this administration shared the loot and did not want to be named in the issue; hence the ACC compromised the matter in court.
I am of the view that evidence to implicate some big guns in the administration would have naturally been unfolded and it would have been a public disgrace for an administration which prides itself of being a sainthood clan. We are observing and the result will soon be out.
During the presidential debate at the Bintumani International Conference Centre in Freetown, President Bio promised to tighten and close all leakages and ensure fiscal prudence. In 2018, President Bio issued out series of Executive Orders and as well sanctioned the implementation of the Treasury Single Account system as a conduit for all public funds. Three years down the line, President Bio and his wife have spent billions of Leones on overseas travelling. On 98.1 President Bio told the public that the money used on his overseas travel was not from his pocket and that the state was responsible for everything. Only the lame man would want to listen to such stories because nobody would have questioned his travel had it not been that he was using state resources to undertake those trips on which he spent billions of our Leones. Ofcourse, we are not oblivious of the fact that the entire life of the President is dependent on the state and that he needs not remind us of that any longer.
Reason for undertaking such trips, according to the President, was to build the ‘battered image’ of Sierra Leone in the face of the world. And he could not tell us that his trip to Lebanon where his wife provocatively posted a honeymoon picture of them in a luxurious hotel while the country was grappling with the covid-19 pandemic was to build the image of the country. If the President was honest about implementing fiscal prudence, he would have used those billions of Leones to fix certain problems the country is grappling with instead of embarking on meaningless build-the-country-image trips. If President Bio was honest about implementing fiscal prudence, our commercial banks would have not been running dry without cash, they would have been flooded with cash for people to make use of. It is under the watch of President Bio that, people were deprived of receiving their hard earned cash from banks and the Bank Governor had to apologise for such mishaps. That is called fiscal decline, if am permitted to say so.
Unless one has to be economical with the truth, but President Bio’s endless trips have nothing to do with image building but one that was seemingly geared towards amassing wealth for the Bio family. The President and his wife would not tell us that they were not collecting perdiem for all their trips-even the private ones overseas, including Lebanon. Stay tuned for Part Two of this analysis.