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Admiring other countries: why are you in that office?

February 17, 2020

By Sulaiman Momodu

The Author

A few weeks ago, I paid a courtesy call on Sierra Leone’s Minister of Information and Communication Mohamed R. Swarray during which I informed him that I have returned to my roots. I am back to mainstream journalism.

During our meeting, I informed the minister about Beyond Borders Media and that we are here to serve humanity with integrity and objectivity.

Essentially, like other independent media houses such as Concord Times, which provided the platform for some of us to grow professionally and get the privilege of serving at the international level, Beyond Borders will be going beyond the borders of tribe, region, religion, partisan politics, social status and the like. In practical terms, we will interact with everyone, we have no borders.

During my meeting with Minister Swarray, I was sincerely surprised and humbled when he recalled how I started my journalism career many years ago in Makeni and noted that it was never for the love of money. He added that he always knew that I will return to journalism because of the undying passion some of us have for the profession. He, however, expressed regret that misfits are today entering the field of journalism mainly to blackmail and to extort.

Minister Swarray’s comments brings to mind the desire of most people to leave the country and live in the developed world – America, London, Canada, you name them. However, when some of us are given the opportunity to serve in a public office in order to make a positive difference, we immediately become rogues. The question? Why are you in that office? What is the purpose?

Admittedly, although I have been writing on issues at home with occasional visits, this is the first time in many years that I have spent some weeks in Freetown after many years of working for the United Nations. It is like starting afresh.

For some people living in developed nations, tell them you are from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and other corruption endemic countries and they instantly become suspicious of you. You are either a thief or a potential criminal. Misguided suspicion or perception? Think again. The Chinese donated rice to Sierra Leone, a country that should be exporting in the first place and not having any business with handouts. What did some of our leaders do? Steal it. What did we do with the funds meant for the Ebola outbreak as the virus was mercilessly claiming the lives of people? Again we demonstrated our “best practice”. We looted the funds. People want to go to Mecca to repent? We embarrass even Satan and “chop” the money.

It is common knowledge that the modus operandi of some kleptomaniacs at the National Revenue Authority ( or the National Robbery Authority?) for instance is to loot yet the same people will badmouth government after government for the lack of basic services. I am no longer shocked whenever I hear that billions of Leones have been stolen by NRA officers. On 14 February, a press release from the ACC stated: “ACC indicts three NRA officers for misappropriating over 5 billion Leones of public revenue”.  Tell me, how are we going to have regular electricity supply, safe drinking water, good medical services etc if all we do is to admire other countries but steal at the slightest opportunity? How?

In some offices I have visited over the past weeks, customer services are pathetic, systems do not work, unprofessionalism rules and integrity is dead.  As if these vices are not enough, I have seen marketers happily doing business in some office buildings with some people selling raw fish.

I have also observed that some people in public offices just like the unofficial ways of doing things. If it is through the backdoor, they are very efficient. My question is – what is wrong with the official channel? If something can be efficiently done through the backdoor, why can’t the same energy be used to get things done officially and professionally?

We must understand that to serve in a public office is an honour. If our primary reason for doing whatever we do is mainly to make money, most times we will not care about serving the people, we won’t care about integrity, professionalism or accountability. This is our state of affairs in Sierra Leone where most people engage in dishonest activities all week and come Sunday or Friday, we go to the house of God and raise our very corrupt hands in prayers to a holy God and give him a portion of our dishonest collections or bribes and expect Him to bless our nation. Who are we deceiving? To be continued.

About the author: Sulaiman Momodu is a former editor of the Concord Times newspaper. He also reported for the BBC during the civil war in Sierra Leone. He has worked for the United Nations in Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ethiopia and Switzerland. 

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