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BUSGATE: the sacrifice President Koroma must make

July 23, 2015 By Gabriel Benjamin

President Koroma himself commissioning the buses at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay
President Koroma himself commissioning the buses at the Queen Elizabeth II Quay

The controversies that have continued to trail the purchase of the 100 buses, especially the procurement process followed by Leonard Balogun Koroma, the Minister of Transport and Aviation, are a tragic showcase of public service delivery. You can call it a predilection for doing the right thing the wrong way.

In the wake of the country’s 53rd independence anniversary, Mr. Balogun Koroma graciously promised Sierra Leoneans that the government would be procuring 100 buses to ease transportation problems in the country. Since then, the local press and social media were abuzz with speculations and allegations. On 6 July, the 100 buses finally arrived in Sierra Leone.

While commissioning the buses, President Ernest Bai Koroma delivered a stern warning to workers of the Sierra Leone Road Transportation Corporation (SLRTC), an agency under Minister Koroma’s ministry. The President said then, that it will not be business as usual with the handling of government buses, especially the new ones. “We have to talk to ourselves at the SLRTC, especially those at the workshops that it should not be business as usual,” he said, adding: “We wouldn’t want money that should go to government coffers to find its way in the pockets of individuals.”

Mohamed Kamarainba Mansaray, Chairman and Leader of the Alliance Democratic Party (ADP), has continued to accussed Minister Koroma of swindling Sierra Leoneans US$6.5 million in the purchase of the 100 buses. “I have authentic documents to prove that the Minister of Transport and Aviation has defrauded the people of Sierra Leone of the said amount by inflating the cost of the buses, which he said were purchased through a loan from an arms and ammunition company called Poly Technology Inc. in China,” says Mansaray, who is calling for accountability.

This has prompted the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) to commence investigations into the process leading to the purchase of the buses by inviting officials from the Ministries of Transport and Aviation, Finance, and SLRTC for questioning.

But Mr. Koroma has insisted on a counter-narrative, he told Radio Democracy 98.1 FM, that he has not breached any procurement procedures. He proclaimed himself to be a man who “kept a good record, a good record of hard-work, diligence, loyalty to the country, to President Koroma, to authorities and to the laws of the land”.

However, an ACC press release issued on Monday and signed by its Commissioner, Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, the country’s anti-graft agency, noted: “Though the purchase of the buses ushered in a breath of relief upon the weight of the transportation burden on the people, the procurement processes cannot be said to be beyond censure. The ACC welcomes the heightened public response and vigilance, consequent upon the ‘citizen’s audit’, advocated and promoted by the Commission. Officials of State are now subject to public scrutiny for the discharge of their functions.”

That Sierra Leoneans are kept in the dark on a matter of such grave import is, to put it mildly, irresponsible. It speaks of a state whose modus operandi is duplicity; indeed a state that aids and abets corruption. This matter is of serious public interest. It will be interesting to know the beneficiaries of such round-about procurement policy, because it is not only Minister Balogun Koroma who is involved in this.

Sierra Leoneans ought to be told, in unambiguous terms, what or whose agenda is served by corruption in the procurement of the 100 buses now known as ‘BUSGATE’? Why shouldn’t the minister be asked to go and rest, while the ACC carries out a probe?

The government’s silence is by no means accidental; it fits into a familiar pattern. The objective is the protection of a time-tested way of doing business. If Mr. Balogun Koroma is not investigated, no other public officials need live in fear of engaging in any malfeasances.

By keeping mum, the government would seem to be inviting public speculations and moral inertia. Sooner or later, the excitement around the post-Ebola recovery plans will recede, leaving Sierra Leoneans as stupefied and exhausted as ever. Let the government speak and spare us the effort and expense of trying to reach a busy God.

As a nation that continually progresses from one farcical drama to another, it does not take long before the public focuses on a different diversion – except that this time, hopes that this will fade just now may be far-fetched.

The President needs to protect his image and that of his government. It is not so much a sacrifice to have those who may have soiled their hands in what may unfold as a sordid deal pay some price.

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