Members of Parliament versus The Press

SEPTEMBER 24, 2014

I read with dismay reports in few – AWOKO, CONCORD TIMES, AWARENESS TIMES, THE NATIONALIST – newspapers published Wednesday September, 17, 2014 on the meeting between Members of Parliament and, in the main The Press, which took place in Committee Room No. 1, Parliament Building, aimed at “addressing some of the issues that were being broadcast in radio programmes and published in newspapers alleged to be derailing efforts of the Government and at the same time undermining the Proclamation of the State of Emergency by President Ernest Bai Koroma” (quotation from The Nationalist newspaper)  in order to deal with the Ebola Outbreak in the country.

After carefully reading reports in the above-mentioned newspapers, I came to the conclusion that in summary what the Members of Parliament were objecting to was the criticisms levied against the decision taken to allocate 7.8 billion Leones to the MPs at this point in time in the national fight against the deadly Ebola Viral Disease (EVD), and President Koroma asking them to transform their annual CDF (Constituency Development Fund) of 62 million Leones each into exercises aimed at boosting the Ebola fight in their respective constituencies.

In my candid opinion the amount of 7.8 billion Leones should have been COLLECTIVELY allocated to constructing three more Ebola Treatment Centres, one for the Western Area, another for the Southern Region and a third for the Northern Region since the Eastern Region already has a Lassa Fever Treatment Centre in Kenema District, rather than transporting Ebola patients from the Western Area, Northern and Southern Provinces to Kenema Town, taking into consideration the cost of fuel, wear and tear of the ambulances, and the state of the patient(s) being transported.

As the President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) Kelvin Lewis rightly pointed out in the meeting, and as reported in AWARENESS TIMES, “the allegations that are made against MPs come from members of the public (I would emphasise, in some of the constituencies of MPs) and not the opinions of Journalists”.

Since the allocation of the 62 million Leones to each MP was made known to members of the public by the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development through Public Notice published in newspapers, in keeping with the Government’s policy of Transparency and Accountability, every day one reads reports in newspapers about criticisms made by some members of various constituencies with regard to the allocation. Are the MPs saying that newspapers should not publish such reports which are of public interest? Reporters do not make the news, they only report the news.

The AWARENESS TIMES report went on, the SLAJ President “claimed that it was necessary to get the views of the public in the press so that the authorities will be mindful about what the people feel about what they are doing”.

When the Minority Leader of the House, Dr. Bernadette Lahai, one of the MPs who appear not to be happy with the Press reports on the 62 million Leones allocated to each MP, including herself, sometime this year called attention to the frequent absenteeism of some of her colleague MPs in Parliament and rebuked them for going to Parliament, sign the register and then disappear to attend to their private affairs or sit in the canteen in Parliament while important matters are being debated in the Well of Parliament, didn’t the Press report it. Now the shoe is on the other foot.

May I say BRAVO to SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis for the bold stand he took on the issue in the presence of the MPs. That is what Leadership is all about. Be Bloody, Bold and Resolute; and to CONCORD TIMES newspaper for that front page banner headline, “DON’T START ANOTHER WAR” with the press, especially at this time when we are fighting the Ebola war which we should all be concentrating on first containing and then eradicating in our country. We still have a long way to go to December, 2014, when President Ernest Bai Koroma estimates in a BBC interview Wednesday September 16 by which time the country should have returned to continue with the development of our country, and therefore all hands should be on deck. This is not the time to threaten the press.

The cumulative confirmed deaths as at 16th September, 2014 is 474, confirmed Ebola cases are 1,532.

Clarence Roy-Macaulay, OOR

AP Oliver Gramling Spirit Award

Retired Controller News & Current Affairs,

Former Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service (SLBS)

Correspondent, Associated Press (AP) News Agency