BY Andrew Keili
Congratulations to the SLPP government for the recent inauguration of the Magbele bridge. The bridge has however stirred political controversy between the SLPP and APC. The President, whilst touting the part played by his party poured scorn on the APC for stalling the project. The bridge has been renamed the Adikali Modu 111 bridge after a Paramount Chief who had opened the old bridge 66 years ago and who was one of the founding fathers of the SLPP and later a thorn in the flesh of President Stevens’ APC. SLPP supporters have disparaged the contributions the APC made towards the bridge, reminding all that they are a “Tok and do” government. APC, which coined the slogan “Action pass intention” may be getting a taste of its own medicine, when its most strident members disparaged President Kabbah’s achievements in the infrastructure arena, claiming total credit for projects completed under its watch. It is totally lost on governments that infrastructure should be about continuity and that the long project cycle of an infrastructure project may go way beyond the term of one government.
Meanwhile there is a little bit of “trivia” we should all be aware of. The European Union actually funded the building of the bridge in its entirety. The people fighting over it however are those who have political stewardship over us!
President Bio went to town with the APC at the ceremony after he lapsed into the part of the speech meant for the local audience. He said – “In 2015, the EU gave the previous Government money to construct this Magbele Bridge. After two years, they did nothing and the EU cancelled the contract. The EU even had to pay them $350,000 for doing nothing. That is over Le4 billion for doing nothing. No bridge.” Signalling he was in campaign mode, he mentioned a litany of things the SLPP has done for Port Loko over the past four years. These include the ongoing construction of a $270 million airport terminal at Lungi, modernising the Tagrin ferry terminal, reopening of the iron-ore mines at Marampa and expanding its operations, refurbishing the Port Loko Government hospital and providing solar electricity access to Lokomasama. Plans to bring 4 new ferries and for rice production in the Rombeh area were also mentioned.
“The SLPP built the old Magbele bridge; Port Loko had to wait another 66 years for the SLPP to again build the new Magbele Bridge”, President Bio said. He called APC “the other people” – “The other people talk a lot about how they are the party of infrastructural development. But how can you be a party of infrastructural development when for 11 years in power, and even when foreign friends gave you money, you did not take it seriously and still continued an old and dangerous bridge? He continued- “The other people wanted to move the airport away from Lungi.”
It surely looks like the SLPP is bent on bringing Port Loko into electoral play, especially with the Vice President and another beloved (some may say once beloved) son of the soil, Hon Alpha Kanu, the perennial chairperson for such events hailing from the District.
But politicking apart, this 163 metres long bridge with double lanes across the Rokel River bridge took 10 years of hard work in planning and construction and cost 4.9 million Euros. It forms part of the trans-West Africa road network that will boost regional integration, trade and commerce, especially between Sierra Leone and Guinea.
“Building bridges is important, also between nations”, said EU-Ambassador Manuel Müller in his speech at the inauguration. I would add a statement of my own to this profound statement-Building bridges between political parties for national development is important. The bridge between the SLPP and APC over this Adikali Modu 111 bridge may take a long time to build over the current troubled political water. An APC friend of mine however made a comment to me – “We will respond in style. Wait till we extricate ourselves from Justice Fisher’s yoke.” Well, not being one to “set fire”, I can only say I am buying my popcorn and waiting with bated breath to ponder again!
JOHN IDRISS LAHAI: ONE-MAN WRECKING MACHINE
The trepidation Dr. John Idriss Lahai has instilled in many people with bogus credentials who hold high positions in Sierra Leonean society reminds me of the story, “When Grandma goes to court” which has been published in any number of joke and anecdote books.
The story goes that in a trial in USA, a Southern small-town prosecuting attorney called his first witness, a grandmotherly, elderly woman to the stand. He approached her and asked “Mrs. Jones, do you know me?” She responded, “Why yes I do know you since you were a little boy, and frankly you’ve been a big disappointment to me. You lie, you cheat on your wife, and you manipulate people and talk about them behind their backs. You think you are a big shot when you haven’t the brains to realize you’ll never amount to anything more than a two-bit paper pusher. Yes, I know you. The lawyer was stunned. Not knowing what else to do, he pointed across the room and asked, “Mrs. Jones, do you know the defense attorney?” She replied, “Why yes I do. I’ve known Mr. Bradley since he was a youngster, too. He’s lazy, bigoted, and he has a drinking problem, He can’t build a normal relationship with anyone, and his law practice is one of the worst in the entire state. Not to mention he cheated on his wife with three different women. One of them was your wife. Yes, I know him.” The defense attorney nearly died. The judge asked both counselors to approach the bench and, in a very quiet voice said: “If either of you idiots asks her if she knows me, I’ll send you both to the electric chair.”
It is a brave man or woman who will ask Dr. Lahai whether he knows him or her. He appears to be an unshackled wrecking machine destroying the underserved reputation of many “big men” in all spheres of life in this country. He unearths overnight what could have taken our investigative agencies light years to fathom. Some people have impugned his motives, but most agree on one thing – Academic fraud is prevalent in this country, giving pretenders advantage over those who choose to be honest. People shower themselves unashamedly with undeserved accolades. Meritocracy has been thrown out the window and this syndrome appears to be institutionalised.
One thing is for certain -John Idriss Lahai is a one man wrecking machine. He has even sullied the reputation of the ACC. The ACC with its initial stance that Dr. Lahai’s accusations did not amount to corruption because job holders did not use illegal qualifications to gain undue advantage in getting government jobs, now seems to have walked back its statements. With the ACC’s reputation somehow dented by Dr. Lahai, it has looked for easy pickings, and who better to investigate than a high profile Bank Governor. The ACC has finally presented its report on alleged bribery by the Bank Governor. Lo and behold this case of “overap”, as the “servisman” would say has been occupying the ACC’s precious time! And the verdict? – The governor did not bribe people but misspoke. The Governor had said he “bribed” people who were hoarding Leones to bring them back into the banking system S68 million. The ACC’s conclusion stated thus: “The said statement was a mischaracterization of what transpired and the use of the word “bribe” in that context was in error as the Professor struggled to simplify a complex banking operation.”
In the same vein, Dr. Lahai has simplified a “complex” problem. It is obvious that a lot of institutions have failed in ensuring that ours is a society based on merit. The implications of what he has unearthed are staggering. We now live in country in which many of our political institutions and MDAs may be governed by misfits with questionable credentials. We live in a country in which the medical personnel who treats you may have bogus qualifications. We live in a country in which you cannot be sure that the graduate you employ in your workplace may not have had his qualifications genuinely-little wonder many foreign companies shun them and bring in expatriates. We live in a country in which charlatans may be given promotion over those who give their blood sweat and tears to receive their qualifications. Unfortunately, many institutions contribute to this, a major one being the Parliamentary committee that often approves Presidential appointees in record time with little or no vetting. Dr. Lahai is constantly reminding us in his slow release pill style that we have messed up and that despite the isolated actions being taken by various institutions and organisations, the government needs to wrap its head round this problem and take an unambiguous position to restore some modicum of meritocracy in our society. Dr. Lahai deserves our plaudits, even though this one-man wrecking machine may not find himself on these shores soon!
Ponder my thoughts.