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SLAJ Presidential Debate:

Incumbent Kelvin Lewis goes head-to-head with Stanley Bangura

June 1, 2016 By Alusine Sesay & Memunatu Bangura

The Sierra Leone Association of Journalists would converge in the southern city of Bo this weekend to either decide continuity and ‘quiet diplomacy’ of incumbent President Kelvin Lewis or vote for ‘Renewed Excellence Focus’ as promised by Vice President Stanley Bangura, who is seeking to replace his current boss.

The race between the two aspirants is keen as they seek another three years mandate from the journalistic fraternity.

The two presidential candidates yesterday (31 May) presented their respective platforms to voters during a debate organised by the Sierra Leone Reporters Union at Miatta Conference Hall in Freetown.

Incumbent President Kelvin Lewis narrated his achievements during his first three years tenure and canvassed voters that “I want you to vote me in to continue this transformation. I am not interested in personality but want a strong and stable SLAJ.”

He cited among many other achievements the sourcing of support for specialised trainings for journalists in investigative journalism, health, gender and environmental reporting.

He also cited the formal registration of the association, which he said was operating for over 45 years without a registration certificate, as one of his deliverables.

President Lewis further said that he has institutionalised proper financial management in SLAJ by contracting KPMG, the world’s fourth largest auditing firm, to audit the association’s account.

He told the audience that he had served as a symbol of peace throughout his tenure and that no single member of the association has had cause to leave SLAJ as a result, although some continue to unfairly target him on the social media.

“I make sure I keep everybody in the association and allow them to say whatever they wanted to. That is symbol of peaceful leadership,” he stressed.

He said the association has a responsibility to hold government to account and that it would be the voice of the people to take on issues which are not partisan but national.

On national issues he said “I believe in quiet diplomacy. I don’t believe in burning our bridges before we cross them. I believe in negotiation.”

Lewis, who is editor of one of the leading newspapers in the country, Awoko newspaper, said he has delivered on “unity, specialisation by journalists and transformation”, three key promises of his last campaign, as he urged journalists to vote for him again, adding “I am banking on my integrity, honesty and commitment to SLAJ.”

On his part, incumbent Vice President Stanley Bangura presented a written manifesto to voters themed ‘Renewed Excellence Focus’ (REF).

“Ref is mostly used as a short form for ‘referee’ and ‘reference.’ This is what I want SLAJ to be in the ensuing year – a referee to bring sanity in our practice and reference body for anything good around and about the media or journalism in Sierra Leone,” he said.

He promised to rectify issues germane to the association, including autonomy for the regions, provision of identification cards for members within 60 days, transparency and accountability, construction of a permanent structure, unify members, and ending marginalisation and corruption.

On the broader national issue affecting the practice of journalism – the Criminal Libel Law of 1965 – he promised to use innovative means and intensify the campaign for it to be expunged from the country’s law book.

He also promised to be proactive and ensure that the rights of journalists to free speech and press freedom are protected and promoted, adding that he would capacitate the association’s regional offices.

The two presidential candidates were not at variance in their approach to national issues and other issues affecting journalism in the country as they both emphasised negotiating and dialoging with the government to achieve their intended goals.

Both men though said they were confident of winning, although the membership would have to decide whether to stick with continuity or go for change. As media owners and employers of scores of journalists, their popularity and respectability among members of the association may just prove critical to tilting the balance in their favour.

Other aspirants in the race include Kashor Holland Cole and Samuel Haffner, who are running for the vice presidency, while incumbent Joseph Turay and Sulaiman Storm Koroma are vying for the post of assistant secretary-general. The position of secretary-general went unopposed in favour of ace cartoonist and feature writer, Ahmed Sahid Nasrallah aka Monk.

Other positions, including National Publicity Secretary and Organising Secretary are being contested by Princess Gibson and Abdul Karim Kabia aka Fonti, and Zainab Joaque and Abu Bakarr Singateh Jalloh, respectively.

Meanwhile, Country Officer of OSIWA – Open Society Initiative for West Africa – Joe Hindovei Pemagbi was the moderator of the debate, while goodwill statements were made by Ransford Wright, coordinator Media Reform Coordinating Group, sponsors of the event; SLAJ Chief Electoral Commissioner, James Tamba Lebbie; and Minister of Information Mohamed Bangura.

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