May 22, 2015 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Mayor of Kenema, Joseph Samba Kelfala, may have just won himself the accolade of “Mayor of the Year” by telling truth to our parliamentarians, who most often than not would threaten to invoke “contempt charges” against their very constituents for daring to ask them questions, not to talk about going for their jugular!
Remember the episode of the Ebola funds management audit, when Majority Leader, Hon. Ibrahim Bundu, threatened to use the infamous and controversial “contempt” whip against journalists and the public if they discuss the damning report of how billions of funds meant to fight Ebola was misappropriated? Also, cast your memories back to how Minority Leader, Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, tried but spectacularly failed to intimidate a local journalist from Kenema, ostensibly for inciting the public against the (mis)use of money disbursed to our lawmakers to do “Ebola sensitization”.
The above illustrations show how our lawmakers have attempted to use a clause in the constitution to silent their constituents who have dared to ask pertinent questions.
So, for the Kenema Mayor to have had the temerity to take on Parliament (some committee members) speaks volumes about the kind of man is made of. Those who know him and have interacted with him say he is bullish and always ready for a fight. And to say the least, Mayor Kelfala was ready for a fight, according to him, to put to rest an act and practice of ‘bribing’ lawmakers whenever councils or in fact anybody or institution face them on matters of public importance, and for which they are paid for performing their statutory mandate.
The decision to out alleged wrong doing by some of our lawmakers does not make Mayor Kelfala the archetypical whistle blower. Not yet at least, but his bravado to call out some Members of Parliament (MPs) for allegedly soliciting bribes from his council before they could endorse the budget of the Kenema City Council, is unprecedented and worth commending in a country where many, if not most, pay only lip service to fighting graft.
The allegations remain allegations, and may not necessarily be true, but are quite grave and should have been looked into with a view to bringing it to a logical conclusion as soon as possible. The reason being, they relate to the honour, dignity and reputation of our “honourable MPs”, and the social and economic wellbeing of residents of Kenema.
In fairness to Parliament, the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) has been more than casual in fast tracking the investigation, which by the way is a special investigation and therefore requires special attention because the reputation of lawmakers is on the line while the wellbeing of residents of Kenema has been put on hold indefinitely.
Since the matter was referred to the ACC some six months ago or thereabouts, nothing has been said or done to bring the matter to rest. In the interim, citizens have been left to contemplate on the veracity or lack of it of the mayor’s allegation. But more significantly and worryingly, no funds have been expended to the Kenema City Council, according Mayor Kelfala, who was speaking on Radio Democracy Wednesday, 20 May.
The silence of the ACC over whether they have completed the investigation and/or their apparent slowness in carrying out one, have left many speculations. And methinks that is bad for the image of the ACC. Granted they are overwhelmed by work, but some issues require urgent attention, not least one where a mayor publicly accuses some Members of Parliament of asking for kickbacks.
As for Parliament, I think it is in their own best interest to urge the ACC to expedite the investigation and make public the findings because their very reputation in the eyes of their constituents is at stake here. Many may have lost faith in their parliamentarians, especially as most think they are only representing themselves and not the people. That perception, which may not necessarily be correct, seems to have permeated the public space, more so during the Ebola outbreak, when many MPs have been embroiled in accusations and counter accusations of how they expended the Ebola sensitization money or allegations of neglecting their constituents at a time they needed them most.
Again, any evidence that they have sought to punish residents of Kenema collectively for the ‘sins’ or ‘petulance’ of their brave mayor will only make our lawmakers look bad, very bad, especially those who represent the city and the district.
By the way, MPS from Kenema have been conspicuously silent as this whole episode drags on, with the people suffering the brunt from the messy fallout. As the ‘peoples representatives’, a refrain they are quick to refer to when their actual or apparent authority is called into question, much is expected of our lawmakers in moments of controversy and acrimony.
But alas, it seems they are all united in an alliance to teach the mayor a lesson! But at whose expense? I hope they know the answer.
Like the Ebola funds audit report which the Public Accounts Committee is yet to publish weeks after it completed its very public ‘investigation’ into the audit report by the Audit Service Commission, there is a long list of parliamentary reports that are still due to be published.
Since this current Parliament was sworn in, many committee visits and hearings are yet to be made public. In a country which prides itself of transparent governance, that is a monumental absurdity. Perhaps a unique state of affairs, also, as reports of parliamentary sub-committees in the United State, United Kingdom, South Africa, Ghana and Nigeria, etc., are favourite meat for the general public and journalists alike to feed on.
However, where and when these reports are not forthcoming, and as allegations of misappropriation of public funds abound in ministries, departments, agencies, commissions and local councils, citizens will have less faith in the mechanism of governance, and rightly so, because they would think there is an unholy alliance between the executive and legislative branches of government against the hopes and aspiration of the masses.
That said, the ACC has the greatest responsibility to right this immense social wrong against a country and people. Theirs is the statutory authority, goodwill and trust of the people to investigate allegations of graft and lack of probity in public office, and bring perpetrators to book. Any delay, whether deliberate or otherwise to accomplish that feat, would seem a betrayal of that goodwill and trust, if not a connivance to abdicate that sacred duty and authority.