| A missed opportunity
to make a fresh start
The question has often been asked, no less than by ourselves: Why is it that whenever Sierra Leoneans get the chance to prove to themselves that they have learnt lessons from their mistakes (and history), and to apply those lessons to their new situations, they always fail at the very first, and every other, hurdle thereafter?
The recent cabinet announcement singularly ranks as one such spectacular failure. It is as curious as it is disappointing. Why did the country get saddled again with a bloated cabinet while at the same time we are pleading poverty and soliciting aid to rebuild the nation? Where is our sense of economy? It is quite strange, when you think that this country should be gearing itself for a period of austerity and prudence in the use of scarce resources as it is about to enter the new phase of post war reconstruction.
The Cabinet strikes one as an intriguing mixture of negative influences, spent forces, and personified failures of many past decades. It ranks as a very public display of Sierra Leoneans' lack of vision, adventure and enterprise. It will not reassure, let alone inspire, a demoralised and habitually cynical nation. It will not unify the country.
Just for the record, one is not including in this assessment the appointment of RUF and AFRC members to the Cabinet. That is a separate issue altogether because it was a provision under the terms of the Lomé Agreement. Their ministers are virtually an unknown quantity and must also prove that they are up to their briefs. But President Kabbah could have cut down the numbers of those from his old cabinet in order to make way for those he was bound to appoint under this agreement. That way he would have kept a numerically acceptable team.
Metaphorically speaking, Kabbah's so-called new cabinet is nothing but a repairing operation, using rough timber to recondition his outdated cabinet while retaining the dead wood within it. Instead of trimming down what was already an overloaded cabinet he has enlarged it. The impression that this gives is that everything has been fine and will carry on as before. In other words, that it is business as usual and there is no need for change.
But this is simply not true. Insiders will tell you that we are still in very bad shape. But for the NGO input into our affairs, the country would by now have come to a grinding halt. Not much has been forthcoming from ministers by way of original ideas to deal with the serious problems that face the country. These insiders, and indeed the reality on the ground, will also tell you that some ministers simply do not comprehend the demands on their portfolios. Most have little exposure to outside world influences and even then what exposure they have is so superficial that they often fail to appreciate the impact of commitments to which they have signed up. Some are suspected of engaging in corrupt practices and lacking in transparency while others are engaging in private trading activities oblivious to their role as public officials and the conflicts of interest that their activities entail.
We should add that we are talking here about the preponderance of bad apples in the cabinet. There are admittedly a few diligent and extremely effective ministers who deserve their portfolios and have acquitted themselves in extremely difficult circumstances. They are not the subject of our vitriol and we commend them for their hard work. Our target is the large number of freeloaders who have been brought in or kept on board.
At this critical juncture, during an eagerly yearned-for transition from war to peace and reconstruction in Sierra Leone, citizens would expect that, as minimum requirements, those who would be called upon to serve the country as ministers and state functionaries possess and demonstrate:
Crisis ridden Sierra Leone
One way in which we might have begun to demonstrate our resoluteness to deal with these situations, not only for our sakes but also for reassuring the numerous friends and allies of Sierra Leone throughout the world who wish to help us get on our feet again, would have been in how we organise ourselves, and the calibre, character (including the probity) and capability of those individuals whom we trust to lead and direct us.
Another way would have been the imperative of avoiding provocative action that could disturb the precarious balance of interests inside the country, or a situation that could give others a pretext for again making life intolerable for ordinary people. It is the interest of the whole community that should count. Pampering to political loyalists, financial benefactors, tribal and personal affiliates is not the recipe for creating conditions for peace, reconciliation and good governance. It ultimately foments animosity between citizens; it can lead to squabbles between the deserving and the undeserving; between the hard working and the not-so-industrious, and between the favoured and the not-favoured. Executive actions and decisions, including appointments to public office, that smack of divisive politics simply create a nation of malcontents and deprive the government of the support and respect that it needs to carry the whole nation along with it. We fear that Kabbah's appointments did not take these factors into consideration, but we stand to be proved wrong.
Have we got the dream team for the millennium?
The appointments were, not surprisingly, greeted with derision and apoplexy in some quarters. There is in fact undisguised frustration at what is seen as another frittered golden opportunity to make a clean break with the sluggishness of the last three years. One angry visitor to this site wrote to say that it looked more like "Kabbah's wedding list".
Can we now confidently say that we really and truly have the dream team that will take us into a bright and prosperous new millennium? We think not.
The President is himself now on trial. Indeed the indictment comes from another visitor to this site who reacted angrily to our report of audience reactions to Kabbah's address to Sierra Leoneans in London last July (See here). He took strong exception to the reported aside, by a member of the audience, that Kabbah was not a bad person but that it was the people around him that were bad. Our visitor wrote: "You people (surely, not Focus!) should stop making excuses for this man (Kabbah) by blaming his advisers and ministers. After all they would not be his advisers and ministers if he did not appoint them. If they do not give him the advice or fail to perform as he wants, he should fire them. He is responsible for appointing the bad people around him".
He is right. The blame will be put fairly and squarely on Kabbah's shoulder if these people fail us again.
Grounds for challenge
1. We have already obliquely referred to the unsuitability of some of the individuals. With a new situation evolving and a new dispensation coming into force, people rightly expected a little more imagination in the making of appointments, including making way for new talents. Instead they have been offered the recycled debris of yesterday's failures. Some of these people served in previous governments that deliberately set out to divide and discriminate between Sierra Leoneans. It is therefore insensitive and, yes, timid that, for purely political convenience, Kabbah has resurrected them just when the social conscience of Sierra Leone is itself on trial. How else can we encourage ordinary people to believe in the system, or that things will change and improve for them?
2. We also know of ministries that have been identified where monies running into billions of Leone's were squandered with the full knowledge (and if not, then why should he or she head a ministry?) of their ministers. Those very ministers are still in office. More disturbing for democratic accountability, we know that terrible decisions and actions were taken last January by ministers, which led to horrible consequences, including over 5,000 deaths, for the civilian population of Freetown. In fact Kabbah's entire old cabinet stands accused of mishandling the rebel invasion of the Capital, which saw the inhabitants, especially in the East End, being deceived into believing that there was no rebel threat in their vicinity, when in fact there was one. The persons involved in that debacle were not sanctioned but have retained their positions or been promoted. That is not democratic accountability. They should have been sacked. Can you imagine a British or American government surviving in office for a minute longer after its policy miscalculation results in the deaths of 5,000 of their citizens? Tony Blair would be tendering his resignation at Buckingham Palace pronto!
4. This type of creative profligacy - a.k.a cronyism - is not necessary and makes a mockery of cabinet government. Insiders, mainly dissidents, of the ruling SLPP have charged that Kabbah was out to please his friends, especially those belonging to the 1960s brigade who seem to dictate events in the country nowadays, and to placate those who have threatened to challenge his chairmanship of the Party at its next convention. But these are wrong bases upon which to govern the country. Kabbah must accept that no matter what he does he is unlikely to please everyone. But in general people would, and should, respect him if and when he does things which seem to them to promote the interest and welfare of every Sierra Leonean, as long as it is done in good faith and for the common good of all citizens.
5. Someone needs to explain what distinct operational differences exist between some of the portfolios that have been created. There is so much unnecessary duplication where amalgamation would have been sufficient, at least, for the time being. For example defence, security and safety; or internal affairs and local government; likewise finance, economic planning and development, and rural development (What is planning about if it does not include the development of rural areas from where the wealth of the country derives?)See below for Focus' suggested list of 13 cabinet posts (compared with Kabbah's 21), which we believe is more than adequate for the country's present needs.
But we must move on.... Notwithstanding
Nonetheless, despite our protestations in this editorial and because, realistically speaking, there is no chance of putting the clock back now that the proverbial horse has bolted, we might as well close the stable door behind this one. We urge all Sierra Leoneans, including the two rebel groups, to work together with this government and this cabinet in our quest for peace. We cannot afford to bicker among ourselves about a cabinet list while the peace process, including disarmament and demobilisation of combatants, remains as uncertain and precarious as in recent days. The situation demands co-operation at every level of society and goes beyond the mere holding of ministerial posts. The present transition phase needs all hands on deck for it to succeed. No single party (political or other), person or group can handle it by itself. It is a national problem that requires a national solution. Peace is essential. Without it, nothing will be possible for Sierra Leone, even if we had the best cabinet in government.
President Kabbah has made his choice. In local saying "Nar im mek im bade, ehn nar im go lay don pahn am" (He has made his bed, so he must lie on it). Unfortunately, this particular bed happens to be one that every Sierra Leonean will be forced to lie in. But doing so means that we are entitled to expect that those who were appointed will live up to our expectations. Every minister or deputy minister, without exception, must be put on notice that they are on trial on probation as it were. This requires a monitoring process to be put in place to ensure that ministerial and executive performance is up to scratch for initially the next six months. If they are not performing well by then, they should be ripped out of the system.
But can we trust President Kabbah to do it? Has he got the guts to take such action if and when the time comes? We will wait and see.
KABBAH's LATEST CABINET
Mr. Francis Musa Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Marine Resources
FOCUS' SUGGESTED LIST OF PORTFOLIOS
MINISTERS OF STATE