Freetown, 29th December, 2011. The attention of Government has been drawn to a letter written by the Chairman of the opposition Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) John Benjamin to the Country Manager of the World Bank (Sierra Leone), Vijay Pillai, in which it is suggested that the current administration headed by President Ernest Bai Koroma is employing unfair methods in addressing youth issues in Sierra Leone. It is untrue that the World-Bank-sponsored Cash-For-Work programme handled by the National Commission for Social Action (NASCA) is administered to favour only members of the ruling All Peoples Congress (APC) party.
The APC, the party in power at the moment, draws close to 90% of its support from the Northern Region of Sierra Leone and the Western Area; but even in his own letter, Mr. John Benjamin has been unable to justify or even suggest that citizens or youths of the Northern Region and the Western Area are favoured by the Government, instead he clearly states that the parts of the country in which his party is strongest are the areas that benefit from the cash-for-work programme.
It is ironical that Mr. John Benjamin whose party draws its strength from the South-Eastern part of the country, including Bonthe and Pujehun Districts (areas in the country from which the ruling APC could not win even a single parliamentary seat or even a single council seat in 2007), can be the same part of the country favoured by the APC to the disadvantage of the SLPP which is apparently dominant in that part of the country.
We have always emphasized to members of the opposition SLPP that bypassing state institutions such as the Presidency, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Anti Corruption Commission (ACC), to seek redress directly in the quarters of members of the donor community, with tilted and tainted facts aimed at discrediting the government, is totaling untenable.
The issue of accountability is a priority area in this administration’s governance strategy; hence the government’s decision to give the audit services the independence that is so necessary for an effective democratic society. Furthermore, the ACC has been independent and impartial in carrying out its responsibilities for the purposes of enhancing good governance.
The suggestion by Mr. John Benjamin of the SLPP that the recruitment of the Commissioner and Deputy Commissioner of the National Youth Commission (NAYCOM) was a move to provide jobs for Northerners can only be seen as an attempt to infuse tribalism and regionalism in the operation of a national institutions put together deliberately to address issues relating to youths at the national level.
It is on record that the first government that identified Mr. Anthony Koroma (current Commissioner of NAYCOM) as a citizen with excellent leadership qualities and recruited him to head a national youth movement, the National Social Mobilization Secretariat (NASMOS), was Mr. John Benjamin’s National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) when he was Chief Secretary of State, a move repeated by the SLPP which appointed him Director of Youths and Sports. The bottom-line therefore is that, Mr. Anthony Koroma is perceived by all youth movements in this country, including the National Youth Coalition, as the most knowledgeable and most competent citizen to handle youth issues at the moment; even as he was subjected to parliamentary scrutiny and approved by parliamentarians, including those representing the SLPP.
Parliament also saw wisdom in approving the appointment of a competent and highly educated lady, Ms. Aminata Sillah, who also falls within the youth bracket, to become the Deputy Commissioner of NAYCOM. We therefore find it very strange that Mr. John Benjamin and the non-parliamentary wing of the SLPP can query the recruitment of a Commissioner whose services they have utilized in other capacities in earlier years, just as we find it extremely difficult to understand why Mr. John Benjamin should stand in the way of promoting the aspirations of a clearly competent lady in a country where gender parity is being pursued.
The SLPP’s apparent agenda is to discredit the government, for solely politically-motivated reasons, in those areas that relate to the country’s collaboration with development partners such as the World Bank. Even when financial institutions like the World Bank itself and the International Monetary Fund are putting out positive messages about this country’s progress, the SLPP has deliberately chosen a path of negative propaganda against a country they profess to love and want to rule.
There is no doubt that the cash-for-work programme has been handled impartially by NACSA to meet the needs of the citizens, especially the young people, throughout the country. Even where we concede that many young people in the North, South and the East of the country make more requests in the area of cash-for-work, the little that is available is shared equally and impartially according to the needs of the youths nation-wide.
The unwillingness of the SLPP to accept the APC led-administration as the legitimate and elected government of the people has been a great challenge for the country over the past four years, especially when the government continuously bends over backwards to accommodate an opposition that is clearly unwilling to work and cooperate in the national interest.
Development projects undertaken by this administration are currently equally distributed to all parts of the country, as can be found in the present development strategy of the government. How can John Benjamin continue to talk about regional marginalization when 70% of the Senior Civil Servants in government hail from the South-East, and these are the personnel who advise the Ministers? How can John Benjamin talk about regional marginalization when out of the three capital cities identified for roads development, two of them (Bo and Kenema) are from the South-East of the country?
In the face of the failed attempt by John Benjamin and the SLPP to discredit the efforts of government and to ignore the President’s determination to give a total facelift to the country, the government will continue to address those issues that are relevant to effective national development including governance reforms.
We would continue to advise that the SLPP should not see itself as a parallel government; and that when citizens feel aggrieved, including members of the opposition, instead of parading before officials and offices of donor-community members, they should go through legitimate state institutions to seek redress, including meeting the President who is the Head of State.
We conclude that it is totally untrue that the distribution of cash-for-work is done on a regional basis, as Mr. John Benjamin himself admits that the beneficiaries are from the South-East and not from President Koroma’s strong hold in the North.
We refuse to accept the simplistic and puerile argument that the political configuration of the country is strictly a North-Western and South-Eastern arrangement, as inter-marriages, religious interactions and even old school ties transcend such infantile thinking.
We would plead with the World Bank not to listen to the SLPP, but to indeed enhance its monitoring process, not because the SLPP has dictated that it be done, but because it is the right thing to be done.Office of the Government Spokesman Freetown, Sierra Leone 29th December, 2011