Thursday, 14 April 2016



By Andrew Keili
{Courtesy: Facebook post - photos inserted}


I recall that when I was at Sierra Rutile in the early eighties, I was transferred from being a Mine Planning Engineer into an operations role in charge of a set of mineral process plants. The month wore on and I was in danger of not meeting the monthly production target. Out of shear frustration, I blurted out to my supervisors during a production meeting: "Which idiot drew this plan knowing full well the constraints we have? There was a noticeable silence at what I later realized later was a rhetorical question. I had drawn up that plan before I left  Mine Planning!
This brings me to the recent brouhaha surrounding the appointment and  ratification of our Ministers and events thereafter.
To say the Parliamentary hearings have been interesting would be an understatement. Well, even before the hearings, battle lines had been drawn and many groups got their hammers out to nail controversial characters into their coffins. The Parliamentary Committee on Appointments worked on overdrive on the approval process which was in the full glare of the public. The press and social media churned out stories on the mishaps that befell some interviewees.
One would be tempted to think the hearings were all about Dr Sylvia Blyden and Mohamed Bangura. Their detractors and supporters had a field day.
Dr. Blyden was characteristically not short on confidence and gave her detractors as good as she got. According to her, her appointment to this Ministry was warranted because of her passion for women's and children's affairs and her proclivity to stand up for the down trodden. Detractors would have none of this and issues about her "medical certificate and  inability to recite the national pledge" were brought to the fore. Her supporters from all over the country went in all pomp and pageantry in their numbers to give her support at Parliament. Whatever the case, she was unanimously approved and is firmly ensconced at the Ministry. She quickly jumped at the chance to greet the folks at Radio Democracy the morning she took over and in characteristic fashion reminded her listeners she was "one of the best women Sierra Leone has ever produced". She was however cagey and perhaps smart when asked what she would do. She simply said she needed time to acclimatize herself in her Ministry-The krio man would say "Tom drunk but Tom nor fool O!

Mohamed Bangura's controversy started even before he could step his foot through the doors of Parliament. Both the UDM and ADP were up in arms for various reasons which included his "illegibility because he participated in the 2012 Presidential elections" and his "unreliability". He did not help the situation by presenting certificates that were deemed by detractors to be suspect, raising a few eyebrows even from Committee members. For a while his fate appeared to be in the balance but it finally looked like the "little hitch" had been sorted out except for the dissenting view from Hon Dixon Rogers of Constituency 89 in Pujehun District, who according to AWOKO said "Mohamed Bangura does not deserve to be a Minister” and “is jumping from one political party to another" and "presented a forged educational certificate on oath to the Committee on Appointment thus he should not be approved by this House.
The responses from a few of the interviewees were instructive.
The new Deputy at Information and Communications, Cornelius Deveax remarked:“ I am very optimistic that all of us will sail through and politics is about risk, recognition and reward". His certification or rather lack thereof however proved to be bothersome for the once renowned "more timer" who appeared very tame. He was honest enough to say that he attended the Fourah Bay College and  the Institute of Public Administration and Management but did not complete-hence he had no educational certificate. The Grammar school's celebration of its anniversary however wanted to be his undoing-he had lost his testimonial from Grammar School and had tried to regain it which proved futile because the school was celebrating its anniversary! My take on this is that Grammar school must be more mindful of the needs of its illustrious alumni! 
It was  Hon. Veronica K. Sesay's advice to Deveaux that I however found interesting. She asked Mr. Deveaux whether he thinks that such a CV will help him pass for the position of Deputy Minister of Information given the importance of communications to development. According to AWOKO she said of him that "the CV is so scanty and haphazard and advised that the proposed minister needs to do something about his CV". This latter comment is obviously unfair-His CV is his CV and at least he is honest to present a scanty one that is not forged!

Dr. Christiana Thorpe made some incisive comments about education stating that the Ministry needs "repairs and renovation"  and stating, courtesy of AWOKO  that “I will use my expertise, knowledge and experience to bring sanity to our educational system.” She said "education is what holds a nation" and “I believe there is future in education in Sierra Leone.” Questioned as to how she will be able to work in the second position in the ministry, she said “ I am born a ruler. I can rule from the back, middle, and top.” Dr Thorpe certainly needs to also rule from "the side" in this Ministry!

The hearings were done and everybody sailed through. The new Ministers have now embarked upon their interview rounds and whilst some are promising the earth, others are more circumspect. Mohamed Bangura of course in characteristic fashion has said he will change the face of ICT in this country. He promised the Parliamentarians he will introduce e-government. Uncharacteristically,  Bai Mamoud the new Minister of Youth Affairs who had been a chief proponent of "more time" and "third term" put out the olive Branch. He appeared so modest and conciliatory on Radio Democracy. I was impressed with statements like: "I don't have all the answers and have to work with other people", "Youth Affairs is within the purview of various MDAs and I have to work with them", " SLPP Youths have the same problems as APC Youths and I will be all inclusive"-More time to Bai Mamoud and good luck!

Nanette Thomas would work assiduously to foster unity amongst various political parties. She would reach out to various governance structures. The young Sidi Yaya Tunis would have no time for "kongosa" and all those who did not want to work should "jump off the train". I was however taken aback by the handing over at Tourism which was aired on Radio Democracy. The erstwhile Acting Minister Khadija Sesay who now goes as Deputy to the Works Ministry made a spirited, if unconvincing defense of the accusation that she had sold land belonging to the Dance Troupe to a Lebanese business man, saying people "misunderstood" the details of the "arrangement". She said she was certain that with the measures she had put in place, tourism will move from a Class C to a Class A Ministry-I did not quite understand and could be excused for my ignorance.
The preliminaries are finished and now they are all going to get to the business of delivering in their Ministries. This is not going to be easy. Elizabeth Manns has her work cut out at one of the most important Ministries that could be filling up our coffers especially with the spate of problems being encountered in the mining sector. There is need to strengthen capacities for combating illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and adopting improved systems of monitoring control and surveillance. Dr. Sylvia Blyden will face the considerable challenges of addressing issues facing women in this country both from a socio-culturally and social-economic viewpoint and jump into the melee of the various social problems facing our country. Mohamed Bangura will soon realize that the Information and Communications Ministry must drive the ICT revolution which is so important to our infrastructure development. He has talked the talk-now he must walk the walk. Christiana Thorpe had been there, done that. She faces immense challenges at the Education Ministry and also faces the challenge of not trying to overshadow the Number 1, whilst at the same time coordinating Education issues with the Office of the President.  Sidi Yaya Tunis has the chance of turning around a neglected and under-budgeted Ministry into one that could potentially be one of the most important in this country. But he faces immense challenges. Tourism is hampered by the paucity of infrastructure amongst other immense challenges. Kemoh Sesay has been sent to Works, Housing and Infrastructure. Our challenges in housing and infrastructure abound.
The Parliamentary committee was supposed to focus on several issues including the candidates' academic credentials, professional training and experience, personal integrity and background and vetted the  candidates-it insists it did. Hon Bernadette Lahai the Minority Leader has been very livid with the press for "trivializing the issues raised in the interviews". She specifically referred to Radio Democracy reports that claimed the only questions asked of Paolo Conteh was how to pronounce Ebola. Radio Democracy's emphasis on Dr Sylvia Blyden's recital of the national pledge was also described as a triviality. Dr Lahai claims the interviewees were grilled on "weighty state issues". Not surprisingly, some major civil society activists have jumped to Radio Democracy's defence, saying there could have been a lot more issues raised by the Parliamentary Committee.
Whatever the case, it is now a done deal and the Ministers have started work. Expectations are high in some quarters, although not in many opposition quarters. For Sierra Leoneans however these are people who have been thrust to the helm of our affairs and they need to perform-qualifications or not, forged certificates or not, experience or not. Both the Majority and minority leaders have stressed on the need for them to be suitably resourced to carry out the visions they espoused.  
They however need to be reminded that it is no longer sufficient to invoke "the infinite wisdom of the President" in all their utterances. They must perform. Let me end by reminding them of the story of Pa Allie and I at Rutile. We were expecting the Tennis Team for Bo club and I gave Pa Allie a list of the twenty four people, highlighting twenty that would definitely come with a yellow highlighter. The team arrived and I took them to the dining room only to have Pa Allie place four plates before twenty people. On questioning him, he accused me of misinforming him, producing the paper with the 20 highlighted names. "Norto you kratch kratch dem wan den ya?, pointing to the highlighted names! Yes, I answered but nar highlight, nor to kratch", I tried to explain to the semi illiterate Pa Allie but he could have none of my explanation and we ended buying bread and sardines for our esteemed visitors! The moral of the story? Our Ministers should make sure their staff buy into their vision and they work well with them. Indeed the proof of the Ministerial appointment pudding is in the eating of the Ministerial performance cake.
Ponder my thoughts.

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