A tough job ahead for Sierra Leone’s ministry of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 June 2016

Poverty in Freetown, Sierra Leone.

In Sierra Leone today, millions of children and young people are struggling through the daily grind of basic existence, battling disease, poor health care, poverty, poor access to good quality education, and society’s ambivalence to their needs, with far too many trapped in the broken web of the country’s criminal justice system.

With such a huge challenge for any government in power in Sierra Leone to ensure that children are given a good start in life that will guarantee them a brighter future, the expectation is that the ministry responsible for children’s affairs will be properly resourced and well managed.

But when the ministry itself is constantly being thrown into public ridicule and becomes the subject of media intrigue and spectacle, serious questions must be asked about the president’s ability to prioritise and appoint the best people to run the ministry to look after the affairs of the most vulnerable in society.

Just few months ago, both the previous minister and his deputy were sacked by president Koroma. They had brought the department into public disrepute, after being caught on video throwing rude invective at each other and threatening violence. That video went viral on social media.

This week, there is report of serious allegation of threatening behaviour by the Director of Social Welfare – Mr Kabia, towards the minister in charge – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden, which it is understood resulted in the arrest of the Director by police, who is still being kept in custody.

Whiles the question as to who said and did what, and the argument over the allegations of serious criminal conduct is a matter for the police and possibly the courts to decide, what is truly baffling is that those appointed and placed in charge of the ministry, are finding it very difficult to steer a steady ship, and set a good example for those vulnerable children.

ChildrenWhat is also evidently clear is that the importance of the ministry responsible for looking after the welfare of children in society – the future leaders and active citizens of society, is grossly underestimated by the president.

Public expectations of those responsible for shaping policies and manage the strategies and programmes that should help protect the rights and welfare of children are very high, but continue to be shattered by the bad behaviour of those in authority.

Far too many of the government departments and ministries in the country have become public laughing stock and a shadow of what they were decades ago. They are dysfunctional and a breeding ground for a culture of bad behaviour, rudeness and anarchy, symptomatic of the depth of depravity in public life.

This does not inspire much public confidence, respect and trust in the entire public sector that not only places the greatest burden on government finances, but delivers very little value for tax payer’s money.

Yesterday, the Sierra Leone Telegraph received the following disturbing report for publishing, which had already gone viral on social media, published by an unknown media source – Real News. It reads:

ABUSE OF POWER IN THE MINISTRY OF SOCIAL WELFARE

Barely 24 hours after observing the Day of the African Child, there arose an unhealthy and unpleasant incident involving the Minister of Social Welfare Gender and Children’s Affairs, Madam Sylvia Blyden and the Director of Social Services, Mr Francis Kabia.

Real News found out that Mr Kabia was summoned by Madam Blyden to explain why he issued a letter in respect of the Hajj. Mr Kabia responded that he is not the one who wrote the letter but the Permanent Secretary. “How can you say you are not the one when the Permanent Secretary said you wrote the letter”? Mr Kabia responded by saying “How comes I wrote the letter but was signed by the Permanent Secretary”?

At this point Madam Minister blasted: “You go tok so to you mammy wey you lef na ose”? It was when she repeated that cuss that Francis responded by telling her same.

Upon this, Madam Sylvia called the New England Police to effect the arrest of Mr Kabia. Real News met  him at the police station in the Crimes Office. After obtaining statement from him, the police went back to Madam Minister to inform her that they have no sufficient reason to detain Mr Kabia.

But Madam Minister was adamant and vowed to have Francis detained by all means till Monday. She had called a senior police officer who gave directives for Francis to be detained.

Whilst Francis was being taken to the cell, upon a plea from a civil society activist to the Director of CID for his release, the Director professionally advised that Mr Kabia be bailed and report tomorrow morning.

This is not the first time Madam Minister had taken people to police for no just reason. It was confirmed that some weeks ago, she had an old man locked up for 5 days for selling around her office. The poor man suffered unjustly because of a Minister’s abuse of power.

How can a minister just get up and be abusing a very senior staff of the ministry?

Real News further gathered from some workers of the MSWGCA that ever since Madam Minister took office, she has been busy hunting her predecessor and now she has turned her fight to senior staff, Mr Kabia being the first victim of her excesses. (End of Report).

Minister of childrens affairs - Dr Sylvia BlydenThe question that many are asking is: Did the minister abuse her powers by having the Director arrested? 

Given the gravity of the allegations made against the minister in that report and the need to verify the facts of the story, the Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted the minister yesterday and asked her the following questions:

What started the row between you and Mr Kabia – the Director of Social Welfare, the ministry of which you are the minister? Did you have him arrested and why? Did he threaten your life and in what way?

Could the dispute not have been handled through the normal civil service disciplinary procedure? Where does this matter go from here?

CHILDRENs DAY CELEBRATION - 16 June 2016But it was with reluctance that the minister decided to make a brief comment yesterday to the Sierra Lone Telegraph, as she felt she does not want to prejudice any ongoing investigation into what happened at the ministry, between herself and the Director of the department.

Firstly, she said she does not give credence to that news report, which she regards as anonymous, published by a source calling itself Real News.

Asked whether the matter could not have been handled through the Civil Service Disciplinary Procedure, the minister said that notwithstanding the disciplinary process, given the immediate threat of violence – “physical assault” that was made towards her by the Director, she felt she had to involve the police.

The minister – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden told the Sierra Leone Telegraph:  

“Mr. Kabia was arrested by my police bodyguard who had rushed into my office on hearing the loud threats of violence being uttered against my person by Mr. Kabia. After he was arrested inside my office, my police bodyguard handed him over the New Englandville Police Station office.

“After Kabia was handed over to the Police for investigation with a formal complaint from my Police Bodyguard who arrested him, I then later wrote and formally signed the letter in question to the Police to buttress the seriousness of the complaint.”

This is the letter that Dr. Blyden wrote to the police, who will now investigate the use of threatening language in the workplace, as well as allegation of threats of violence against the minister who says she now feels unsafe:

Letter sent to police by the minister

The minister – Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden told the Sierra Leone Telegraph:

“Mr. Kabia was arrested by my police bodyguard who had rushed into my office on hearing the loud threats of violence being uttered against my person by Mr. Kabia. After he was arrested inside my office, my police bodyguard handed him over the New Englandville Police Station office.

“After Kabia was handed over to the Police for investigation with a formal complaint from my Police Bodyguard who arrested him, I then later wrote and formally signed the letter in question to the Police to buttress the seriousness of the complaint.”

Did the minister abuse her office?

This is what the arrested Director told David Tam Baryoh in a radio interview:  

Only the police and the president, and possibly the High Court can decide whether the minister has abused her powers, after the evidence and all facts relating to the matter have been assessed through due process. But in the meantime, it is the welfare of vulnerable people in the country, including children, that will continue to suffer.

7 Comments

  1. This is a litmus test for the Judiciary and the President. I hope they would not fail us again. If the President sacked the previous Ministers for rude and reckless behaviour, we are waiting to see what will happen in this case.

    War between Favouritism and Fair play? Guess who will win.

  2. Bomkapr Kamara

    The problem with our police department is that they don’t know when and where to make an arrest. The police department is the most corrupt system in Sierra Leone. It needs to be corrected. They are quick to respond to calls made by any so called government officer without investigating the reason for calling them.

    I also suggest that when making changes to the constitution, it is very important to add law suits against any police officer that arrest people illegally.

    The president has made it clear that he is going to run Sierra Leone like a business. Therefore, the police department is being run like a business, receiving bribes from the highest bidder. Whosoever pays well will be treated fairly. That is why the ministers are taking advantage of the situation.

  3. With the high increase in the prices of basic food items, such as rice our staple food, many more children will become malnourished, leading to high infant mortality rate.

    Management of Acute Malnutrition (MAM) will increase, when most lactating mothers will find it difficult to afford food to eat.

  4. What a shame to this ministry. When Mrs Shirley Gbujama was there for almost ten years, nothing of the sort occurred in that ministry. This is to tell us that the ministry has been neglected by the Koroma Government during his tenure.

    Sylvia has social interaction problems and he (the President) went ahead to make her social welfare minister. Even when she was at State House, she nearly quarreled with everybody in that office, with the exception of the President.

    The action of the minister against her director (a technocrat) is a Sexual and Gender Based Violence(SGBV) issue of which this ministry is responsible for dealing with perpetrators. As a minister being one of the perpetrators, she must be severely dealt with, if we are to go by the laws of the ministry and the land. ” Monkey nor dae lef ehn black hand,”

    We are watching to see what will be the outcome of the case. If this is not another buff case.

  5. Sylvia Blyden is only 44 years old. Does that mean she is older than Mr. Francis Kabia and so could reference the latter’s mom in this saga any how? Incredible!

    Please, Madam Minister, exercise some restraint and be respectful to other people’s loved ones. Amen.

  6. Mr President, these are very serious allegations made by the minister, but her decision to call the police and to arrest Mr kabia is highly irregular and beyond her powers as minister. Minister Olayinka Blyden has brought the ministry into disrepute and disgrace.

    Mr President, I strongly call on you to do the right thing. You must suspend both the minister and the director pending the outcome of the police investigation.

    I will go one stage further and recommend that you abolish the ministry of social welfare and have a contract with a credible NGO to take over the work of the ministry. The contract must have clear and measurable deliverables. The appointed NGO can be directly accountable to State House.

    If you continue to pretend that all is well as if nothing has happened, you will only have yourself to blame for this shame brought to this country. You must act now Mr president.

  7. This is a serious indictment against the president. When Sylvia Blyden was employed at the Statehouse, she also made allegations that she was not safe there. Is her boss, the president only capable of employing thugs who engage in acts or threats of violence?

    Before Sylvia Blyden was put in this position, I said this was a very bad decision for the women and children of Sierra Leone. With the overwhelming suffering of both women and children in the country, this ministry needed a serious minded minister, not an individual who has a habit of taking people to court.

    Ernest Koroma does not care about the women and children of Sierra Leone. If he did, he would have put proper advocates in place, instead of those who continue to be a needless distraction for the serious work that needs to be done.

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