President Koroma fails to justify his decision to purchase heavy military weapons ahead of November’s elections

SLPP (North America) Communications Team

9 April 2012

Governments, a political wit once lamented, don’t lie, they merely fabricate. And to a limited extent, we can understand our leaders having to engage in some spin or public relations.

But as the APC arms purchase scandal has revealed, this is a Government that does not even spin; rather, it lies – and does so with impunity. And what is worse, is that the President and his team believe they can get away with it.

Having contradicted itself spectacularly, after being called out on its questionable arms purchase, the Government simply should have done the honourable thing: shake off the embarrassment and just tell the truth.

Instead, on 3rd April, 2012, the Office of the President issued a hollow press release riddled with further inconsistencies and incredulous assertions regarding the arms deal.

The press release, among other bold lies, states that the purchase was a “routine procurement” and not a “response to any overt threat to [the country’s] peace and security or specifically for deployment during the electioneering period.”

According to the press release, the order had been in the making for two years, commencing with the decision of the Procurement Committee of the Sierra Leone Police in December 2009, to purchase the equipment and ending with its delivery in January 2012.

The press release further states that the purchase was predicated on the Government’s responsibility to “ensure among other things that the sierra Leone Police is adequately resourced, financed, well equipped and professionally trained to undertake its duties.”

Well, if we are to take the Government for its word on these statements, one reasonable question immediately arises:

Why did it take the authorities – after supposedly identifying a critical need to equip the Police – two years to consummate what they themselves claim was a “routine procurement”?

Moreover, one can only be sceptical of the Government’s blasé presentation of the alleged timeline regarding the transaction. It would have been particularly helpful for starters to know:

(1) When exactly payment was approved and made and;

(2) When delivery was requested or scheduled to occur.

The answers to these questions could have shed some light on whether there was a deliberate lag in the timing of the delivery of the weapons purchased.

A two-year time span is a little suspicious, given the Government’s claim that the weapons were necessary to allow the Operations Support Division (OSD) of the Sierra Leone Police to meet its “operational requirements.”

The fact is, the press release does nothing to counter well-founded suspicions that the timing of the delivery is not, as the Government nonchalantly asserts – coincidental.

The Government simply failed to provide any tangible or convincing evidence to support its contention, particularly in light of the ruling party’s penchant for elections related violence.

However, this was not the only sticky question that the press release failed to adequately address regarding the weapons consignment.

As the Government itself writes rather cynically, there were “objections raised about the type and quantum of the said weapons”.

Leaving aside the conflicting statements by various administration officials, let us assume for a moment that the consignment was ordered for the Police, as the overwhelming tangible evidence indicates.

There would be nothing wrong with this scenario except for this:

“As observers pointed out, these are not the types of weapons to be used by a Police Force for maintaining law and order.”

Even if one were to give credence to the specious reference of the press release to “the primacy of the Police in providing security for the people of Sierra Leone” and hence the Government’s “duty to equip the force even in time of peace”, the Government clearly lied about the true purpose of the weapons.

In a stunt that can only be described as utterly disdainful, the Government insults the intelligence of Sierra Leoneans, in believing it will be absolved of its wrongdoing merely because some of these weapons will no longer be in the hands of the OSD.

Its announcement that a “directive was issued that certain of these weapons be transferred to The Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces (RSLAF) to be deployed in peace support operations to the African Union / United Nations” is self-serving at best and deceitful as the worst.

If anything, this shameful charade provides ample evidence – as if any more was needed – that the Government is incapable of telling the truth.

If the weapons it purchased were intended, as claimed in the press release, to provide “security for the people of Sierra Leone,” why would the administration divert even a portion of the consignment to a peacekeeping mission outside of the country?

Would it not have made more sense to add the heavier weapons and ammunition in the consignment to the RSLAF’s arsenal for defending the country’s territorial integrity and national security?

One would understand the benevolence, if the country was flush with cash or did not have to contend with critical issues such as extremely high youth unemployment, limited availability of basic supplies – such as paper for education in the schools and universities, families surviving on one meal a day, and an impoverished health care system.

The decision to spend millions of dollars to buy weapons for the Police, when crime in the country is relatively low, is bad enough. Goodwill notwithstanding, to then redirect those weapons to support international peacekeeping efforts only adds insult to injury.

The Government would have saved itself from this embarrassing episode in the first place, had it admitted from the beginning, that the weapons were indeed destined for the Police and that it was wrong to want to arm the Police Force to the teeth during the run-up to critical elections.

But we all know how difficult it is to avoid telling more lies once you tell the first one.

If, as the Government claims at the end of its press release, it is “determined to uphold the tenets of democracy, and also maintain peace, tranquillity and the rule of law throughout Sierra Leone,” it can start by being honest with the citizens of the country on issues that affect them.

A good time to start is now, because as long as the Government fails to come clean on the arms purchase, the scandal won’t go away.

Ironically, that’s not where the tragedy lies, because the Government will only continue to lie and not come clean.

The real tragedy is the Government may just get away with it, because the people have become accustomed to and even subconsciously accepted the fact that this Government has made telling lies the norm.

Sheku Kallon Jr.

 

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