“We can no longer attribute the President’s decisions to sheer ignorance”

Professor Kelfala Kallon

17 December 2011

My initial reactions to President Koroma’s economic policies, which I summarized in an article titled “APC KohKhnomimics” in December 2007, was that the economic mis-steps of his government were borne out of ignorance of modern economic principles, and an adherence to economic fetishism that held that the first law of economics (that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”) was actually wrong.

Because the President has competent economists (at least on paper) on his team, I concluded then that the only rational explanation for his government’s early economic irrationality, had to do with a belief by the President that scarcity, indeed does not exist, and therefore one can waste resources without any real impact on the real sector of the economy.

Moreover, like most Sierra Leoneans and members of the International Community, all of whom the President apparently duped, I also partially believed the lies we were fed by the APC propaganda machine (which is very good) that President Koroma actually meant well for the country.

I therefore expected that after a few months of apprenticeship on the job, President Koroma would translate his good intentions into measurable improvements in the quality of life of the average Sierra Leonean.

With this mindset, it appeared quite reasonable to explain the initial missteps of the Koroma government – such as the Income Electrix fiasco, to have been borne out of his inexperience on the job.

However, the persistence of these missteps throughout his tenure, especially the NASSIT Ferry boondoggle and the lucrative government contracts that have been miraculously landing in the laps of the President’s siblings, who had no prior entrepreneurial experience, clearly suggest that the “apprenticing” hypothesis is no longer tenable.

Simply put, we can no longer attribute the President’s decisions to sheer ignorance of how to best run a progressive state.

With the help of literature on the economics of dictatorships, I am now convinced that to President Koroma – like the man he promised to emulate, President Stevens, economic growth and the prosperity of the average Sierra Leonean are at odds with his political and economic interests.

According to the economics of dictatorship, dictators and would-be dictators need a poor and desperate population because they are most susceptible to being bought with handouts. Hence, dictators and would-be dictators see extreme poverty and economic deprivation among their people as being synonymous with their political interests.

Therefore, encouraging, aiding, and abetting economic inefficiency through corruption and misuse of state resources, are indispensable weapons in a dictator’s and would-be dictator’s arsenal for impoverishing his people.

While the economic deprivation of the general populace promotes dependence on the leader’s gifts, corruption among his relatives and friends, serves as one of the safest ways of generating the resources to pay-off people into acquiescence with the dictator’s or would-be dictator’s objectives.

In this regard, I believe that President Koroma meant every word when he proudly promised to take the country back to the patrimonial state of Presidents Stevens and Momoh. And as most Sierra Leoneans are painfully aware, this was an era when all state institutions were loyal to only the leader, not to the state.

Consequently, political entrepreneurship, corruption, and the use of state resources to make the average Sierra Leonean believe that his or her economic destiny was tied with those of the APC leadership, were perfected into a science during that period.

As a result, a forced penury was imposed on the people in order to bind them to the APC leadership.

With this model of leadership copied by President Koroma, it is not by accident or the effects of “Global” that Sierra Leoneans are immensely poorer today than they were, when he took over the reins of government a little over four years ago.

On the contrary, I am now convinced that our current miseries are the result of a calculated political arithmetic, which was hatched and perfected in the highest echelons of the APC government, to make Sierra Leoneans so poor that we become dependent on the President’s handouts for survival.

Consequently, robust economic growth, which the last SLPP government delivered, has been sacrificed by the Koroma government in this political calculation – in much the same way as President Stevens confessed in his biography, ‘What Life Has Taught Me’ that he had sacrificed the economy for political expediency, and hoped that his successors would reverse that order. (Apparently, President Koroma did not read that part of Sheki’s book.)
Given my new perspective on the Koroma presidency, I am not as surprised as many Sierra Leoneans obviously are, that his Vice President brazenly confirmed what The New People Online newspaper has been reporting all along, that: ‘he is knee deep in corruption’.

It would be however insincere for anyone to set the Vice President as an exception to the (APC) rule, because any Sierra Leonean who lived through Stevens and Momoh vintages of the APC, know the APC – both as a party and government, to be synonymous with corruption.

It now appears that our development partners, who did not really have a good read on the APC character prior to September 17, 2007, are now beginning to realize what we have known all along.

For example, in a December 1, 2009 US Embassy cable, Mr. Glenn Fedzer, then Deputy Chief of Mission, summed up the APC character as one in which “the money in your pocket and your standing in the APC hierarchy ultimately determine whether or not you have carte blanche to profit hugely and blatantly from your government position.”

As such, he concluded, “despite claims of commitment to good governance principles,” the APC were “increasingly showing a deeper commitment” to “corruption and greed at the highest levels.”

And with respect to the Vice President particularly, in that same US cable, Mr. Fedzer noted that the Vice President is “known for corruption” and “for abusing his position and taking bribes.”

However, he continued; the Vice President “remains in place because [President] Koroma believes he needs Sam Sumana to win the Kono vote.”

Thus, the Aljazeera exposé merely confirmed the very astute observations of The New People Online and the American diplomat. It also demonstrates that this historical APC commitment to corruption and greed goes as far as the presidency.

This is evidenced, firstly, by the fact that in spite of the public ban on timber exports, that this President had imposed, the President’s Office itself saw it fit to secretly lift the ban – just as Vice President Sam Sumana had predicted in his meeting with Aljazeera’s undercover reporters.

It is also interesting that one of the interlocutors in the Timbergate saga – Alex Mansaray – formerly of Somerset, New Jersey, was a key financier of the APC’s election effort in 2007. Hence, he should be very well known to President Koroma.

That he has now reportedly become an interlocutor between the Vice President and scrupulous businessmen – allegedly charging 2,000 US dollars as ‘tell-ado’, suggests that what happened in the Vice President’s Office might be an “Operation Pay Yourself” that the APC have put in place for people who “invested” in their 2007 election campaign to recoup their “investments”.

It could also be a slick APC attempt to raise funds for the President’s vote-buying-induced gift giving, while at the same time providing him with plausible deniability. Therefore, setting up such a scheme in the Vice President’s office so that he becomes the fall guy, should it come to light – should not surprise anyone.

Thirdly, the whole thing could have been set up as an inside APC intrigue to oust the Vice President, without incurring the wrath of Kono voters, especially after the Musa Tarawalli approach of shooting it out with the Vice President’s Kono supporters, had failed to dislodge the latter.

However, regardless of which of these explanations one accepts, the fact remains that, although he appears to be guilty as sin, the Vice President is not the lone wolf in this Timbergate scheme. This conclusion is laid bare in another US Embassy cable (July 8, 2008) titled “Corrupt Ministry of Defense Deal Threatens SL Aid.”

Defence minister - Palo Conteh

That cable revealed a corrupt deal that the Minister of Defense – Palo Conteh brokered with Armyland Inc., in collaboration with his then Chief of Defense Staff, Major-General Nelson-Williams, and his assistant – Brigadier Komba Mondeh, that would have had Armyland Inc. supply “the Ministry of Defense with 10 years of ammunition, paid for on a per unit (i.e. each bullet bought individually) basis, at a cost to the government of USD 8.3 million dollars.”

This unusual deal of buying ammunition by the bullet, instead of wholesale as any sensible government would, would have resulted “in over USD 2,000,000 in profits to be shared among the brokers, identified as Armyland Inc., and the Ministry of Defense (MOD) representatives,” the US cable noted.

It is amazing that President Koroma is reported in the US cable to have approved this corrupt deal, without any input from his National Security Council. This definitely inspires two unflattering conclusions about the President:

1) that he has a poor sense of judgment and therefore has no business being President; and/or

2) that his government uses such deals in order to raise resources for his re-election bid.
His legendary gift-giving, since he became President, provides ample support for a hypothesis that the resources used in these political bribery schemes, might have come from such schemes as Palo Conteh’s corrupt deal.

What is most significant about this unusual deal, is the fact that it was only cancelled because the British High Commissioner threatened to pull the plug on the erstwhile London Consultative Group Meeting (which was dear to the President) if the deal went through.

This clearly reveals the level of callousness of this government and the extent to which they would go to line their pockets – even at the risk of sacrificing the security interests of the country.
One would have thought that if the war taught us only one lesson, it would have been that the corruption of our armed forces for whatever reason can lead to very serious national security consequences.

In that regard, President Koroma’s approval of his Defense Minister’s scheme (assuming that it actually originated at Cockerill and not State House), should disabuse anyone of the baseless APC propaganda that the President truly cares about the country.

Finally, when Lord John Maynard Keynes, the most influential economist of the 20th century was accused of changing his mind frequently, he reportedly responded that when reason and facts convince him that he is wrong, he changes his mind unapologetically.

Similarly, I have realized that I made a mistake when I concluded that President Koroma’s irrational economic policies were the product of economic fetishism. I have since learned that the President’s decisions are borne out of an intention to run Sierra Leone into the ground, his claim to the contrary notwithstanding, in order to bind voters to his handouts.

Because I misread his true intentions and therefore misinterpreted the causes of the economic irrationality of his policies, I therefore publicly apologize to the President – His Excellency Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.

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