Bank of Sierra Leone governor saga: Much ado about nothing

Abdulai Mansaray: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 02 December 2021:

President Bio has usually been accused of downloading and uploading a lot of bureaucrats and technocrats onto his administration. Since our nation’s independence, there has been a preponderance of “career politicians” –  if we can call them that, who have perennially occupied the political landscape. Look where that has got us.

Although there have been a significant presence of technocrats and “bookman dem” in past administrations, including late President Momoh’s short-lived tenure, it seems like President Bio is set to  buck the trend.

Bio’s administration has a visible presence of such “bookmen” and might not have gone unnoticed by some hardcore SLPP supporters. Some might feel that having tried the “cowboys” for so long, perhaps it was time we tried the “Indians” (don’t take it literally please).

But one of those bureaucrats caused a stir recently, when he invoked the mortal sin, by mentioning the word “BRIBE” during a press conference. According to thesierraleonetelegraph.com -27/11/21, “After getting himself into hot water for saying that the Bank of Sierra Leone had used $68 million in bribing businesses and individuals in order to stabilise the country’s currency – the Leone, now he says he used the word bribery figuratively as an economics professor, to describe what he said is similar to consumers paying more for a product so as to get producers to supply more of the product., and …. “instead of trying strenuously and unconvincingly to justify his use of the term Bribery in this context, is to simply apologise for his mistake and move on”.

To all intents and purposes, that seems the right thing to do; admit the mistake and move on. That could have been the end of it.

Unfortunately, the Bank of Sierra Leone, which is ironically headed by Professor Kelfala Kallon (Photo) put out a press statement and vigorously tried to talk itself out of the apparent mess. Understandably, a lot has been made of this for various reasons.

If we are to gauge this whole wahala, let us start from the premise, that words have meanings only in context.

One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter. What you call “bribe” in Freetown can be “lobby” in Washington. While some call them coup plotters, others see them as the redeemers, etc.

What’s interesting is the fact that the word “bribe” took a different trajectory. No matter how anyone may try to dress it, it was the wrong word in context. It could have been a lapsus lingua or error of judgement. Nevertheless, the Bank Governor was unconsciously officialising the very bane of our society.

But what does this tell us?

Looking at the kind of uproar that has greeted this error on the part of Professor Kallon, you would be forgiven to think that it was a new word. Bribery is not new to us. If anything, it’s the oxygen of the transactional activities that cement our day to day lives. This is not to suggest that everyone is corrupt. But hmmmm.

The Professor told us that he used this term in his economics class in the past and rightly so. Sometimes, you must call a spade a spade. Unfortunately, this was neither prudent, sensible, clever, or politically correct to call it by its name as words have meanings only in context.

The Bank and the Governor can shout to the rafters that his words were taken out of context. True. But that was because he spoke out of context in the first place.

So, why did he speak out of context?

There could be only one reason why the Bank Governor spoke out of context: He is not a politician; he’s a technocrat. Politicians might have a better acquaintance with the word but will never say it in public like the professor did. The professor might have been a political appointee but does not have a constituency to defend. So, he might have been lulled into a false sense of flippancy and blasé.

When politicians speak, we know that they are very conscious about what they say. Most of what they say are voter induced and targeted. They say what they think voters want to hear. That is why they are generally economical with the truth. Bending the facts comes as second nature.

The professor was just professorial. For a minute, he might have mistaken the press conference for a lecture theatre. But he could have done the right thing after his gaff by owning up. He’s human and fallible. He’s not a politician but a technocrat. All he had to do was admit his error and not try to talk himself out of it. That was a hopeless attempt that gave the story unnecessary oxygen.

Notwithstanding the fact that his attempt to explain himself – though well-meaning, was an insult to our intelligence. Owning up would have earned him more respect and reassured everyone that he is human, hence liable to make mistakes. The duplicity of personality on show was one of a professor and technocrat who tried to explain himself like a typical politician.

So, let us see what other words or phrases he might have used:

To Bribe: as encouragement, to fillip, as impetus, as impulse, as inducement, as motivation, as catalyst, to prod, to push, to incentivise etc. They all carry similarly different semantical values in context. “We wasted $68 million to bribe people who were hoarding Leones to bring it into the banking system”.

Before we get into the misuse of the operative word “BRIBE”, using “WASTED” was worse than “bribe”.  To spend that amount of money for such an activity was a total and complete waste. It goes against President Bio’s vision to “PLUG WASTE”.

I personally find the use of the word “Wasted” true but offensively nauseating. Why waste “$68 million to bribe people who were hoarding Leones to bring it into the banking system”?

Someone could have done it for less. Give them one million Leones worth of megabytes. They get on their numerous WhatsApp groups and start one: that the redenomination of the Leone has been postponed indefinitely. Just a rumour. Not that I support false information, but it would have done the trick. Or just tell some of my area boys with Okadas to run with it. Simple. The cash would have come flooding back to the banks.

So, our money changers, including the Swaizee Boys have just taught our Bank Governor one of the basics of economics: Demand and Supply. And they did not even need any academic qualification. Proof that “na sense mek book”.

By the way, one must admire the Governor’s honesty to tell the truth. But the Governor should remember that even sneezing during such press conferences carry more meanings than a suggestion of flu. Such utterances can bring a nation’s economy to its knees.

Imagine making such statements to the London Stock Exchange, or the New York Stock markets. He said it as it is, but words have meanings only in context.

His position requires him to be very diligent with the use of words, if possible, always. His attempt to explain himself in a video clip was admirable and very professorial. But he could have gone further to apologise, rather have the Bank issuing a statement about “a mischaracterisation of a statement the Governor made”.

Don’t butter the issue. Professor Kallon spoke out of turn. Simple.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about the things that matter (MLK). Don’t forget to turn the lights out when you leave the room.

2 Comments

  1. Indeed I am always impressed with the style of writing of this gentleman Abdulai Mansaray, his use of the adequate warning in context of a subject. For those who think of themselves with baseless pride and ignorant ego of being the most educated in Sierra Leone, should be ashamed of themselve for such a shallow minded belief. These people need to realise their innocence and self conceit to come out of the darkness and learn the true realities of the modern world today from this column, it is an eye-opener to them, to better stop exhibiting their stark ignorant conceit.

    • Same here, Mr Kabia. Indeed, Mr mansaray, is of the best among the few bests . I cannot still understand why Proff. has to use the word bride instead of the synonyms that could have supported his explanation as a professional banker. I do not think the word bribery’ doesn’t exist in the book of banking. That said, banking is a unique profession with its ethical values and rules. It is not an academic article that needs a research design nor a research gap that needs a methodology approach to arrive at its findings. I have practice banking for over twelve years in Sierra Leone and abroad. I have never heard the word bribery from a bank governor nor a director in the context of Proff. explanation. Again, indeed, I agreed with you, Mr Mansaray. The simplest thing he would’ve done is to apologize to the public, instead of trying to talk himself out.

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