Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 February 2021:
The Sierra Leone Telegraph has joined very loud calls in and outside of Sierra Leone for the reinstatement of a Union Trust Bank (UTB) employee – Mr. Garvyn Cole (Photo above), who was instantly dismissed last Thursday, after posting a message on the Facebook page of the wife of the President of Sierra Leone, calling for her to be more transparent and open in accounting for public funds.
According to many in Sierra Leone who are now calling for the reinstatement or compensation for the unfair dismissal of Mr Cole by the UTB, “this is an example of the climate of repression existing in the country today. This should tell us why many citizens in Sierra Leone are afraid to freely speak out on issues affecting their lives. We must defend Mr. Cole’s right to employment and free speech. His comment has nothing to do with his job.”
Mrs Fatima Bio – the wife of the president, has come under immense pressure from the public and media to give account for millions of dollars she is alleged to have received from the government to support her projects.
She is being accused of grotesque levels of corruption, using proxies and middlemen in the business sector and within the government to conceal her corruption.
Last week, the country’s Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC) announced that it has commenced investigations into those allegations.
But many in Sierra Leone, including civil society are unconvinced about the political independence, honesty and commitment of the ACC to investigate the wife of the president, who is said to have a close relationship with the head of the ACC – Francis Ben Kaifala.
Commenting on his sacking, Garvyn Cole said: “Following my sacking by the CEO of UTB this morning, I have seen several views on social media on the issue and to my surprise, some people are even justifying my sacking by saying that my exchanges with the First Lady were political and violated the Bank’s policy. In light of such misconceptions, I find it necessary to make the following clarification:
“Firstly, I want to make it very clear that I did not contravene any of the Bank’s policy or code of ethics by my social media engagement with the First Lady (see below). The exchanges with the First Lady were not insulting or disrespectful and did not even take place on her Facebook page. I engaged her on an issue of accountability which being a tax paying citizen, I believe I am entitled to.
“None of my messages had anything to do with politics or campaigning or political party etc. It is very sad that it’s only in Sierra Leone that people view accountability issues as political, just because it had to do with a political figure. I challenge anyone to show me which bank policy I violated. The quoted Article 24 of our staff handbook merely provides for 1 month notice.
“I am extremely distressed that after diligently serving the bank for 6 years the CEO of the bank treated me like thrash and terminated my services without even affording me the dignity of an opportunity to be heard. But what is most shocking is the fact that he called me into his office this morning and this is what transpired:
MD: Na u dae argue with First Lady eh…
Me: Please mek ar explain Sir
MD: No need…Ar don see say me en u nor dae see wan sai pa political views, so you nor go continue for woke for me…you can leave my office now…
“The MD has done his own but this is not the end of my life. I am a qualified young man and have my life ahead of me, I won’t eat grass. I know he took that decision to use me as a scapegoat for his political interest. I have my political views but don’t let it interfere with my work ethics. I also know I have a right to freely express myself on national issues bordering on accountability, transparency and good governance and that is very different from politics. I feel victimized but as a young man, I don’t have what it takes to fight him in court, as a God-fearing person, I leave my case to God, let God be the judge between us.”
Many in Sierra Leone, including civil society groups have condemned Mr. Sampha Koroma – Managing Director of the Union Trust Bank for sacking Garvyn Cole, for what is now described as “politically motivated sacking by the Bank”.
Last Friday, Mr. Sampha Koroma happily hosted President Bio at his Bank in Makeni, just twenty-fours after sacking Mr Cole for chatting back at the wife of president Bio on Facebook, an act described by Mrs Bio as “out of order”.
President Bio and Sampha Koroma last Friday cut the ribbon at the opening of a new Union Trust Bank branch in Makeni, northern Sierra Leone.
Reacting to the sacking of Mr Cole after exercising his constitutional right to free speech, this is what the civil society group – Citizens Advocacy Network said:
“The Citizens Advocacy Network (hereinafter referred to as CAN) notes with concern, the recent sacking of Mr Garvyn Cole, an Employee of the Union Trust Bank Limited (UTB Ltd). Our investigations show that he was sacked on the 10th February, 2021 for merely expressing his opinion on Facebook on the much-talked-about allegations of CORRUPTION against the First Lady of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Madam Fatima Jabbie Maada Bio.
“It is the considered opinion of CAN that the decision to terminate the employment contract of an employee for expressing his opinion as a PRIVATE CITIZEN on such a crucially important national subject is a blatant violation of his fundamental human rights guaranteed by our sacred Constitution, Act No.6 of 1991; and other subordinate laws (both local and international).
“CAN therefore, calls on the Management of UTB Ltd to immediately review such an ill-advised decision and reinstate Mr Garvyn Cole. No institution’s policy shall contravene or be inconsistent with the “grund norm” of the country. All regulations, policies or rules must sync with the supreme laws of the land pursuant to section 171(15) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone, Act No.6.
“Note, however, that, should the Management of UTB Ltd fail to reinstate Mr Cole, CAN shall use all remedies within the confines of the laws to seek redress for and on behalf of same. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere!”
Signed: Thomas Moore Conteh Executive Director, Citizens Advocacy Network Executive Director
A concerned citizen wrote: “The vindictive and reckless dismissal of Mr. Garvyn Cole by Union Trust Bank because he expressed his opinion is a violation of his constitutional right to free speech which is enshrined in Section 3 (25) (1) (2) of the Constitution of Sierra Leone – the most superior law of the land.
“Section 3 (25) (1) guarantees such expression while Section 3 (25) (2) dismisses any law that tries to stifle such rights including t Article 24 of Union Trust Bank Terms and Conditions of service.
“I advise Garvyn to reject the sacking letter and sue Union Trust Bank for violating his right to free speech and wrongful dismissal. The case has a clear path, and the court will order the bank to pay huge compensation. The Save Salone Campaign has been in touch with relevant persons working on bringing the lawsuit to expose the recklessness of Union Trust Bank.”
In the meantime, friends of Mr Cole and concerned citizens have set up a Go fund me appeal to help support Mr Cole at this very difficult time without an income.
Forward this message to your contacts to help this campaign reach its goal!