Rev. G. Kargbo: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 15 June 2019:
It should be established from the onset that there is a direct correlation between the independence of state institutions and the consolidation of democracy. Therefore, every effort should be expended to ensure the independence of these institutions is not compromised, regardless of circumstances.
In essence, everything must be done to ensure that state institutions operate in accordance with their legal instruments to produce expected results, in line with their mandates, so that meaningful impact can be made on national development.
In view of this, let us examine the independence of state institutions in the context of its meaning, the factors hindering independence, the implications of such hindrance, steps to be taken to ensure their independence, methods of accountability, and provide examples of state institutions whose independence should not be compromised in light of their functions and their statutory provisions and related issues.
The independence of state institutions should be seen as the cornerstone of democratic practices, founded on professionalism and a grounded legal framework with assurance of equity, fair play, effective service delivery in the context of democratic good governance.
Independence does not imply lack of accountability, but rather implies a certain level of autonomy in the discharge of their functions without let or hindrance, such that there is nothing like real or perceived threats from any quarter – especially legal and/or political.
By existing practice and certain pronouncements, the independence of state institutions has been questioned with attendant consequences, especially on the subject of professionalism and efficiency in the delivery of expected services.
It should be noted that there is evidence of interference in the operations of state institutions through direct and indirect or subtle means, as it relates to the kind of people that are appointed and/or recruited, the manipulation of tenure, the nature of funding in terms of the amount allocated, when it is made available and how it is made available, with far-reaching implications for performance.
It is clear that because of the nature of appointments that are made in most state institutions, the professionalism of these appointees is usually compromised, with such appointees displaying a very high level of sycophancy to their political handlers with little or no effort made in understanding the nature of work that they should do, but are kept intact by their backers for their show of blind loyalty.
In some instances, people are sacked indiscriminately and are forced to toe the line as another subtle means of interference, regardless of whether such offices are tenured or not. Consequently, state institutions are made moribund through underperformance, with evident lack of efficiency and far-reaching implications for service delivery.
Another subtle means of interference in the operations of state institutions is the kind of funding provided by Government with every evidence of the situation being micromanaged from certain quarters. Such funding is usually not only inadequate, but it is also not given on time in addition to the fact that at times, figures are reassessed downwards without prior notice and no opportunity given to these institutions to negotiate the terms.
Over the years, we have only paid lip service to the practical independence of state institutions such that these institutions are nearly suffocated into coma with mounting pressure on their autonomy or independence, through the wrong interpretation of the concept of supervision or facilitation to mean direct control of the management of these institutions.
In fact, contrary to the stipulations in their statutory provisions, these institutions are forced into subservience, with threats of closure or sackings for lack of cooperation or compliance, thus undermining the very essence of their existence.
There are instances of certain state institutions being told to forget about the Act of Parliament setting them up, if they are to survive, in an attempt to convert them into departments of certain Government Ministries. They are asked to report and provide regular update to the ministry in order to make it look as though they have no alternative but to comply with the demands made.
There is also the issue of censorship with instructions issued that every press release, newsletter and related materials without exception from all MDAs, should be sent for approval.
Every effort should be expended to make state institutions very strong, guaranteeing their autonomy and independence without any undue political interference.
The role of the Parliament of Sierra Leone becomes very significant and useful as the body charged with the responsibility of establishing these institutions, in order to preserve their autonomy and independence, and protect them from all forms of manipulation.
Usually, after funding allocations are approved in the House of Parliament, there is hardly any attempt to ensure that what is approved is allocated to these state institutions, in addition to the lack of effective and efficient monitoring for the timely and expeditious disbursement of the allocated funds.
Most national or state institutions are forced to suffer in silence as they are not expected to complain about the negative impact of the lack of subvention or inadequate resource allocation. But they are still expected to carry out their mandate or prescribed functions.
The picture is grim and stands contrary to the proclamation of President Julius Maada Bio during the state opening of Parliament on Thursday, May 2, 2019. In paragraphs 219 and 220 of his address he said: “Government remains committed to strengthening democratic institutions [with continued commitment] to restoring the autonomy of these institutions and creating the necessary enabling environment to execute their statutory mandate and to serve the people of Sierra Leone well”.
Ensuring the delivery of this proclamation should be the way to go; and anything contrary to that can be nothing but outright sabotage, with implications for the consolidation of Sierra Leone’s democratic good governance.
As we proceed with the daily governance of the State, all must be mindful of the legal provisions meant to make state institutions as autonomous or independent as possible, without recourse to subtle tactics of manipulation, whilst not forgetting that the right atmosphere for democratic good governance is the culture that espouses the highest standard of liberality which is contrary to tyranny and dictatorship.
The autonomy or independence of state institutions, especially Commissions, should not be toyed with by anyone. Appointments to these institutions should be devoid of partisan considerations. The brightest and the best must be appointed to serve in the best interest of the nation, rather than have square pegs in round holes which encourages sycophancy and bootlicking.
These institutions should not be deprived of much-needed resources in order to keep them quiet. They must be funded well so as to give them voice, in line with the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 – especially with the focus on “… strong institutions” as we “… build effective, accountable inclusive institutions at all levels”.
As a nation, Sierra Leone has come a long way. But we still have a long way to go in ensuring that our state institutions are made autonomous and independent in the true sense of the word.
Accordingly, it should be made clear who provides oversight for these institutions so that their autonomy and independence are not compromised. Oversight arrangements must not be loose, and should be based on real technical arrangements devoid of mere sentiment, thus ensuring professional standards and conducts stand the test of time.
Until the autonomy and independence of state institutions are assured, strengthening them will be impossible. Thus, the consolidation of the nation’s democracy will continue to languish in limbo.