Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 May 2021:
Sierra Leone’s outgoing Finance Minister who is now the government’s Chief Minister Mr. Jacob Jusu Saffa, on Wednesday handed over his ministerial portfolio to his successor Francis Dennis Vandi, as the controversy over Vandi’s appointment continues.
Francis Dennis Vandi was expected to face MPs in parliament for approval before taking up his ministerial role, but according to State House sources speaking to the Sierra Leone Telegraph: “There is no need for Vandi’s appointment to be approved by MPs because he was never sacked from his previous role as minister of agriculture when he was accused of corruption. He was merely suspended by the president until after due process has been completed. Vandi has been judged not guilty by the Appeals Court and must now resume his ministerial job.”
Speaking at the handing over ceremony, J.J. Saffa said he finds it difficult to say goodbye but also proud of the progress made in the last three years that resulted in the Ministry of Finance winning the best performing ministry of the year award.
Saffa (Photo) said that despite leaving the ministry of finance, he will continue to provide support in his new capacity as chief minister, especially with regards achieving international benchmarks and engagement with other Ministries, Departments, and Agencies on budgetary support issues.
Addressing Francis Dennis Vandi, JJ Saffa said: “Mr. Minister, I can assure you that you have a strong team, and this is the strongest team in the public sector. I inherited a system where there was no laydown organogram and where half of the technical staff were contract staff. I have been able to do some structural change to regularize that”.
Responding, Dennis Vandi said “JJ Saffa is the new Chief Minister, but he hasn’t gone 100%, he is still with me. There are a lot of issues in which we will have to hang heads together to pursue”.
He said he is pleased with the programs his predecessor has been supervising over the years and that as one of the authors of the New Direction Manifesto – Mr. J.J. Saffa, has touched on all programs and policies that the manifesto promised.
Dennis Vandi promised to continue with the programs outlined in the finance ministry’s Strategic Plan, the SLPP party’s New Direction manifesto, and the Mid-term National Development Plan until such time that the president gives directives on further direction as to how he wants his government to be financed.
Comparing JJ Saffa to the outgoing Chief Minister Professor Francis, Dennis Vandi said: “I think my predecessor – Saffa will be a better Chief Minister because of his knowledge of the operations of other Ministries, Departments and Agencies; he can understand their constraints and have a clear knowledge about their strategic plans and how they intend to implement those plans”.
This statement by Dennis Vandi suggests the deep division at the top of the Bio-led government and the shifting of internal political alliances and loyalties.
And in another related development, there are reports JJ Saffa has decided to dissolve his office of Chief Minister even before sitting in his predecessor’s chair.
Saffa whom many within the ruling party suspected to have been appointed to the role of Chief Minister by president Bio because of his finance ministry background, with the aim of ensuring that every ministry, department and agency is driven by strong financial management performance, now appears to have chopped the legs of the chair he is to sit on by announcing the dissolution of his office of Chief Minister. (Photo: Former Chief Minister Professor Francis – sitting left and Saffa – right).
If these reports arre correct, the decison by Saffa to get rid of the office of chief minister would be welcomed, after president Bio was heavily criticised for creating that office in the first place, which many regarded as superflous to requirement, an unnecessary drain on State finances, and a duplication of the role of vice president.
According to reports, Saffa made this ironic announcement at a meeting in his office with members of the ruling SLPP Young Professionals who had called on him to congratulate him on his appointment as Chief Minister.
Saffa told his audience that the decision to dissolve the Office of the Chief Minister was “out of the desire to address core functional management dynamics, especially those relating to the Presidency.”
“We cannot have an Office of Chief Minister within the Office of the Presidency. We all belong to the Office of the President…thus no more Office of the Chief Minister,” Saffa said.
Saffa is understood to have also said that his job title is now Head of the Office of the President. “The Chief Minister’s Office is a unit within the Presidency and should remain so. No more Office within an Office,” Saffa told his visitors.