Exposing the myth about Sierra Leone government’s shopping malls and lorry parks

Dr. Sama Banya: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 4 September 2012:

Kenema and Bo are two eastern and southern cities of Sierra Leone that have been deprived of much needed public funds by president Koroma’s government, in its latest round of local council decentralisation cash transfers, while northern cities and towns get the largest share of the national cake.

Yet, as general election fast approaches, supporters of the government and its ministers have this week been calling on the people of Bo and Kenema to show gratitude and appreciation for the construction of a shopping centre and public transport station built in Kenema and Bo respectively.

The government says that without its finance, both projects would not have come to fruition. But the country’s main opposition SLPP and many residents of Bo and Kenema disagree.

They say that the government has done very little in the last five years to promote economic development in the south and east of the country, while its northern constituencies – home of the president and government ministers continue to receive massive government financial support.

The latest attempt by government ministers and their supporters to reap political capital from the opening of the newly built shopping centre in Kenema and the lorry park in Bo, is being cited as another example of gerrymandering and electioneering.

President Koroma they say, is bribing local communities in the south and east of the country for votes at the forthcoming November’s general election.

Dr. Sama Banya – the opposition SLPP’s veteran critic of government policies that are designed to promote social exclusion and regional marginalisation, said today that; “the ruling All Peoples Congress Party (APC) as a political entity is full of contradictions and paradoxes, sometimes bordering on the bizarre.”

Writing in his Puawui column, this is what he says:

His Excellency President Ernest Bai Koroma commissioned the Kenema Plaza and shopping centre last Friday, amidst great rejoicing. There he was again with his government ministers, claiming credit for the project.

He also officially declared the 10th anniversary of the founding of the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT). The head of state referred to how he had chaired the steering Parliamentary committee for the establishment of the now successful NASSIT.

But the truth is that the Kenema lorry park had been an eyesore for a long time, with ramshackle sheds all round a dusty enclosure in the dry season and a muddy place in the rains.

The local Lebanese businessman – Abbess is a very successful transport entrepreneur, whose mini buses plied the Freetown route. It was very popular with business people because of its simultaneous early departure from Kenema and Freetown respectively.

Abbess who had the support of the motor drivers union had incurred the wrath of the Kenema Town (now City) council, when he undertook to pave the entire grounds of the park without clearance from the latter.

During one of his regular visits to Kenema, the impasse was brought to the attention of President Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah.

In the discussion that followed, his Excellency suggested that both Abbess and the council could work together in a joint-venture to develop the park into a very active and viable commercial entity.

President Kabbah immediately invited the renowned Freetown architect – Gibril Koroma to Kenema and the latter agreed that it was an excellent idea. He said that his firm would design the project, which would cost hundreds of millions of Leones – an amount that neither Abbess nor the city council could afford, without a bank loan at very high interest rate.

Gibril suggested that NASSIT could be invited to participate in the venture.  J. B. Dauda – the former SLPP finance minister and now foreign minister in the present APC government and I were present during those discussions.

J.B. Duada ought to have correctly briefed President Koroma about the origin and development of that Kenema project. It was the SLPP’s President Kabbah who laid the foundation for what his Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma commissioned last Friday.

It was President Ahmad Tejan-Kabbah, who along with Alpha Timbo his minister of Labour and Social Security, initiated and launched the NASSIT, which has become a successful venture.

And yet, during the entire ceremony last Friday amid the extravagant self-praise by president Koroma, THERE WAS NO MENTION OF FORMER PRESIDENT TEJAN-KABBAH. But that is the way of the APC leadership.

However, the people of Kenema, Bo and of Sierra Leone in general do remember these things.

The ruling All Peoples Congress as a political entity is full of contradictions and paradoxes – sometimes bordering on the bizarre.

A few days after being declared the winner of the Presidential run-off election in 2007, the first overseas trip undertaken by president Koroma was not to Nigeria, Guinea, Ghana or Mali, all of whose nationalities had shed their blood for our country. Instead he went to far-away Burkina Faso.

Not only did that country NOT contribute to restoring our democracy, but it was a de-facto player in prolonging the conflict in Sierra Leone. Many RUF rebels were given sanctuary in Ouagadougou the country’s capital.

During the war, a VC 10 aircraft loaded with arms for the RUF was tracked down to Ouagadougou, from where they were loaded on to smaller craft for the Liberian capital Monrovia, from where Charles Taylor distributed the weapons to rebel held territories In Sierra Leone.

During the 1998 OAU summit in the Burkina Faso capital, a colleague of mine was told by a hotel maid that there had been dozens of young Sierra Leoneans staying in the hotel, but had to move to make room for the OAU guests.

She referred to one by name, but since the man concerned had now accepted Jesus Christ as his Saviour, I won’t name him.

The same country had harboured APC thugs who were to later descend on Freetown, in order to create mayhem had Ernest Koroma not been accorded victory in the run-off election.

So it was understandable from the ruling APC party’s point of view that the first “thank you” visit undertaken by president Koroma was to Burkina Faso and not any of the countries whose young men had shed their blood to restore our democracy.

Would readers not now see why our newly announced winner of the 2007 elections, preferred to rush to Burkina Faso and not to any of our allies to express thanks and gratitude?

Here are a few extracts from the causes of the eleven year cruel and devastating rebel war:

Sheer greed and selfishness; endemic corruption; “Get rich quickly mentality”; poor governance; totalitarianism in the guise of democracy.

Socio-economic inequalities – filthy rich and abject poor; marginalization of deprived masses and the underprivileged; gross failure to unite the nation; deprived youth; education seen as a privilege and not a right.

Tribalism – playing the ethnic card. Nepotism – putting square pegs in round holes. Regionalism – a culture of “winner takes all” and political regional polarization.

Pollution of the security sector – military and the police; massive disparity between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

Looking at all of those causative factors of the ten year rebel war in Sierra Leone, can the ruling APC party say that they have succeeded in addressing them, or have they  aggravated the situation by their regionally and socially divisive policies and actions.

And they must take note that these are the factors, together with the unaffordable high cost of living, that are bothering the ordinary family man and the man in the street today.

Of course infrastructure development is important, but if it is done without regard to the wellbeing of the people, then it certainly would not be appreciated.

If this government was listening, instead of throwing monetary gestures here and there, it would stand them in good stead. How would any honest person look at today’s cost of living and deceive the President that “tiday betteh pass yesterday?”

According to a news item in the New Vision newspaper, his Excellency will be sponsoring 161 pilgrims to the Holy land of Mecca this year. The estimated fare as well as other costs for each pilgrim would be US$4,000.

Check the staggering total for yourselves and that is only one outlet of the pa’s generosity. Yes, the “haves” and “have nots!”

1 Comment

  1. If it is true that Ernest Koroma is sponsoring pilgrims, I ask – where did President Koroma get all this money to sponsor 161 pilgrims to the Holy City of Mecca?

    At $4,000 per pilgrim, the total cost will be over half a million dollars.
    How can he afford this on his salary?

    When is he going to declare his pre – 2007 financial assets?

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