Maada Bio and the fight against corruption – Op ed

Paul Kamara (former government minister): Sierra Leone Telegraph: 25 May 2021:

President Bio, my former boss whom I served as Secretary of State or Minister for Lands, Housing and the Environment after his overthrow of his former boss Capt Valentine Strasser, must’ve meant well even then to fight corruption; but he faced an impossible task. He later summoned me to State House. He was impressed with my performance just under a month before I was gunned down. I survived an assassination attempt by a whisker.

He gave me a few tips and urged me to do more; and so more and more I did! I admired the fervour and strength of his words; and the sincerity that seemed to twinkle from his sharp eyes. I knew he must’ve certainly meant well for this country, but alas.

In less than a month, the ministry enacted environmental legislations; placed a moratorium on the sale and lease of state lands; built the Hamilton tollgate to stop the rampant exploitation of sand by state institutions and foreign businesses; launched the Low-cost Housing toilet scheme and a co-operative for the youth, elderly and women from sand sale at Hamilton; provided land for the Sierra Leone Teachers Union at Kissy for the construction of offices and Hotel 5/ 10; land for Slims International school at Old Wharf; land at Lower Allen Town for the construction of a national stadium; vast tracts for conservation and protection of the environment to the Sierra Leone Environmental Society at Grafton during the tenure of Dr Sama Puawui Banya and Dr Talabi Aisie Lucan; land to the Wellington Muslim Association which today is the largest Muslim jamaat in the entire country; for both a primary and secondary school, mosque, praying field, research Center and Islamic College; handed the 7th Battalion for the accommodation of senior officers and other ranks because of their deplorable condition; it was actually built for senior civil servants but handed it over to the military with no influence from Bio or whosoever.

I believe it was for this achievements within such a short span of time that greatly impressed my boss and I am forever grateful to him….for we should not forget ‘ole belful’ en….’ norto usai u fodom…..bt na usai u bok fut.’

So Ngor Bio was well pleased with the performance of his humble  servant; the reason he also singled me out amongst all APC politicians as a true patriot; during his thank you address at the Siaka Stevens stadium after his unexpected victory over Samura Kamara. No wonder members of the Supreme Council of State, the highest decision-making body of the NPRC 2 lamented; that had they six Paul Kamara’s when they took over, they wouldn’t have made those many mistakes; but that it was too late. I felt it deep in my heart.

But Bio then already had some looming difficulties; being a young and inexperienced soldier, just like the rest of the pack now amongst political vampires. Unfortunately, they were swamped by the same age-old politicians and miseducated academics; added to the fact, that they too were broke and penniless sort of; and with the co-operation of permanent secretaries and accountants (who normally prefer to do business with foreigners, because they keep secret), they too were soon corrupted.

Imagine, Tejan Kabbah who ‘broke don’ SLPMB-our economic powerhouse and Smokin Solo B equally corrupt and a lawbreaker per excellence; serving as chief advisers to these young Khaki Boys! In the end, it was a disaster and they eventually messed them up big time in mounting, and too often, reckless corruption.

Kabbah’s handing over notes stated that state coffers were emptied and rackets such as the sale of Sierra Leone passport by Speaker Abass Bundu and Bio himself a commonality.

His former Finance minister Samura Kamara, the custodian of the national kitty also publicly blasted Bio at Bintumani that he stole USD 18m; which Bio corrected to be USD 24m. However, Samura Kamara never spoke again if Bio was right or wrong about the USD 6m Bio too said he pocketed.

The saying that silence is golden comes to mind. However, my focus at the time was mainly centred on the 26 February multi-party elections; I was however, the only civilian minister against the ‘Peace Before Elections’ mounted by Bio and John Oponjo Benjamin which was a camouflage to perpetuate juntarism.

At a press conference, I refused to take a salary since it was a voluntary work for me as the leading civil society activist and therefore, threatened to resign if the elections date was aborted. I also did not take a single land amidst pressure from all sides to see it as an opportunity to become rich; but I resisted even my wife who just wanted us to have at least a one or two town lot to build a little house. I resisted all entreaties; and refused to travel to New York for a Habitat conference which I considered a distraction.

On 26 February 1996 when Sierra Leone went to the polls, I was gunned down by a hit squad and left for dead to become the sacrificial lamb for the country’s democracy.

I was ambushed at the intersection of Mountain Cut- Magazine Cut and Kissy road junction by a green mercedes benz car with about five armed soldiers in balaclava and combat who blocked my official vehicle. I later learnt that they had also set for me by Ferry Junction in the event I had dodged the first ambush for they were trailing me throughout that voting day.

I was driving with a friend and I never like to have a security or even tint my official vehicle; both under Bio and EBK. They rushed at me from the shadows in the thick blackout and started firing directly at me. One of them shouted: You bastard! Democracy will come, but you will never see it. I sat there dazed while the firing continued. One of them jerked the door open and flung me on the ground where I lay motionless.

At that very moment, the only vehicle to pass that night- a Sierra Leone Ports Authority security ambulance (they were avoiding the main streets because of the heavy firing), whose sharp headlights cast a bright halo down Mountain Cut (which seemingly caught their attention: thinking perhaps it was a counter), and they sped off; but not before discharging the last shot which shattered my leg to smithereens as they left me for dead.

I wailed to God that I was dying for love of my country and indeed, the spirit of God heard my wailings and came to the rescue. There was only an omolankay to take me to Connaught or 34 Military hospital and was already in a state of shock and bleeding profusely. God however sent a Ports Authority ambulance that 10 o’ clock night curfew time, to take me to 34 where they’d intended my leg to be amputated. But a relative from Kamalo whom I never met or knew before, Dr Kanu came to the rescue and did all his best to save my life and severely damaged leg, before I was eventually flown to London.

The 4-wheel deep blue jeep was parked for a week or so at nearby Eastern police station which was empty of police that night as they all vamoosed on hearing the sporadic staccato of gunfire. Most people thought I was dead or forever handicapped. My wife gathered over seventy empty shells and after multiple operations at the Independent Hospital in London by Dr Swee Chai Ang who said it was a miracle that I survived from the AK 74 gunshot wound;  more powerful than the AK 47, Uzi or the M 16 of the USA. Dr Ang asked that we pray together at St Paul’s Cathedral, being Catholics, and that indeed, I was woken up by God from imminent death; for it was a miracle that I survived.

But again, when the SLPP was overthrown by a dozen grasscutters in the army, For di People newspaper declared the civil disobedience against the AFRC-RUF and almost got killed. This time, SAJ Musa led his troops to my office to silence me because as usual the newspaper answer to no party, but the people. It was the quick and timely intervention of the junta leader, Johnny Paul Koroma of the Angel Party who saved my life again, by a whisker, just as I would’ve been executed or hanged if the NPRC coup had failed; just like Mandereh also saved my life when the AFRC-RUF junta vowed to eat my heart and liver raw at SS Camp because they said I am lion- hearted.

Ironically, the COS and civilian head of the junta also the first leader of the APC National Youth League, Hamid Kamara named the newspaper For di People; after it was first established by the APC of Siaka Probyn Stevens. In the end, the newspaper office was totally destroyed by RPG before I was bundled to prison on crutches after undergoing my first operation in London.

For our great sacrifice, we won the most prestigious global media Gold award – the International Press Directory Freedom of the Press award in association with Index On Censorship; picked up at the Dorchester Hotel on our behalf by no less a person than the erstwhile secretary general of the SLPP, lawyer Sulaiman Banja Tejan-Sie. Indeed, we lived by our credo: to answer to no party….to answer to the people.

But I must be eternally grateful to my boss Bio, for my political baptism and for opening my eyes to so many hidden things which has added greatly for what I am today. (Photo: Paul Kamara).

Bio can be a fighter and survivor but the fight against corruption could definitely be his achilleas heel; for it’s systemic and endemic nature; and therefore, not a fight for the half or faint- hearted but a national mobilization or Peoples fight.

If the leader is seen as corrupt, then everybody would’ve a field day; especially when those who control the state purse are mainly his countrymen. And of course, their pen is their usual cutlass and the office their farm to be harvested fiti- fata, just as in the past.

That is why all the Commissions of Inquiry if you check, have found more south-eastern civil servants wanting for pilfering massive state funds since the days of the Victor Bockarie Fohs. Also, the analogy: that when the APC climbs and picks fruit, at least, it distributes some across the board and bring all tribes onboard. But with the SLPP, they climb with a sack in hand and their ‘ gorgor,’ fulop the bag, climb down stealthily, thinking the rest of mankind is not watching Big Brother.

Bio feels preferably comfortable to work with his clansmen and associates, ‘those he knows,’ as he himself confessed recently. Invariably, his southern Mende brothers also dominate 80 percent, if not more of all govt appointments; for it is more comfortable to be together and be each other’s keeper.

The big problem, however, is the fact that most appointees are invariably Jaycees or green leaf who are still fresh on the job with absolutely no experience in politics or state governance whatsoever. It can normally take a year or two even for an adept minister to understand or fathom the workings of the civil service or co-ordination with other line ministries, and become acquainted to the corrupt and labyrinthic nature and psyche of top civil servants (who with accountants often give the ministers ‘overhead’ in deals), without the slightest knowledge of the minister.

APC politicians cannot be found wanting, while those who controlled the purse continue to make deals and getting richer. The civil service is dubbed the evil service; selfish, greedy, lazy, unproductive, visionless, unpatriotic and very corrupt; and care only for the self and the benefits it brings.

The sacking, reshuffle of ministers with such frequency is bound to produce less results with several malfunctions. The creation of the office of Chief Minister was a waste of scarce resources (see the ruffling scandals), with a burgeoning of over 60 to 70 ministers and deputies; not to mention other lucrative jobs and consultancies already created for other Paopanistas.

To be frank, all of these people also have at the back of their minds the popular saying, that this is our turn….. to also chop and dine with relish and gusto, just like the former APC government: pan dis never- dying na we yone ton’ mentality.

Be that as it may, the conduct of the much-touted ACC has also failed and lost momentum and can now be seen as an exercise in futility to witch- hunt, marginalise and a ploy to remove APC politicians from politics. The ACC is blatantly condoning corruption, even defend it nowadays; circomlocute justice to somehow justify state capture by roping the former first lady in a matter that should involve only the first lady, Fatima Bio.

In fact, the main sinister and hideous culprits that should be brought to book (just like any politician found wanting), are the senior civil servants themselves, especially those at Finance where ministers collect ten percent for every deal and are millionaires in dollars today; as well as senior ministry officials.

The revelations from both the local and international press, especially the Africanist Press about massive SLPP corruption and other malfeasances is alarming and does not augur well for a regime that is committed to the fight against corruption.

Letting go of Paopanista ministers found wanting in blatant corruption on downright flimsy excuses by the ACC, does not help either. Added to this, is the concourse of bitter and caustic outpourings by disgruntled and frustrated musicians over the unbearable cost of living and their pitiable conditions.

In the midst of growing national insecurity and hardship that cuts across party and sectional lines, why does Bio, my boss still boasts and believes that he would win the 2023 election, if not by force. An empty bag cannot stand and a hungry man is an angry man.

3 Comments

  1. How can the President fight corruption when he has not taken the lead in setting the right example. From what we have read and not denied by the government is the huge amount of cash withdrawn from the consolidated fund by the office of the President. He has surrounded himself and given top jobs to wheeler dealers and hustlers so what can we expect.

    When Government ministers give themselves titles of Dr and are referred by these titles in one appointment but removed in latter ones shows the level of deception. They continue to mislead a President who is not very intelligent in to making bad decisions. For instance who advised the President that the Lungi 8km bridge project would cost $ 2bn which has drastically been reduced to $1.2bn. Nigeria plans to build a 38km bridge from Lekki to Ibadan express way with a lower level for pedestrians and light railway for $2.5bn under a PPP arrangement. These are the so called experts we have in Government.

  2. Its not rocket science. The art of leadership should not be confused with being the political leader of your people, just because you want to be the political leader of your people. Unfortunately for us, President Bio falls into that category of leaders that lack the intellectual connectivity to lead his people. A good leader is someone capable of communicating his beliefs, inspire his people, encourage decenting views, allow critical thinking to guide his decision making process, and stick with his decisions regardless, as long as they stand to benefit the majority. And above all delegate his powers, accepts when things are not working the way he or she sets out to tackle a particular problem. Be transparent with his work. Also, a leader should learn from his mistakes, and learn to take responsibility for his failures.

    As this former Minister Mr Paul Kamara pointed out, fighting corruption in Sierra Leone, which by the way is systemic and endemic in our society, is not for the fainthearted. There will always be forces that are benefiting from corruption that will put up a fight. They rather bring down the whole house than hand over their stolen loot. And this is where you need leadership, not a leader just in name as Bio has clearly demonstrated since he took office. Bio appears to be in power but not in control of what he wants to achieve in fighting this cancer of corruption in our society. The fact, corruption allegations are made against some members of government, doesn’t inspire much confidence that he is capable of fighting corruption in the wider sense. When JJ Rawlings took over power for the second time in Ghana back in the 80s, he set about fighting corruption which at the time was dragging Ghana to the bottomless pit of under development.

    Today if Ghana is being held up as one of the best performing economies in the West African region, can all be traced back to the 1980s when the groundwork was laid by Rawlings. The same with Rwanda. Now we can debate for the rest of time how to overcome this problem of corruption in Sierra Leone. Unless and until we get a leader that leads by example, chances are we will never see any meaningful development that transforms the lives of the ordinary man, woman and child in our country. All this argument about tribalism, regionalism, political party differences, is because our shared resources have been squeezed by few individuals, denying the majority the share of the national cake.

  3. It always gives me the jitters whenever I see or hear SLPP supporters praising the old soldier in State House; He is a self centered man that only cares about his own interests; This man is unfit to rule Sierra Leone and has no business whatsoever holding on to the highest office in the land. Its time to chose our leaders wisely; Who would’ve guessed that an incompetent shoe shine military boy that cannot tell the difference between his knees and his elbows would become the President of our poverty stricken Sierra Leone? I think its time for the older generation to admit they have failed our Country because they stood aloof and unfazed watching itsy-bitsy brats with running noses grab the sceptre of power through unchecked violence and mindless barbarism. Seriously it is time to put our house in order; Its time for us to call a spade a spade.

    It is only in our Sierra Leone that ignoramuses brandishing weapons can easily overthrow legitimate authority and Power;Indeed,our struggling country is totally overcrowded with cowards; They stood on the sidelines watching as Good for Nothing’s like Valentine Strasser and Maada Bio grabbed the baton of Power by force without protesting or uttering. single word. Grumpy Old people,fifty and above are responsible for all the traumatic ordeals that have brought our dear nation to her knees; Would you let Strasser watch over your little ones? No? So why did you sit down as cowardly as you did,not uttering a word of disapproval. Its time to retire all the cowardly Old folks in Sierra Leone and inject young and fresh blood into our failing,ailing systems and structures of governance.

    The facts about the conduct of this President have always been very clear to me – He is an opportunist, that is corrupt to the bone and marrow and therefore cannot wage an all out war against corruption; For who is it that has ever seen an Orangutan chastising and pelting Baboons with stones for stealing a bunch of bananas? Mr President is a corrupt leader – examine him any way you choose and the results will be same – Corrupt to his innermost core. (lol)

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