Sierra Leone Telegraph: 23 May 2017
Condemnation of Sierra Leone’s ruling APC is mounting, over the construction of a new seven storey party office in the centre of the capital Freetown, part funded by the Chinese Communist Party, amid growing poverty and early death for many malnourished adults and children in the country.
China is also being accused by opposition politicians and many ordinary Sierra Leoneans, of giving the ruling APC an unlawful and unfair advantage, in advance of the forthcoming presidential and general elections – flagrantly violating the country’s electoral laws.
Whilst the ruling APC has not disclosed the total cost of the new party office which will be built at a disputed land on 27 Pultney Street, Freetown, it is estimated that the total cost will be more than $20 million.
Party executives are claiming that the disputed land was bequeathed to the ruling APC by the former governor general of Sierra Leone – Lightfoot Boston, but cannot produce legal document to verify this claim, against a counter claim by one Mariama Conteh who is claiming ownership of the land.
Justifying the construction of this extravagant seven storey building, president Koroma said this during the turning of sod at the construction: “The former generation of late Siaka Stevens built the We Yone building at Railway Line and the Bai Bureh Memorial Hall. These two buildings have been renovated regularly to keep them going.
“The founding fathers of the party did all this because they wanted us to inherit something from them. So it is in that vein that we too are doing the same, so that the next generation after us will know that the APC party is an institution that has the wherewithal to rule Sierra Leone amicably and to keep the party in a viable stead.”
It is no secret that two years ago the ruling APC party was officially bankrupt, and had to be bailed out by the president’s nephew – John Bonoh Sisay, who in return is now the leading candidate for the party’s presidential flagbearership.
So where did the APC party get the $20 million it is now spending on such a lavish and unnecessary project? Many critics believe that it is a Chinese Communist Party’s investment in the ruling APC, so as to keep the APC in power after the 2018 elections.
For the Chinese government, their funding contribution towards construction work is in recognition of the political relationship and umbilical cord that connects the ruling APC and the Chinese Communist Party.
At the sod turning ceremony, the deputy Chinese ambassador to Sierra Leone – Mr Wang Xingming spoke about the joint vision of Chairman Mao and the former president of Sierra Leone and chairman of the APC – Siaka Stevens, which created the strong ties between the two nations.
He said that the new APC office will be of great importance to Sierra Leone and the APC party, and that the Chinese Communist Party will continue to support and maintain the relationship between the two political parties.
Critics argue that with Sierra Leone classed as one of the poorest countries in the world, there are far more pressing needs that could be funded by the Chinese to improve the life chances of children and young people in the country, than spending millions of dollars on a political party office that will be of no benefit to the majority of people of Sierra Leone.
Sierra Leone is the most dangerous country for a pregnant woman to give birth, because of poor medical care and facilities.
The majority of children born in Sierra Leone today are less likely to live to celebrate their fifth birthday. They are likely to die of malnutrition or avoidable diseases.
Most adults in the country are unlikely to celebrate their 50th birthday, because of poverty, poor healthcare, squalor and malnutrition.
Yet the ruling party and their Chinese Communist friend can find $20 million to fund the building of a seven story APC party office, say critics.
What is not in contention though is that Sierra Leone is one of the most corrupt nations in the world, with hundreds of millions of dollars leaving the country through corruption, into the foreign bank accounts of public officials.
The country’s education sector is suffering due to lack of funding, with catastrophic consequences on teaching quality and standards of outcomes.
Overcrowding in schools, poor teaching materials and learning resources are responsible for poor exam results across the country.
The University of Sierra Leone has suffered tremendous decline due to structural dilapidation and lack of investment. The ruling APC has placed less priority on the achievements of university students.
The government says it cannot afford £30 million needed for the refurbishment of Fourahbay College – the oldest university in West Africa. Ministers had to go knocking on the doors of foreign governments – cap in hand looking for donor funds. The Saudi government has provided a loan to help pay for the cost of refurbishment.
But half of the $30 million loan, critics say, is either being wasted or misappropriated. The government is paying workers from neighbouring Guinea to refurbish the University, rather than ensuring that the contract for the work goes to a local construction company.
Construction of the new seven story $20 million APC party office in the centre of Freetown will be carried out by Chinese workers through a Chinese company – SKM Construction Company Ltd.
The office is expected to open to party members at the end of this year, in preparation for the 2018 general and presidential elections, which with China’s financial, logistic, technological, material and financial support, the ruling APC is expected to win comfortably.
In the meantime, the APC government is negotiating various loan packages with the World Bank, IMF, the African Development Bank, the Arab Development Bank, and the European Union, to pay for its so called Agenda for Prosperity that is yet to prosper the majority of citizens after ten years in office.
Only ministers, senior public officials, and those highly connected within the ruling party are enjoying the benefits of the party’s Agenda for Prosperity. China has been the prime beneficiary of road construction contracts estimated at hundreds of millions of dollars.
Many of the new roads built by the Chinese have become lakes and rivers as the rainy season takes its toll – see video below.
The ruling APC will also continue to receive hundreds of millions of dollars in foreign donor funds, from cash strapped countries whose governments and citizens are making painful sacrifices, to help tackle child poverty, poor healthcare, poor standards of education, lack of clean drinking water and electricity in Sierra Leone.
But can they, and should the ruling APC continue to enjoy the support and goodwill of the international community, as the next general election draws closer?