Sierra Leone Telegraph: 05 December 2017
When a president decides to reshuffle his cabinet ministers – three months before presidential and general elections, then you know there is serious problem with his battleship. Yesterday’s snap shuffling of the deck, saw the re-entry of old hands that few believed would ever make a serious return to politics.
Also making a comeback are those former ministers who had resigned their lucrative ministerial and ambassadorial jobs many months ago, in order to qualify to contest the presidential elections but failed to win the ruling APC party nominations.
Political observers say that president Koroma’s cabinet reshuffle shows the depth of his desperation to appease disgruntled elements at the top of the party who are very unhappy at his display of authoritarianism, especially his unilateral decision to select Samura Kamara as the party’s presidential candidate for next year’s elections.
Since the party’s national convention in Makeni a few months ago, where hundreds of party rank and file members, expecting to cast their votes to elect the party’s presidential candidate and running mate were denied the right to vote and left disappointed, president Koroma has been deserted by some of the party’s most vocal ‘vuvuzelas’.
He is now hoping that after yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle and the decision to bring old hands to the deck of his sinking ship, he could avoid the massive electoral iceberg ahead. But can he?
Since his appointment of Samura Kamara as the ruling party presidential candidate, the president has been single-handedly promoting and campaigning for Samura. But president Koroma is beginning to feel the strain of that task.
President Koroma needs all the help he can get from within, especially from the likes of the former information ministers – Alpha Kanu and Mohamed Bangura. Though deeply controversial, both Kanu and Bangura are described as having the gift of the gab. They are propagandists per excellence – ‘good at calling a spade a spoon’, says critics.
But if president Koroma is to end his one-man presidential campaign for Samura, he has to bring in the other candidates who lost out in the race for the flagbearership to Samura. This will help avoid the risk of any of those disgruntled former candidates joining the opposition, as speculation grows about possible defections to the new National Grand Coalition (NGC) party, led by the former UN Director – Dr. Kandeh Yumkella.
So how does the cabinet reshuffle look – in with the old?
Many observers are not even describing yesterday’s reshuffling as old wine in a new bottle. Instead they say it looks more like old wine in an old bottle. But one thing is clear – the new cabinet line-up tells an interesting, if not hilarious story.
According to the press statement from State House: “The general public is hereby informed that Dr. Samura Kamara is stepping aside from his position as minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, so that he will become fully engaged in his presidential bid in the forthcoming 2018 national elections.”
But critics say that Samura Kamara ought to have resigned from this post as foreign minister about three months ago, in accordance with the country’s Constitution. He failed to do so and continued to receive his full salary from the tax payer, whilst going around campaigning and promoting his presidential bid. There is call for him to repay every single cent he has received from the tax payer in the last three months to avoid corruption charges.
And the State House statement adds that it has “pleased his Excellency the president to announce the following ministerial and other appointments, subject to the approval of parliament where necessary.”
So who are these appointees?
Dr. Kaifala Marah who is one of the failed presidential candidates, has returned. He is rewarded with the post of minister of foreign affairs and international cooperation, taking over from the man who many say deprived him of becoming the party’s presidential candidate for next year’s election.
Alfred Palo Conteh who in 2014, before the outbreak of Ebola was the minister of defence – amidst much controversy and allegations of massive corruption in that ministry, was relieved of his duties to become the interior minister and then kicked out of office, is now back as defence minister. Desperate times call for desperate measures – president Koroma’s style.
Military strongman – Retired Major Ismael Sengu Koroma is brought in as minister of internal affairs, to take responsibility for the police force during next year’s elections.
But perhaps the most surprising comeback is the re-appointment of Alpha Kanu into the post of minister of information and communications, which he previously held and was then sacked as allegations of corruption grew.
Political observers say that after he was shunned by the president for the party’s presidential candidacy, Alpha Kanu – who in the last twelve months had bizarrely labelled himself as the ‘president’s apprentice’ in anticipation of taking over from president Koroma next year, had gone AWOL since losing out to Samura Kamara. But he is now back on side – on full pay as a cabinet minister to help Samura’s lacklustre election campaign.
Alimamy Petito Koroma, who recently resigned his job in Beijing as Sierra Leone’s ambassador to China, so as to contest the presidential candidacy elections that never took place has also been bribed with a new job.
Presidential Koroma who in the last ten years mastered the art of creating ministerial posts where they are not needed, has created a new position for Petito to fill and earn his keeps. He is now designated a ‘special adviser and ambassador-at-large’. He too will join the Samura for president campaign team to help shore-up Samura’s poor ratings. But it will be a hard sell.
The former agriculture minister – Dr Joseph Sam Sesay, whose tenure at that ministry was dogged with controversy and allegations of serious corruption and incompetence, is also back at the helm – but this time, joining the long list of president Koroma’s special advisers. He has also taken over as co-ordinator of Sierra Leone International Benchmarks System, another jobs-worth funded by the World Bank.
Mohamed Bangura (Photo) – the minister of information, best known for his radio and television gaffs was sacked. He was recently lampooned for defending his decision to send his pregnant wife to the United States to have a baby, because he could not risk using the country’s resource-starved healthcare system. After publicly condoning corruption in high places during a televised interview, Bangura lost his voice as a minister.
But Mohamed Bangura is back in the government as a special adviser to president Koroma. He too will join the Samura Kamara for president campaign team on full ministerial salary.
Other appointments announced yesterday are: Eric Dura Sesay as minister of state in the office of the vice-president; Momoh Vandi – minister of state 2 in the ministry of finance and economic development; Brima Bangura – deputy minister of finance and economic development; Retired captain Abdul Rahman Kamara – deputy minister of internal affairs; Tamba Opel Sam Sumana – deputy minister of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs.
Conspicuous by his absence from the list of top jobs announced yesterday, is the former chief executive of Sierra Rutile – John Sisay, who also lost his bid for the party’s presidential nomination, after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in his campaign. He once boasted of bankrolling the Koroma government, to help pay the salary pf public sector workers. Sisay was expected to join the line up of cabinet minsters.
With just three months before general and presidential elections are held, last week president Koroma announced major changes at the top of the country’s security organs.
After a long and controversial service as head of police, Francis Munu has been sacked to make way for a younger pair of hands – Richard Moigbeh.
Many in Sierra Leone are accusing Munu of having blood on his hands, after failing to take action against trigger happy officers that have murdered several unarmed, protesting youths across the country.
Richard’s role in the coming elections in keeping law and order will be vital. He is from the southeast of the country where much electoral controversy – possibly political intimidation and violence may occur.
By appointing a south-easterner as head of the police force, president Koroma is hoping that he would not be held personally responsible for the difficult security decisions that would have to be made to keep the peace in the south and east of the country – before, during and after the elections in March next year.
This is president Koroma’s final cabinet reshuffle before leaving office next year. By making the changes he announced yesterday, he has gambled. He has taken a huge risk, especially in bringing ‘volatile firebrands’ – the likes of Alpha Kanu and Mohamed Bangura into the Samura for president campaign team.
Yesterday’s cabinet reshuffle has nothing to do with improving public service delivery and good governance in Sierra Leone – one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s all about political expediency and ensuring that the ruling APC wins next year’s elections and stay in power.