Presidential non-accountable Imprest – Op-ed

Sorie Fofana: Sierra Leone telegraph: 3 December 2019:

A press release from State House dated 26th November, 2019 reads, “His Excellency the President has returned the Finance Bill, 2020, through a Memorandum to the Clerk of Parliament, pursuant to Part V, Section 106(7).

In the Memorandum, the Secretary to the President stated the reason for the refusal of the signature of the President. “His Excellency the President has perused the document and has expressed grave concern over the open-endedness of the non-accountable imprest” as provided for in the said Act. “He is of the view that this is prone to improper use of public funds”.

The long and short of it all is that, the President has refused to sign the Finance Bill, 2020. It has been sent back to Parliament for the necessary to be done. Period! I will return to this issue later.

Judges Conditions Of Service Act, 1983

Part III of this Act states that, “There shall be paid to each Judge in respect of each year of service as non-accountable allowance, a sum equal to fifteen per centum of his basic salary”.

The Act further states that “There shall be paid to each Judge as entertainment allowance:-

(a) In the case of the Chief Justice the sum of Le 2,000.00 (two thousand Leones) per annum, and
(b) In the case of any other Judge, the sum of Le1,500.00 (One thousand five hundred Leones) per annum.

Judges were also entitled to what the 1983 Act referred to as “Responsibility Allowance” as well as other gold-plated allowances.

Public Outcry

The brouhaha over the Finance Bill, 2020 was as a result of the mention of the word, “non-accountable”. In this day and age of good governance, the use of words such as “non-accountable” connotes corruption and/or unaccountability.

I have not met anybody who has said that the President is not entitled to an imprest when he travels out of this country. How many of us know that, the President does not receive what some crooked NGO barons now infamously refer to as DSA (Daily Sustenance Allowance)?

As Information Attaché at the Sierra Leone High Commission in London between 2002 and 2008, I had the privilege of travelling extensively with the High Commissioner outside the United Kingdom. Each time I travelled with him, I signed for and received a DSA for the number of days covered during each trip. The same applied to the High Commissioner.

The Head of Chancery at the time was a very strong and decisive woman. The High Commissioner once instructed her to provide an imprest of £1500 on top of his DSA during a trip to Dublin. The Head of Chancery refused complaining that, the High Commissioner was not entitled to a non-accountable imprest. The High Commissioner threatened to ensure that the Head of Chancery was recalled if she blocked the payment of his imprest. The rest as they say is History.

Non-Accountable Imprest

I am pretty sure that, the President does not even know how much his head of protocol or SCOP receives as imprest whenever he travels out of this country. All he cares about is that, adequate provision is made for proper accommodation and in some cases food, whenever he travels out of this country.

My personal experience is that Presidents do not care how much is spent on food and accommodation when they travel out of this country. The head of protocol or SCOP always ensures that, the President is well looked after.

On arrival in London on an official visit, President Kabbah refused to stay in a posh hotel in Central London when he learnt how much it would cost the state for a one week stay in that hotel. He told the Head of Chancery to look out for a standard hotel if the residence of the High Commissioner was not readily available for him to stay in.

When I asked him why he decided not to stay in that luxurious hotel, President Kabbah said that he did not want to annoy the British taxpayers who were providing budgetary support to his government. “If they learn that I am staying in this expensive hotel, the British government will be very angry with us…And you know what that means”, President Kabbah retorted. President Kabbah was a very modest and thrifty man.

Provision For A Ceiling

In the press release from State House dated 26th November 2019, the general public was informed that, “His Excellency the President has proposed to Parliament that Section 42(6) be amended so that it makes provision for a ceiling for the non-accountable imprest”. This is victory for common sense.

Parliament should now determine the ceiling on how much money the President is entitled to spend on each trip he makes out of this country. The MPs should not forget that, when the President travels out of the country, he spends a lot of money because he gets endless requests for money from many of his less-fortunate compatriots.

Thrifty as he was, President Kabbah once authorized his Chief of Protocol to give a helping hand to a stranded Sierra Leonean student who had completed his studies in the UK and was dying to return home but could not afford to pay for his return air ticket. Guess how much he ordered his SCOP to give to the stranded student? The amount is ridiculous.

Leaving a London hotel after a three-day stay, President Kabbah gave six of the hotel workers £60 as a tip. One of the hotel workers who received £10 as a tip said, “Thank you Mr. President…I know you are not the President of Nigeria”.

End Note

We all agree that the President is entitled to an imprest, whenever he travels out of the country. We also agree that, the word, “non-accountable” must be replaced in the Finance Bill, 2020. Let us also not forget that, there are no small Presidents. Presidents are expected to think and act big.

As I see it, President Bio is a very modest man. He does not live an ostentatious lifestyle. Above all, he loves his country!!! Everything he does in his capacity as President is in the best interest of our country. He would always endeavour to protect the limited resources we have as a nation. That is what makes him a good leader. The MPs must now think and act wisely.

About the author

Sorie Fofanah is the editor of Global Times in Sierra Leone; and chairman of Sierra Leone government’s Cable Board (SALCAB).

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