Reshuffle – put the cabinet in a cabinet

Andrew Keili: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 20 May 2021:

Well, the uncertainties with the recent cabinet reshuffle have now all come out in the wash…..or have they? We now have a new Finance Minister, Dennis Vandy. Nabeela Tunis, who it was thought was out in the cold has been brought back into the cabinet as Minister of the Western Region. The new Chief Minister, J.J. Saffa is now firmly ensconced in his new position.

As is fashionable nowadays, rebranding is being done. Prof David Francis has a totally new vision for the Foreign Affairs Ministry with a policy shift from Economic to Development Diplomacy. The new Chief Minister says there will no longer be an Office of Chief Minister as this gives the impression that it is independent of the Office of the President.

Small thing, you may say, but J.J.Saffa (Photo), with a penchant for the symbolic knows how to present himself as a grassroots man with absolute loyalty to the President!

The new Finance Minister, Dennis Vandy has been pilloried from pillar to post. His critics cite the fact that he left his two recent positions of Secretary to the President and Agriculture Minister under a cloud and say bringing him to the Finance Ministry would not engender in the public the confidence that President Bio is ready to combat corruption.

They say he values loyalty and relationships over public perception. Dennis Vandy’s supporters attribute his predicament to a series of unfortunate incidents and say he has been exonerated in a court of law. They say it is not a crime to be a close friend and ally of the President and cite his qualifications and long period of experience in various ministries as a Civil servant, including Finance.

Dennis Vandy is however generally known to be humble and affable person and for being a good listener. If he manages to perform well in this difficult position, he would have justified the President’s confidence in him.

My prayer and earnest advice for him is to put on the whole armour of God….. ”Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.………In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation……..”  Good luck to our Finance Minister.

It is not known how planned Nabeela Tunis’s appointment was. Certainly, it had been known for quite a while that a new Ministry for the Western Region would be created.

Those whose names were being mooted for the position were people that were known to be combative, avid party people that would help stamp the government’s authority over a Western Region that seems to be dominated by what they consider “a media savvy Mayor – Yvonne Aki Sawyerr (Photo), who is no fan of Central government”.

A political pundit opines that the impression was being given that Nabeela was unfairly picked upon and that the optics of removing a Western Area woman, with no scandal from her position in a political chess game did not look good. It would seem the Job description of the new Western Area Minister has not been written up.

Several questions have been asked – Would it be akin to that of the other Resident Ministers? What will be its functional relationship with the Local Government Ministry since the position is of Cabinet Rank? Why have a Resident Minister in an area that is the seat of power?

From recent utterances attributed to her, she sees the purpose of her job -“For the President to have an in depth understanding of the Western Area when it comes to decision making at cabinet level”…….. “Someone who will put the two districts (Western Area and Western Rural) together for proper coordination on critical and controversial issues”…… “Play a coordinating role between Ministries so that government as a whole can start looking at things from the people’s perspective in terms of development”.

Doubters would however say that the objective of having this position is an open secret….. put paid to the “excesses” of Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr and project the government in a good light with activities in the Western Area.

A political pundit however told me: “If they are expecting the holder of this position to keep Yvonne in check, they have appointed the wrong person. Nabeela will not take her own hand to pull banga nar fire. She will do what is right and not necessarily troway san san na Yvonne in garri, as she has a reputation to protect. If what is right clashes with Mayor Aki Sawyerr, so be it, but she will not be used as anybody’s poodle.” Quite a ringing endorsement for Nabeela’s professionalism!

It will all come out in the wash. We will see whether she in fact will become an agent provocateur.

The Chief Minister serves as a central hub to facilitate the co-ordination and implementation of government policies across all MDAs. He chairs the three cross-cutting sectoral ministries for inter-governmental co-ordination including: Education and Social Development Sector Ministries; Finance and Economic Development Sector Ministries, and the Peace, Security and Justice Sector Ministries.

The Office incorporates the former Office of the Chief of Staff and is supported by a few strategic Directorates including Directorate of Presidential Infrastructural Projects and Service Delivery (DPIPSD) and Directorate of Institute for Science and Technology (DIST).

Some knowledgeable experts in governance have graded Professor Francis’s (Photo) tenure in this office as an egregious failure, especially in the area of coordinating the work of Ministries. Others say he projected himself too much at the President’s expense.

J.J. Saffa, no doubt aware of the latter criticism has also done some rebranding:  “The Chief Minister’s Office is a unit within the Presidency and should remain so. No more Office within an Office”.  We are living in interesting times!

It appears the Chief Minister’s role is being re-examined. Put simply, it can be either one or a combination of roles. It could mean carrying out the traditional role as already espoused. It could also entail being in the avant garde of ensuring financial discipline in Ministries.

And lastly, and more politically, it could be a way of bringing the Presidency closer to the people as elections loom. J.J Saffa is well qualified to play either of these roles. A Development Economist with a good knowledge of the work required of various Ministries and having worked as Finance Minister, he could carry on the first two roles well.

As a grassroots politician he could play the last role with aplomb as he knows where “all the dead bodies are buried”. The real question to ask then would be which hat will J.J Saffa wear and how genuine he will be. He also needs to put on the “whole armour of God”. Dennis is not the only one to put this on…there are spare ones!

This article will not be complete if I do not mention the bloated size of the Cabinet. Every President has a right to appoint who he wants and organise the governance architecture around the Presidency to suit his own style. However, it is no secret that over the past decade, the size of the cabinet has increasingly got larger. In 1998, President Kabbah had 15 Cabinet Ministers, 11 Deputy Ministers and 4 Ministers of State (including 3 for the regions). Altogether a total of 30 people whose nomenclature included “Minister”.

In 2017 President Koroma had 24   Ministers 23   Deputy Ministers, 4 Ministers of State and 3 Resident Ministers-a total of 54 people with “Minister” in their title. With the recent Cabinet changes President Bio now has 28 Ministers (including the new Minster for the Western Region), 26 Deputy Ministers, 1 Minister of State and 4 Resident Ministers making a total of 59 people with the designation of “Minister” in their title.

All of these ministries and the host of staff working with them have got to be paid out of government coffers. To compound the problem, coordination may get more difficult.

President Kabbah was a good example of a President who merged Ministries. Take a look at some of his ministries in 1998:

James Jonah at Finance Development & Economic Planning, Allie Bangura at Trade Industry & Transport, Thaimu Bangura at Energy Works & Labour, Julius Spencer at Information, Communication, Tourism & Culture, Alpha Wurie at Education Youth & Sports, Charles Margai at Internal Affairs & Local Administration, Harry Will at Agriculture, Forestry & Environment, President Kabbah also had a National Policy Advisory Committee (NPAC) that reviewed Cabinet papers and proffered Policy advice.

Obviously, changing times demand changes in the tenor and composition of Ministries. A valid case for example could be made for two education Ministries but we seem to have gone too far with splitting up Ministries, attaching a host of Deputy Ministers to relatively small Ministries and creating new agencies and commissions.

The size of the cabinet has increasing got larger and I particularly like the advice of a political pundit who says: “Put the cabinet in a cabinet. Locking it up will ensure it does not run amok with its size.” Ponder my thoughts.

3 Comments

  1. A brilliant piece as always. One thing that baffles me is how our government can maintain an increasing cabinet and more departments and agencies for a country with such a low GDP. These bloated positions are not sustainable and only means that as a country we will continue to rely on donor and external support for many years to come. What Sierra Leone needs is good leadership that sets the right example for all to follow.

    President Kabba was a good leader selfless enough not to receive salary including his Vice President for a whole year when he assumed office. He did not get everything right but for what he achieved given the state of things at the time can’t be taken from him. What we have experienced in the last 13 years or more are leaders whose self interest supersede that of the nation as they shamelessly leave a legacy of high debts and donor dependence for future generations.

  2. I do not doubt the heads at the table. However let them do not forget the following sayings: ‘too many hands can sometimes spoil the broth.’ Also you cannot satisfy everyone at one time or at same time. I am someone who is very cautious about the very big govt.as compared to the size of the nation,( a small poor developing country) and the economic status of the country. I do agreed that Western area is a big region of it’s own,that might need it’s own Minister. It is not just the city, so yes it makes sense that it needs someone to laiz with the Mayoror to work together towards a better Western area and thus a better Sierra Leone.

    Remember, the core of the govt is in the Western area. I hope the two women will see themselves as representing the people rather than just their parties. Asking someone to step down from a position as in the case of Mrs Tunis from the Foreign Ministry did not mean she was incompetent or a failure. Sometimes people are not either prepared well for the job or they probably lacked the support whilst they were in the position and both can affect the effectiveness and efficacy of the job.

    I want to believe that both women will work well for the region and I think Mrs Tunis will do well in this position even though it is a NEW POSITION. Yes I believe in reshuffles, but only for improvement and giving others the opportunities to serve their nation as well. It should not be done SOLEY to please others. People should be put in places where they at least have some prior exposure, background, qualification or experiences. GOOD LUCK LADIES.

  3. Reshuffling the cabinet is a good way to give others the chance to serve their country. Belief in the cabinet is vital in any governement, but put the right person in the right place. Also I dont think this country needs a ministry for the presidency. Lets continue to fight against the COVID 19.

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