Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 June 2016
This week’s fire at the offices of the Sierra Leone ministry of mines, could not have come at a worse time for the mines minister – Minkailu Mansaray (Photo) – the second highest ranking official of the ruling APC party, who was accused a few days ago by the sister of the Social Welfare Minster, of corruption and meddling in the affairs of her ministry.
Although the cause of the fire is unknown, there are suspicions the fire could have been deliberately started, in order to destroy vital evidence of rampant corruption at the mines ministry.
In the last few months there has been a spate of similar fires at various government buildings in the capital Freetown, with the police remaining none the wiser as to the causes.
But after the bitter row between the minister of mines and the social welfare minister, as to who is responsible for mandating and managing the country’s Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca, president Koroma ordered vice president Foh to chair a meeting involving Dr. Blyden, Minkailu Mansaray, and the rest of the Hajj committee members for dialogue.
Was this a damage limitation exercise to prevent an implosion of his government?
It is believed however, that the aim of the meeting which was also attended by the ruling APC National Secretary General – Osman Yansaneh, was to diffuse the rising tension between the two ministers – Blyden and Mansaray, which has the potential to put a knife through the heart of the party.
At the conclusion of the meeting, vice president Foh said that; “The ministry of social welfare, gender and children’s affairs is responsible for all religious affairs at governmental level… and the membership of the Hajj Committee remains the same as previous years, with Minkailu Mansaray as the Chairman”.
But questions remain as to the separation of powers between minister Blyden and minister Minkailu Mansaray. And to help clarify where power lies, the editor of the Sierra Leone Telegraph contacted a spokesman for Dr. Sylvia Blyden, and asked him the following questions:
Is Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden happy with the outcome of the Hajj committee meeting chaired by the vice president, especially the separation of powers in terms of the role of the social welfare ministry with regards the Hajj, vis-a-vis the Hajj committee which is chaired by mines minister Minkailu Mansaray?
Can you clarify what the vice president meant when he said that the role of Dr. Blyden is limited to governmental level in this regard?
This is what the spokesman told the Sierra Leone Telegraph:
There is no “separation of powers” insofar as the Hajj arrangements are concerned. Maybe it is the way the report was written that has misled you. There is no separation.
There was, at some point, a delayed communication between the two fine citizens. But that has been settled with the direct intervention of His Excellency the President. And what now exists is not separation, but instead there is now a very strong collaboration between the Hon. Minister Dr. Blyden and the Hajj Committee chaired by Hon. Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray.
What the Honourable Vice President very clearly said to all present is that the Hajj Committee is under the full mandate of Minister Hon. Dr. Sylvia Blyden. And in fact the Hon. Vice President went on to say that absolutely nothing can be done by the Hajj Committee without Hon. Dr. Sylvia Blyden, as minister responsible for religious affairs, first endorsing it.
That was very clearly stated, and was even reiterated by Hon. Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray himself several times; that not only is the Social Welfare Ministry in charge of Religious Affairs, but that the Hajj Committee is actually hosted by the Ministry of Social Welfare.
The Hon. Vice President further said that the Presidency is merely providing oversight for the process, because the spiritual welfare of our Muslim comrades is such an issue close to the President’s heart.
You can recall the horrible days of distress for Muslim pilgrims during the former government of the SLPP. Those times, we used to have pilgrims board planes ostensibly bound for Saudi Arabia only for the plane to reach Lagos and the pilgrims be abandoned in Nigeria.
The nicknames of Haja Lagos or Alhaji Conakry was for those of our poor compatriots who got dumped in Lagos or Conakry and came back without visiting Mecca.
All of this ended under the APC and President Koroma. His Excellency realised the importance given to Hajj by his Muslim citizens. He pitied how they used to be maltreated under the former SLPP Government. And so he instituted measures to streamline the process and make it more efficient.
This is how a National Hajj Committee was set up at the Ministry of Social Welfare, Gender & Children’s Affairs, with direct oversight of the process by the Presidency.
The President appointed Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray as chair of the national committee. But although Alhaji Mansaray is a Cabinet Minister, the committee itself is under the purview of his colleague Cabinet minister.
The truth is that the Hajj Committee cannot do anything outside of the expressed and written authority of Honourable Dr. Sylvia Blyden. That has been clarified by all concerned this week, including Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray himself, several times whilst addressing the Committee.
Even today, June 23rd, 2016, when the Hajj Committee needed money to buy air tickets and give DSA per diem to the 3-man delegation going to Saudi Arabia this weekend to do pre-Hajj arrangements, they had to seek authority from Hon. Minister Blyden which she has signed to approve.
The Hajj Committee also needed to pay in advance the chartered flights for the Pilgrims to use later this year, and the Committee therefore wrote to Hon. Dr. Blyden just this morning to request her authority to release certain funds from Government to the Hajj Committee.
Again, Hon. Dr. Blyden had to sign her approval before the request could be authorized today. If she did not sign it, trust me that absolutely no money can be disbursed to the Hajj Committee.
Hajj Committee is under the full mandate of the Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs.
Also, it is Hon. Dr. Blyden as minister responsible for all religious affairs in Sierra Leone who has signed the official Government Agreement with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that will allow Sierra Leoneans to do this very first Hajj pilgrimage after our sad Ebola crisis that is now ended.
If that Agreement (the first after Ebola), was not signed by Hon. Sylvia Blyden, then no-one would have been able to leave Sierra Leone and go to Saudi Arabia on Hajj pilgrimage.
The role of the Hajj Committee is more to ensure the nitty gritty and fine details of the process is well undertaken, so we have no more Haja Abuja or Alhaji Lagos or Haja Conakry like used to happen under the SLPP.
Furthermore, at this time, with the Minister being a woman and a Christian, we all have to accept that there are some limitations on the part of Hon. Blyden in facilitating the delicate Hajj process.
So the role of the all-Muslims Hajj Committee under chairmanship of Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray is particularly important at this time.
Let it be known that Hon. Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden highly values the strengths that Hon. Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray is bringing to the table, insofar as assisting her ministry in its role of facilitating the Sierra Leone pilgrims’ trip on Hajj.
The presence of Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray as chairman of the Hajj Committee is an asset to Sierra Leone Muslims. With his vast experience in Hajj Affairs and his valuable relationship with key citizens of Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray is nothing but an asset, an asset and again, an asset to the strides of Hon. Dr. Sylvia Blyden, the Minister of Social Welfare.
Both of these Honourable citizens are not separated, but are strongly collaborating together to achieve the desired service that Muslims in Sierra Leone have been receiving from His Excellency the President.