Sierra Leone’s Civil Service – how did it all go so badly wrong (part two)?

25 May 2012

Sierra Leone State House

The debate as to when and how it all went wrong for Sierra Leone’s once thriving and highly acclaimed public sector, cannot be pursued without reference to the country’s history, in particular its political development.

Although the debate is usually highly polarized and tainted by partisan politics, there are two strands of argument..

There are those who argue that Sierra Leone had a vibrant and well-run public sector, until the APC government came to power in 1967, when it systematically and hurriedly dismantled almost every symbol and vestiture of British colonial rule.

But, on the other side of this rather contrite debate, is the argument that the public sector – as established and run along the British colonial model, was itself unsustainable and would in any case have crumbled – with or without Siaka Stevens’ APC autocratic and corrupt governance.

For an economy that is largely dominated by the public sector, it is obvious that if poorly staffed and badly managed, the net results surely must be; low productivity, low morale, unprofessionalism, gross inefficiencies and ineffectiveness.

Although the government of president Koroma is masquerading its Agenda for Change, as the panacea for public sector reform, there is little evidence of the political will, leadership, human resource capacity and commitment needed to make tough decisions that will transform the state sector.

The government is responsible for managing and providing electricity, water, and until recently – telecommunications. The government also manages other state enterprises, such as airports and seaports, housing and tourism.

From time to time, it does regard it necessary to intervene in the importing and distribution of basic food items such as rice, very often for political reasons.

But none of those state-run enterprises can be said to be cost-effective or achieving value-for-money.

Although poorly managed and delivered, they are not cheap to run either, especially when the cost of corruption and abuse of public office are factored into the equation.  

Mohamed Kutubu Koroma, an experienced and trained former career civil servant of post-independence Sierra Leone, continue his report as to when and how it all went so badly wrong for the country’s civil service.

This is part two of his report:              

A nation’s civil service is like the locomotive engine that drives the train. If poorly maintained – it will come to a halt; if driven by an inexperienced driver – it will be derailed; and if it runs out of track – it will certainly crash.

Sierra Leone was blessed in 1961 to have inherited a system of public policy making and implementation machinery, which was deeply rooted in the fundamental principle of qualitative excellence.

That public service machinery was managed and run by highly educated and principled men and women, who were motivated less by personal survival, but almost exclusively by the imperatives of devoted duty to country and society.

They were the architects and builders of the post-independence nation state of Sierra Leone. 

In that regard, I think it is imperative that recognition ought to be granted to the father of the nation’s civil service, in the person of the legendary – Mr. Hugh Clarke whose indefatigable service and professionalism helped produced the best and brightest citizens that served the nation well.

Mr. Clarke and the few others in the persons of Albert Jerome Momoh, George Sulaiman Panda, Murieta Olu Williams – just to mention a few, were able to uphold and maintain the highest standards of professionalism, dedication, devotion, and commitment to the delivery of the country’s public service to the general satisfaction of all and sundry.

Along the way emerged the next generation of highly dedicated and accomplished civil servants in the persons of Henry Lyn Shyllon, George Lawrence Valentine Williams, Jerry Jones, Mohamed Mahdi, Suffianu Rahman, and Abayomi Tejan.

But there were also other notable career civil servants, whose pedigree and professionalism must be the envy of anyone working in, or aspiring to enter the country’s public sector today. They include; Peter Leonard Tucker, H.E. Maurice-Jones,Donald Conga George, S.B.Nicol-Cole, Salako Johnson, Samuel Lansana Bangura, Juma Sei, Llewellyn Alexander Coker, Eustace Macfoy, Sheiki Bangura, Farmer Joka Bangura, Charles Wyse, Victor Sumner.

And who would forget; Lenora Deigh, Strasser King, Victor Nylender, Victor George Pratt, Eustace King, Ade Hyde, Mohamed Lamin Sidique, Talabi Lucan, Lettie Stuart, Francis Karemo, George Coldridge-Taylor, and  O.P.A. Macauley.

They were civil servants who gave gravitas to Sierra Leone’s public sector – once acclaimed the best in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Their expertise in public policy conceptualization, strategic decision-making, articulation and implementation, was second to none.

What is not certain right now is whether that pedigree of civil servants could be replicated anytime soon.

Sierra Leone’s civil service – during the period 1961 to the military interregnum in 1967, must be regarded as the finest institution the nation has ever produced.

Senior officials were most unlikely to acquiesce to political pressure, simply because they were focused and took great pride in their profession.

They restricted their job roles purely to implementing policy decisions made by those elected to govern the nation.


The fundamental question however, is; how did a nation that once boasted of top civil servants of the highest caliber and professionalism, suddenly fell off the performance league, only to become known as one of the worst places on earth to live, work, rest and play?

What went so horribly wrong?

The answer is very simple: When politics, tribalism, nepotism and corruption conspires with falling standards in public life, what you have left is a recipe for the systematic destruction of all that is good in society, including the rule of Law and due process.

And when this happens, the public sector – the civil service, becomes the first institution in society to lose its core values and principles upon which it was founded.  

Society itself begins to fall apart, as mediocrity and shoddiness become the new gold standard by which everything else is measured. 

It was not too long after the imposition of the state of republic and one party rule by the APC government, when president Siaka Stevens embarked on a deliberate policy of compromising and eroding the professionalism of the country’s civil servants.

When he ludicrously proposed that the top cadre of the country’s public sector must come from the membership of the APC party’s central committee, he succeeded in forcing a dagger into the heart of the civil service.

Post-holders of the office of Secretary to the Head of State, Chairman of the Public Service Commission, and the Establishment Secretary, all became members of the ruling APC party, marking the beginning of the end of the civil service – once known for its professional pedigree.

But there are many who believe that, that decision by the APC government, by itself may not have been detrimental to the effective implementation of cabinet decisions, if the new policy had been modeled on the US system of governance.

This is where an incoming administration brings its own team of senior civil servants into government, and departs after the administration leaves office.

The Sierra Leone model was based on the British system, whereby top civil servants remain in office even after the departure of the ruling party.

The APC did not create a political culture that was propitious, as it hung on to power with the citizens having no opportunity to effectuate a change in administration.

A key outcome of this cruel process of bastardisation of the civil service was that it produced an army of sycophants, who excelled in praise singing and betrayals, professional misconduct – very often bordering on illegality, and the victimization of those suspected of not being loyal to the ruling APC party.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs for example, suffered the brunt of such cynical politics, especially when it came to the appointment of officers posted abroad to serve at the embassies.

The desperate need for civil servants to bribe those at the helm in order to be posted to plum stations overseas – such as the court of Saint James, the UN, Washington, Paris, and Germany, became the norm.

There are numerous examples of how the politicization and bastardisation of the country’s civil service, resulted in destroying the very ethos and values of such an important institution.     

And of course, the shameful injection of regional politics into the process of making international appointments, played out vividly when it came to Sierra Leone’s turn to provide an Executive Secretary to Ecowas.

On that occasion, it was evidently clear that Dan Faux – a civil servant of superb intellect and ability was better qualified than Momodu Munu – who at the time was the Establishment Secretary.

But, with the influence and political manipulation of the contest by the Vice President – S.I.Koroma, the result was skewed in favour of Momodu Munu instead of Dan Faux.

As providence will have it however, Munu‘s performances in Nigeria was so substandard and mediocre that the conference of heads of state demanded his replacement.

Abass Bundu, who was serving as Minister of Agriculture and Natural Resources in the Siaka Stevens’ APC administration, was seconded to Nigeria as Executive Secretary. He of course was well suited for the august position.

Prior to returning to Sierra Leone, Bundu had served with the Commonwealth Secretariat in London, where he was instrumental in helping to reverse Ian Smith’s illegal Unilateral Declaration of Independence, which eventually paved the way for Black majority rule in Zimbabwe.

Also, the appointment of Abdul Karim following the retirement of George Lawrence Valentine Williams as Secretary to the president and head of the civil service, did not help matters in any shape or form.

Karim presided over a political civil service, rather than the professional institution to which the nation had been accustomed. Senior civil servants owed the security of their jobs to Karim’s goodwill.

Meritocracy in the public sector had long been slaughtered by the ruling APC, and there was no turning back.

In conclusion, the question that must be asked is; what can be done for the civil service of Sierra Leone to regain its former splendor of professionalism, driven by a strong code of conduct?

In Nigeria and Ghana, the legislature has ensured that the office of Secretary to the Head of State does not have control of the civil service.

I strongly believe that the Secretary to the president of Sierra Leone should function in just the same way as the Chief of Staff to the president of the United States of America.

This should then leave the running of the civil service to the professional career civil servants, and with the Public Service Commission in charge of processing all recruitment and appointment of candidates into the civil service.

The office of Establishment Secretary must be seen as a non-political center of gravity for the smooth functioning of the civil service, such that civil servants must not have to worry about the security of their employment, as long as their actions and performance are within the public service code of conduct and contract of employment.

Also, the civil service must be staffed by qualified and competent officers, who should not have to rely on any form of political patronage to get into the service, let alone for the security of their employment.

As it currently stands, there are far too many incompetent senior officers in the service, who have secured their jobs through political connections. This sordid state of affairs is naturally responsible for the current demise of the public sector.

There must be the political will, commitment and strong leadership in order to reform and restructure the civil service. But above all, a new performance-based culture is required, if Sierra Leone is to once again be held in the highest esteem it once enjoyed throughout the African continent.



  1. Kenei Kutubu, I have not stopped laughing at you bringing in that encounter I had with Gobio – the Resident Minister, all the way back in 1971.

    Would dearly love to know where I got it so badly wrong except perhaps having missed your Part 1.

    While your article is beautifully written and loaded with facts, my contention is that a) the model bequeathed us was bound to fail unless we paid early enough attention to it and it did not matter who was in charge; b) Siaka Stevens did worse damage and at a much faster pace but with or without him, that structure would not have stood the test of time; c) I dont particularly believe the names you mentioned in the early days performed as you would want us believe.

    A good deal of them were at the top of that service during Siaka Stevens’ period including the likes of Bob Strasser-King and VAL Nylander.

    And I actually served under Leonora Deigh at the Ministry of Lands & Mines in 1976 as Admin Officer and I tell you it was lacklustre!

    The fact that for example, Leonora Deigh was the most senior admin officer in a ministry which had three component professional heads in Lands, Mines and Geological in the shape in which we had taken it over from colonial days when these people were direct heads of these places, itself presented a problem of communication.

    And believe me, we spent many hours in senior staff meetings with the minister, when the only subject on the table was the non-working relationship between four of the most senior staff in a crucial ministry.

    There was also the continuing clash between those senior staff who had entered the service as graduates like Sheki Bangura and Abdul Karim – who Siaka Stevens had preferred over them as Secretary to the President.

    The focus on Establishment Secretary, Financial Secretary and Secretary to President, created a bastion of corruption and you will know how this operated.

    Finally, Sir Albert it was who appointed John Kallon to that very Establishment office and the slide into nepotism had its roots there, from what we had inherited from Sir Milton.

    I look forward to a healthy debate and Ndakei, long time!!


  2. Mr.Sorie, it is so good to read from you. In any case I am exceedingly happy you have weighed in on this topic.

    At the risk of disagreeing with a Lawyer of your stature, let me haste to say you have missed the point here big time sir.

    As a matter of fact, my next paper coming out very shortly will detail not only the decline of the civil service, but the entire structure you call Sierra Leone, not because of anything the Uk authorities did wrong, but what Stevens did to the country as a whole.

    As one time senior prefect of Bo school, I need not remind you of the memorable encounter you had with George Gobio Lamin, when he was serving as Resident Minister.

  3. Mr Kutubu, a brilliant piece in the main, but I share Herbert Mcleod’s view that perhaps you need to go back a bit in the period of your analysis.

    I do not believe that the model we inherited could have survived with or without Siaka Stevens; he only hastened the pace of decline. Its politicisation began under Sir Albert Margai, and Siaka Stevens’ wholesale demotion of senior civil servants did not help.

    In brief summary, I would like to state that the civil service “model” we inherited would and could not have survived for a variety of reasons; among them are the following:

    • Serious transition did not begin until about 1959 when all of a sudden a whole raft of Sierra Leonean personnel were moved up the ladder as senior officers, barely two years to independence. Our guys were not ready.

    • Those who were so promoted, assumed they would be in exactly the same position and power as those they had succeeded; so that District Officers for instance, complete with even personal toilets wanted to be treated like their white counterparts.

    • Whereas their white counterparts would have for the large part been young Englishmen with nuclear families, we stepped into their shoes with large extended families we needed to support, which evidently, the income we got was insufficient, and not only that, even government quarters – built with only two bedrooms, would now host a huge family.

    • We needed to steal to maintain the level to which we had been elevated.

    • The British officers were representatives almost directly of the Governor, so the relationship with Chiefs for example was one of the same level and even letters were written, “Dear Friend”

    • Independence and elections saw Chiefs elected to parliament and would therefore be automatically senior to the civil servants and that relationship alone would be impossible to manage

    • We inherited a centralised system of money collection and disbursement, so that every money collected all around the country was on Treasury receipt. And the Treasury would disburse it in the opposite direction. Local taxes collected would be accounted for to the District Officer, who would in turn pass it on to the Treasury, giving huge room for theft.

    The list can go on and on, but you can begin to see how a system where a British civil servant working in Sierra Leone would have no reason to steal public money, because he was adequately paid and his small family was taken care of back home – with his government paying for his kids to go to boarding schools.

    His replacement – Sierra Leonean counterpart – would not only have his family to take care of, but quite often the whole village that he came from, and therefore needed the money to do this!!

    If there is one good reason why we should not have reintroduced the system of District Officers by the present government of Sierra Leone, this is one.

    The new local government dispensation had done away with that old British model, replacing it with District Councils who appointed District Administrators – accountable to them, at that most subsidiary level. That reduces corruption.


  4. I have enjoyed reading your articles about the demise of Sierra Leone’s Civil Service. Very informative and interesting.

    I sincerely hope and pray that one day, the Civil Service will regain its former professionalism and high esteem through the implementation of some of the solutions suggested in the articles.

    Lord, provide Mama Salone with committed and professional future civil servants of integrity and morals!

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