Dr. Denis Sandy
Sierra Leone Telegraph: 18 January 2016
In part one of this article published yesterday, I discussed Sierra Leone’s efforts in achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
And I concluded that Sierra Leone did not make any progress in meeting any of the eight former MDGs, that have now been replaced by the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
In this final and concluding piece, I will discuss some of the key issues that have come to define the extent of human development in Sierra Leone, such as the degree of freedoms enjoyed by Sierra Leoneans; the effects of salary structures on the economy; and the status of sports in the country today.
The degree of freedoms in Sierra Leone
A visible indicator of development in any society is the extent of people’s freedom. This has been taken to mean the ability of people to discuss issues in their own way without restrictions; and the extent of freedom to choose from available alternatives and make bold decisions.
When the Chibok Girls were captured in Nigeria by Boko Haram in 2014, Nigerians all over the world, but more especially in the country, discussed the issue without restrictions. To some extent, it played a greater role in the demise of the Jonathan Administration in 2015.
Also, when Ghanaian journalist Anas Aremeyaw Anas released his bombshell on the magnitude of corruption in the Ghanaian Judiciary in August 2015, Ghanaians discussed about it unhindered.
And even the last minute attempt by some lawyers not to have the documentary shown to the public, proved futile because of this “freedom component”.
But in Sierra Leone, from Ebola to judicial matters, people were never given the opportunity to let their voices and feelings known. The degree of freedom is manifested by the extent to which citizens are given unfettered restrictions to deliberate on such sensitive issues.
In Sierra Leone, any attempt to question the educational qualifications of public officers, ministers, members of parliament, will be highly frowned upon.
But in America, President Obama was forced to publicly display his birth certificate after winning his second term in Office in 2013, when asked to do so. Citizens had intimated that President Obama was not a true American citizen, and in producing his birth certificate, President Obama had this to say; “we don’t have time for such silliness”.
Just try this in Sierra Leone and you will be fortunate not to have one of your parents abused.
Donald Trump, the USA Republican Presidential hopeful, created a stir when he said that he will ban Muslims from entering America, if he becomes president in 2016.
He made this statement following the California shootings that left 14 Americans dead. Sensitive as the issue is, Americans nonetheless are discussing it very freely and openly.
Sierra Leoneans are being strangled and suffocated by the lack of free speech and civil liberty in the country. The freedom space has become very thin, both in and out of the country, such that overcrowding is now clearly evident.
For example, drivers and Okada riders cannot discuss with police and traffic wardens, or else it will be considered obstruction of duty. Workers should not disagree with their bosses for fear of being picked upon. The list goes on.
Assistant Inspector General of Police – Richard Moigbe, ordered the arrest of a Sierra Leonean coming to Sierra Leone for holidays, upon arriving at Lungi Airport in December 2015, for expressing his opinion regarding the police and Judiciary. This tells us quite a lot about the degree of freedom in the country.
But AIG Moigbe’s action would catch up with him some day, for who would have fathomed that today Blaise Campaore of Burkina Faso will have an international warrant of arrest placed on him; that the President of Guyana will be in the dock today; that Panama’s former President will face similar fate.
The message here is clear – “excessive abuse of office and/or power will not go unscathed forever”.
The simple interpretation of this is that in “societies where opportunities are limited, freedoms will automatically be limited and by extension restricted”. Hence, for one to survive in such societies, one has to sacrifice a higher level of that freedom – especially freedom of expression.
So whether things are going wrong or not: “nor to you business”. Sadly, this culture of impunity has imposed a serious obstacle to Sierra Leone’s development in the 21st Century.
Distorted salary structures
Another visible dark side of Sierra Leone’s development is the extent to which salaries are being artificially distorted.
This is prevalent in both the public and private sectors, although it is worse in the public sector.
Salaries of government workers – irrespective of the increases over time and the current 15% uplift, are still greatly distorted. This is because salaries do not foster the necessary incentive to work harder and produce greater productivity.
The average civil servant’s net salary per month is Le 1,675,250 – about US $ 300. And when this is juxtaposed to the “crazy” amounts others are receiving, ranging from Le 24 million to Le 48 million, then you will understand that we have a problem in Sierra Leone.
The sad aspect of this is that salaries are not pegged to one’s qualifications, and so we have a completely chaotic situation.
This is a country where people with first degrees are earning more than those with Masters; and those with Masters by extension earning more than those with PhDs. What has aggravated the situation is that many of those with first degrees are even earning more than those with PhDs.
So, why should it be surprising that people do not really attach any serious value to education these days?
This to a greater extent also explains why education is going down the drain in the country. In Sierra Leone, one can attain key positions without any qualifications, as long as one has the right connections and, or is in politics.
I firmly believe that as long as one has a PhD in this country – irrespective of the discipline, one’s starting salary should be Le 12 million (US $ 2,142). But sadly, what those with PhDs are getting is still well below that which they deserve.
The implication of this is simple – lecturers are not given the desired respect and recognition they deserve either. But in Nigeria or Ghana, lecturers are generally respected, and if you are a Don or Provost (like in America, Germany, UK), a red carpet reception is accorded wherever you go.
The irony in Sierra Leone is that people want to attain higher positions or offices, but have utter disregard for education. “E nor go woke” because the Bible says that “as you sow, so shall you reap”.
In this country, people just want to be reaping without sowing. And most times they are doing the reaping with impunity. What is worse, they even frown upon the highly educated, and sometimes hold them responsible for all the woes in the country: “na d wan dem way learn book”.
The simplest way out of this terrible situation is to have a salary cap in the country. And to begin to achieve this, there must be a clear national policy. For instance, “nobody should earn more than the President in the country”. This implies automatically that the President’s salary should be made known to the public.
When this happens, substantial amounts of money could be saved and later utilized for social development programmes in education, health and other services that benefit the poor most.
In fact, this could be an effective way of distributing incomes to the poor and enhancing poverty reduction. Let’s say the President’s net salary per month is pegged at Le 30 million and Ministers Le 18 million; MPs, Directors and HOPs – Le 14 million; lecturers with Masters and PhDs – Le 8 million -Le 12 million respectively; Civil Servants – according to positions with PSs – Le 5 million; Head of Police and the Military – Le 7 million.
In short, salary cap should be added to the norms of democracy, as the FIFA imbroglio is clear evidence that it is dangerous when the salaries of people heading institutions, agencies and even a country are not established or made known to the public.
This simply creates room for massive corruption and fraud. Eventually, trust is lost and the hard won reputation over time simply goes down the drain.
Salary cap can promote income equality in a society and free up resources that can improve social spending for the poor to much greater level.
Sierra Leone needs to seriously consider introducing salary cap if this country is to develop in a way that will ensure that the gains of development are distributed to all, in an inclusive and humane manner.
Perhaps the darkest side of Sierra Leone’s development in the 21st century is in the Sporting Arena.
From boxing to judo, volleyball to tennis, athletics to football, the story is the same – disorganized, infighting, and corruption. The people of Sierra Leone have now lost interest in sports.
Countries are known around the world for their sporting prowess, and this is a very important indicator of development. In the case of Sierra Leone however, we are known for all the wrong reasons – athletes absconded during Olympic Games in London, an entire football squad almost disappeared in Sweden few years ago.
The chaos witnessed in the management of football in Sierra Leone, manifested by the serious rift between SLFA and the ministry of sports, has meant that football fans are taking solace in supporting foreign clubs such as Chelsea, Arsenal, ManU, Liverpool, Barca, Real, Juve, etc.
For now, football is in tatters in Sierra Leone. Even female football has not been spared with a humiliating aggregate of 10-2 defeat by Nigeria’s Falcons a few years ago.
The fact is that Sports have never fared better under a civilian government, throughout the history of this country. The national team Leone Stars has only qualified once in the African Nations Cup, and that was under a Military Regime.
In all of the World Cup qualifications, Sierra Leone has never passed the Group Stages, and we were nearly banned few weeks ago in December 2015 by FIFA, because of the conflict and infighting between the SLFA and the Ministry of Sports.
All of the mediation efforts by the government to settle the impasse between the two have proved futile.
Interestingly, since FIFA does not allow governments to interfere in or police football in their countries, the Americans have taken the lead to probe (or Police) the very FIFA, and the consequences have been the suspension of Sepp Blatter (FIFA President for 17 years) and Michele Platini from all football related activities for 8 years.
Furthermore, an IAAF elections scheduled in December 2015 ended in fiasco, because the stance taken by the Minister of Sports to disqualify one of the aspirants – his colleague who was heading the National Ebola Response Centre, did not go down well with the stakeholders of the election.
In such toxic environment, it will be extremely difficult for sports to blossom in Sierra Leone.
Obviously, some people may want to point at other aspects of the dark side of our country’s development in this 21st Century, while others may want to take the discussion from another angle – the “bright side”.
But in a country in which achievement of any of the MDGs was far off the mark, even before the arrival of Ebola; difficulty in identifying national priorities; high youth unemployment; limited freedom; distorted salary structures; and the demise of sports in the country, it is very difficult to see the bright side.
Interestingly, the perception could be that successive governments have done their utmost and that development is well on course, had it not been for Ebola that derailed its path. In reality, the ultimate response could really depend on who one talks to.
It must be said though, that until we do the expected – by getting right what we want and formulate strong policies to guard our development process, we will continue to be mere spectators in the field of development whiles cheering on other countries, as they forge ahead.
About the author:
Dr. Denis M Sandy is a lecturer in the department of economics and commerce at Fourah Bay College, the University of Sierra Leone