Sierra Leone Telegraph: 10 July 2015
Since the arrival of the 100 Chinese buses in Freetown on Thursday, which the Koroma government said it had bought for a whopping $12 million, calls for the minister of transport – Balogun Koroma to publish all of the procurement documents, have gone unheeded.
Instead, as is all too often familiar with ministers and officials of the Koroma government, the minister is now resorting to abusing local media that are standing up to him – calling for ‘accountability’ – a word the transport minister cannot even spell.
Last week, Radio Democracy – Sierra Leone’s iconic symbol of media excellence, which arose from the ashes of the ten year rebel war, celebrated 18 years of broadcasting.
But just days after the celebrations, the minister of transport – Balogun Koroma, decided to wipe any sign of jubilation, off the faces of the editors of the radio station, with insults and intimidation, simply because he was being held to account.
Minister Balogun Koroma – a ruling party politician, who hails from the Kono district, is now said to be poised to become the party’s presidential running mate at the 2018 elections.
The minister is running overdrive on all cylinders, trying to please his boss – president Koroma, as competition for the number two spot becomes fierce.
Last Wednesday, the minister was invited by Radio Democracy to take part in a live broadcast. He did not like the questions directed at him. He was rattled.
But Koroma’s hatred for press freedom in Sierra Leone is nothing new.
Last year, he was quite instrumental in the arrest and jailing of Dr. David Tam Bayoh – editor of the independent Citizen FM, after threatening to destroy the radio station.
Baryoh, host of the popular weekly “Monologue” radio program was arrested in his office by police who did not have a warrant, for simply criticising President Ernest Bai Koroma’s handling of the Ebola outbreak.
After failing to publish all relevant procurement documents pertaining to the importation of those 100 buses, minister Koroma last Wednesday threatened the editors of another radio station – Radio Democracy.
From the swift and fierce response published by the Board of Directors of Radio Democracy, it is obvious that the minister is in for a very long fight with the media.
This is what the Chairman of the Board of Directors – Mohamed Sillah said:
“The attention of the Board of Directors of the Society for Radio Democracy has been drawn to an incident that took place on air during its Good Morning Salone programme on Wednesday July 8, as well as comments purported to have been made by the Minister of Transport and Aviation, Mr. Balogun Koroma, to the Station Manager, Mrs. Asmaa James after the programme.
The board is saddened by the fact that rather than make good use of the opportunity provided by the radio station to explain his ministry’s programmes and policies to the public, Mr. Koroma chose to spend time making disparaging remarks about Radio Democracy, based on an erroneous assessment of the station’s impartiality, thereby attempting to impugn its integrity.
The board is of the view that the utterances of Mr. Koroma were intended to intimidate the Station Manager and staff of Radio Democracy and therefore takes strong exception to these utterances by the minister.
The Board of Radio Democracy wishes to remind the Minister of Transport and Aviation that as a government minister, he is a public servant and therefore open to public scrutiny and criticism, and he should learn to accept criticism gracefully.
Radio Democracy is staffed by young people who are doing their best to maintain high professional standards and to abide by the ethics of journalism. The station has been able over the years to establish a reputation for objectivity and fairness and for providing an opportunity for all views to be heard.
The station also has a policy of providing an opportunity for members of the public to express their views or ask questions directly to studio guests on some programmes through text messaging, and the Good Morning Salone programme is one such programme.
The Board wishes it to be known that it has been monitoring the programmes broadcast by Radio Democracy FM98.1 and is satisfied that these programmes, particularly the Good Morning Salone programme, are objective and fair to all parties at all times.
It is also satisfied that Radio Democracy is not in the business of pre-planning or pre-programming the content of text messages sent to any of its programmes by members of the public and wishes to assure the public that this is not being done and will never be done by any member of staff of Radio Democracy.
The Society for Radio Democracy FM 98.1 was established to champion the cause of democracy, good governance and human rights, a task it has been performing creditably over the years, and the current Board of Directors intends to ensure it continues doing exactly that.
However, if any member of the public is dissatisfied with the content of Radio Democracy’s programmes, he or she has a right to file a complaint with the IMC or the Board of Directors of Radio Democracy.
The Board will resist any attempt by members of the public – no matter who they are – to intimidate or bully the staff of the station.”