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OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE VOLUME XII

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OPEN LETTER TO HIS EXCELLENCY THE PRESIDENT OF THE REPUBLIC OF SIERRA LEONE VOLUME XII

Dear Mr. President:

Here we go again! The Indefatigable Patriot and Democrat, representing the real Voice of the Voiceless, the keeper of your conscience and for that matter that of the Nation, is at it again. Some people believe that writing these Open Letters to you is like throwing water on duck’s back; on the contrary these Open Letters are quite necessary based on one of my philosophies of life which is a simple payer: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

The issues I write to you about are those which I know can easily be changed or which can be changed with a little bit of effort, patriotism, selflessness, greed free, focus and steadfastness. I pray that God would give us leaders who would make these seven cardinal points their priorities, as these are currently lacking in the governance of the Nation. You would notice I wrote leaders, as I firmly believe in the joint effort of several people and not one person as is currently being portrayed, with you as the be all and end all. Hence, the reason for the serious lapses in the governance style.  

Mr. President, let me begin by extending heartfelt condolences to you and the entire Nation for the death of your predecessor, Alhaji Ahmad Tejan Kabba. Special condolences go to his wife, Mrs. I.J. Kabba, children, grandchildren and all close relatives. In the political family of course, the Sierra Leone People’s Party has lost one of its elder statesmen and at a time when the Party is experiencing difficulties in party cohesion, it is hoped that the death of our former President and one of their icon would be a unifying force. Now that President Kabba is dead, it is also hoped that the role he played as President in putting an end to the senseless war and bringing peace and tranquility to the Nation, rebuilding destroyed public buildings and establishing institutions such as the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), the Special Court, National Commission For Social Action (NACSA), National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT), restoring local government and other institutions, so that infrastructural development could take place, would now be fully appreciated by all, especially you Mr. President, and that his death would also serve to eradicate the significant tribalism which is so evident in the present governance structure of our Nation.

This should be a time for reflection of all those involved in the governance of the Nation that indeed there comes a day of reckoning for the use of State power over the lives of the governed. May The Soul of President Tejan Kabba, And The Souls of All The Faithfully Departed Rest In Perfect Peace!

 Mr. President, Ban Ki Moon, the United Nation’s Secretary General, has come and gone. His visit here was to officially signal the end of the United Nations Integrated Peace Mission In Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL) in this Nation. If there was any doubt that the whole world is watching us and taking note of our good and bad deeds, that doubt should be completely dispelled based on his comments during your joint press conference. Although straining to be very diplomatic, those who are perceptive could easily tell that the World Body, the UN,  is very much aware of all the corrupt practices and human rights violations taking place in our Nation. He clearly sent a warning shot that our resources are not being utilized to uplift us from the abject poverty into which successive governments, especially the current regime, led by you, have plunged this Nation.

In answering to questions from the press, the theme of the UN Secretary General’s answers repeatedly was captured in these words “Mr. President and I are fully in agreement that, while this is something to be commended and celebrated, the fact that you are moving from a UN political mission to a UN development process, this does not give any reason to be complacent with this current situation. There are still many challenges. You have made great progress in terms of establishing peace and security, in terms of providing free health medical services and good education, gender empowerment-but there are still many, more important challenges. Still half of your population lives under the poverty line, still there are many women and children dying from preventable diseases. These {are} needless deaths, we have to prevent this. You have to educate people. You have to enhance the capacity of your people. You have to put more foundation on the rule of law and also {do} more to protect and promote human rights and particularly those of vulnerable people, women and girls and small minority groups. Therefore, it is very important that the President and the government and the people work together to promote further democratic process, including human rights. I have emphasized the importance of gender empowerment. Women should be given equal opportunity, if not more than men.” 

Mr. President if you want to be honest, you will agree with me that these are themes which have permeated all my Open Letters to you. You would also notice that no mention was made and credit given for building roads. Everybody expects governments all over the world to improve the infrastructure of the countries they govern. What is more important is how leaders uphold the rule of law, human rights, justice, the health and sanitation of the nation and the economic well-being.     

The plight of the poor is too glaring and too much at variance with the opulence displayed by those in your cabal.  The God given natural resources are being so unequally distributed in a way that is akin to daylight robbery. God has protected us from major natural disasters over the years; events which are yearly occurrences in other areas of the world, even in some other parts of Africa.  Yet, we are busy toying with events that could cause us major man made disasters. No lessons have been learnt from past events and from the readily available evidence that resulted in 11 years of carnage during the most recent past. Nothing has changed from the causes of those dark days highlighted in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission Report, because the ruling class continues to deliberately engage in the same asinine and reckless behaviour as if determined to return us to a period, which we should all be praying that Sierra Leone never returns. 

We have been spared a return to the dark days between 1991 and 2002, only by the grace of God and the patient and religious spirit of the majority of Sierra Leoneans, as recognized by the UN Secretary General, especially victims of state sponsored violations of human rights, including some patriotic leaders in the opposition political parties, in spite of being unnecessarily victimized. How could anyone, especially the ruling class, not shudder at the thought of a return to those dark days and tailor their behaviour to doing the right thing, beats my imagination?

To make Sierra Leone a paradise, is so simple. What a ruling class has to do, with a country with a manageable population and all the God given natural gifts, is to stop taking the people for granted; spend every waking hour and even sleepless nights worrying and planning how to develop the human resources of this Nation. Indeed “the heights of great men reached and kept were not attained by sudden flight, but they while their companions slept were toiling upwards in the night”. This should be preached all over Sierra Leone, until we eventually attain real development.  The development of all of our human resources should not be with the ill-gotten resources of leaders spread around to a few, in order to gain political and other favours, but with the natural resources with which God has endowed the Nation and which should benefit all of us. It is not enough for a few misguided “useful idiots”, such as Abdulai Bayraytay, Ambush Commander, APC Koroma, getting on the airwaves and justifying the indefensible. When they spew their venom, it is as if the rest of us with brains are living in another planet. They are so insulting to our intelligence and have so offended some of our impatient compatriots that they either are no longer listening to their radios or turn off their radios when these sycophants or “useful idiots” take to the airwaves. You could never hear them invoking the name of God, only the name of Ernest Bai Koroma.

Mr. President, it is as if you were just dropped from another planet, into Sierra Leone. They completely forget that before you became President, you were here with us for about fifty eight years, ten of which you were leader of the opposition in Parliament and never made any contribution of note that could be found in Sierra Leone’s historical context. Currently your appointments to public office, policies and programmes are not taking us anywhere yet some misguided compatriots either in a bid to curry favour from you or out of ignorance take to the airwaves morning, noon and night like jelibas to sing your praise.

As an example of how your praise singers unintelligently elevate your status undeservedly, while writing this Open Letter, I was opportuned to listen to the Publicity Secretary and Secretary General of the APC National Youth Wing on Star Radio talking about the upcoming APC celebrations, in March, 2014; without exaggeration, they must have made reference to you over fifty times. Even the host was cognizant of this and asked his guests whether they are not overloading you with too many duties when there are others within your political party. I will add to that observation that invoking your name and heaping praises on you has now become nauseating. The Americans refer to such behaviour as “eating cheese” and Sierra Leoneans, as “mokoing”, which is the highest form of flattery and the flatterers being “useful idiots”.

Mr. President as you know, too much of one thing is good for nothing. No human being is infallible. So those who are doing all the praise singing and heaping accolades on you are without doubt enemies of progress. Those who constructively point out your weaknesses in governance are patriotic and should be respected for the time and effort devoted in contributing to assist you to govern the State righteously and forthrightly. Where you come in for blame is that you have not openly or even subtly informed these jelibas to tone down their praise singing. Let your performance, if so acceptable to the majority, do the talking. The UN Secretary General has warned us not to be complacent and when these sycophants and “useful idiots” do all this praise singing, as any human being, you have been lulled into a state of complacency, as is being seen in this your second term.

As a display of your complacency, our economy has been in a state of flux for several years now. In order to maintain an opulent life style corruption is the norm, ranging from the inner recesses of State House to the villages in Kailahun. Nothing is being done to reverse the economic down turn in spite of the arguable economic growth being bandied around. As far as I am concerned, and a majority of our compatriots feel the same way, if the people cannot feel the growth, then it is not happening. So if indeed you deserve all the accolades, you will put an economic council together to come up with solutions to turn around a moribund economy.

Mr. President, we cannot carry on with a cash and carry economy and expect to be elevated to a middle income economy. This is the number one cause for our poverty and corruption. Continuing in this present state makes your Agenda For Prosperity dead on arrival. If we continue in this mode, one hundred years from now we will still be rated among the poor countries and uncorrupt people would still be poor with corruption continuing to be a way of life.

To turn this around, what we need to do is make credit available to credit worthy consumers at an affordable interest rate. The legal lending rate at commercial banks of between 25 to 30 per cent is what is known as “loan sharking” and should be immediately reduced to less than 10 percent. It is ridiculous that legally operated banks licensed by the State should be allowed to charge such interest rates. What reducing the interest rate drastically would do is, make the money flow more readily available to consumers and businesses; the latter would expand their businesses and new entrepreneurs would be created with the concomitant reduction in the unemployment rate. The income tax base would expand with the government being the beneficiary of the new employees introduced into the economy and with their buying power the volume of Goods and Services Tax (GST) would also increase. The commercial banks would make much more profit from interest on loans, as the volume of loans would astronomically increase and repayment rate would significantly increase, compared to the current situation with loans, which only results in huge defaults and people shying away from even asking for loans. Corruption would be greatly reduced as those who are prone to be corrupt would not have to build houses or buy automobiles on a cash basis, but rather can obtain affordable loans to afford luxury without living a corrupt lifestyle.

It is no magic that America has a middle class, having adopted this simple formula of making credit affordable and available. We see people who leave Sierra Leone with nothing to write home about, joining that middle class and within a few years they are living a lifestyle compared to the rich and famous in Sierra Leone. If generous and appreciative of their relatives back home, send money home to them and even are able to take them to America. Mr. President believe you me, they acquire such a lifestyle based on the simple formula just proposed above. They do not have access to ill gotten wealth or adopt a criminal lifestyle, such as that of a drug dealer. They work hard, sometimes while even students and have access to credit from commercial banks, which provide loans to them.

Mr. President, I wonder why with all the economists around you with brains, we should continue to wallow in poverty. Those who were around could remember that affordable credit used to be the way of life and access to consumer goods in Sierra Leone was made available by finance companies, such as Bentworth Finance, for purchase of automobiles and department stores provided a revolving credit to consumers. With the proliferation of commercial banks in Sierra Leone, please Mr. President look into this simple formula. Sit down with your Ministers of Trade and Finance and Economic Planning and draft and send a bill to Parliament that would regulate the lending rate to banks by investors in the capital market, so that banks would in turn be able to make capital available to those interested in loans at an affordable rate. Please try this and watch our economy grow.          

Mr. President, during the joint press conference with the UN Secretary General, for the first time in six years, you acknowledged the role your predecessor, Ahmad Tejan Kabba, God Bless His Soul, played in leaving you a solid foundation. It is unfortunate that you are using this solid foundation to take baby steps in moving the Nation forward, while making giant steps in your own personal aggrandizement, beneficial to your relatives and friends.

Before now, you and your cohorts took all the credit for Sierra Leone being what it is. I am sure you feel relieved that you acknowledged just before his demise, the role President Kabba played. What you and your cohorts forget is that this Nation has been here way before now and a lot of our forefathers contributed significantly to its present state. Some of the contributions were very good, others mediocre and some very bad. The availability of credit at a moderate rate just mentioned above, and the attendant absence of corruption as a way of life were some of the good policies.

If we want to be objective, the political party you are now leading and you are so proud of, contributed significantly to the negative position in which Sierra Leone is today. In spite of not having the wherewithal to govern the State, your party held on to power for about 27 years during which all kinds of vices were introduced into a once blessed and peaceful State. Some of these vices included state sponsored killings of opposition leaders for the first time in the history of Sierra Leone and extended periods in jails of those opposed to a rotten system became a pastime; education was relegated to the bottom of the State’s priorities and we still have not recovered from that neglect. The economy became moribund and we still have not recovered and will not, unless we use our brains. We are still endowed with a lot of mineral resources for a small manageable population, yet we cannot shake off the dross. Shouting at every opportunity that we are the second fastest growing economy, when according to the Economist, we are actually the fourth, if even we are the first, is not the answer; paying serious attention to reversing our fortunes by using our God given talent to uplift our human resources is what would begin to reverse our fortunes.

 Whatever good and positive could be found during the period of the old APC in power is so outweighed by the bad policies, that objectively the period could be termed the days of the evil empire. To bolster my point, when you yourself came on the political scene to run for the presidency, you referred to your APC Party as the New APC, as an admission that the Old APC was not a party to be proud of and as an attempt to dull the memories of Sierra Leoneans to the ills the APC had wrought on the Nation. Sierra Leoneans being very forgiven and forgetful of wrongs perpetrated on them brought the APC back to power. However, vestiges of the Old APC are now beginning to surface and you and your cohorts are forgetting that we are now in a new world order and whatever the Old APC perpetrated on the Nation during the days of the evil empire would not be tolerated in the new world order. So Mr. President, let all of us settle down and try to reestablish the pristine glory our great Nation once enjoyed.

Interestingly, Mr. President I just heard on the BBC about how the Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), both international and domestic, are interpreting your APC Parliament’s request for a report accounting for donor funds provided to them. The request coming at this time when there are criticisms by some CSOs of your party’s governance style, especially corrupt practices and the recent vociferous opposition to the amendment of Section 79(1) of the 1991 Constitution according to them, smells of a witch hunt. It is ironical that no sooner did the UN Secretary General leave our shores, when your Parliament led by Hon. Ibrahim Bundu comes up with this request. Mr. Ban Ki Moon having given us an appreciation of the role the CSO’s have played since the end of the senseless war and their continued importance in contributing to the good governance of the State, the question is why is it now that Parliament is coming up with this inquiry? Is it only now that Hon. Bundu realizes that such a request is part of the rules of engagement for CSOs?

Your visit to African Minerals (AML) in Port Loko, Loko Masama to be precise, has been quite topical. Your heaping praises on AML after the Report by Human Rights Watch, a credible international human rights organization does not augur well with the cerebral crowd, both domestic and international. For starters AML has been carting away our iron ore, and what people with foresight are saying they would have appreciated from you is a public encouragement that the company should establish a smelting plant, to add value to the iron ore within Sierra Leone. This would certainly go a long way towards alleviating the unemployment situation in the country and drastically reducing the price of iron rods and other materials associated with our iron ore. Currently, the iron ore is taken out, refined and then sold to us at a tremendous profit. What type of economics are we practicing? “Voodoo economics”, reminiscent of United States President Regan’s characterization of President Jimmy Carters’ economic policies?    

Well meaning people believe that we are playing it too softly with foreign investors who come into Sierra Leone and dispossess our compatriots of their lands, leaving them disgruntled and then are awarded handouts in pittance. These companies are given unbelievable tax breaks and the benefit to the rest of the Nation is so negligible and insignificant. We enter into contracts of adhesion, which simply put means that these companies are given an advantage over the Nation in entering into these contracts. We do not bargain from a position of strength, even though we have the natural resources for which these investors yearn. We then see a cozy relationship with our leaders, even openly providing the use of the companies’ assets, in the case of AML, its planes for presidential trips, compromising our ability to play hard ball with these foreign companies. There is also evidence of payments to our leaders, which plain and simple are kickbacks at the expense of the rest of the Nation. This is all why when those in high places rail against corruption, the sincerity of such pronouncements ring hollow. Leaders cannot be getting personal benefits from foreign investors and be able to benefit the rest of the Nation with their presence in Sierra Leone.     

Mr. President, AML was copiously praised for building bakeries in Loko Masama and Tonkolili. The significance of such a gesture has perhaps been missed by you. For whose benefit  was that done? Certainly not for my people, who whenever I visit Loko Masama and Tonkolili serve me rice for breakfast, to which I always look forward. How many jobs would a bakery provide compared to a smelting plant to add value to our iron ore? Let us be more perceptive in giving profuse appreciation to our business guests who are not here solely for our benefit, but primarily for profit. There is an iron ore smelting plant in Guinea, why should we not advocate for one in Sierra Leone? There should be a symbiotic relationship with our foreign companies, especially when we are giving them the house, including the kitchen sink. That is to say the Nation is in such a losing position in the contracts negotiated by our government, that more thought should be put into how other benefits should be derived from the operations of these foreign entities.

Certainly, they are not here doing us a favour. Without our God given natural resources, would Frank Timmis and AML ever set foot in Sierra Leone? The answer of course is no. So when we start off from that premise, no negotiator should think for one moment that any foreign investor is coming here to do us a favour. Our natural resources should go to the highest bidder on terms most favourable to the Nation. How come contracts for mining our resources way back in the fifties were negotiated with government getting 51% and the foreign entities like Sierra Leone Development Company (DELCO) and Sierra Leone Selection Trust(SLST) getting 49% of the profits? Is it that our forefathers who led us  were smarter than our present leaders? These current contracts of adhesion with Sierra Rutile, London Mining, African Minerals and other recent arrival of  foreign investors in the agricultural sector were negotiated by novices who had no understanding of the value of the natural resources which attracted these investors to our shores. If they did have the understanding, the personal benefits being derived from making sweetheart deals, outweighed their patriotism to the Nation.

The negotiators never took time out to talk to those who worked with for instance DELCO, so that they could educate them on the operations of that company and why in those years which should be considered the good old days, the Nation was benefiting immensely from our natural resources, but currently we are giving the resources away. Is it because we are in such a hurry to create those 100 millionaires that we are blind to reality and are satisfied with the personal benefits to ourselves and not to the Nation?

Mr. President while on that same trip, you publicly made a public pronouncement concerning the chieftaincy brouhaha in Loko Masama, which in my humble opinion exacerbated the problem. As the fountain of honour and justice and the symbol of national unity, it would be in the best interest of the Nation for you not to be seen as taking sides in such controversy. With the statement you made favouring the current paramount chief who is being petitioned in the courts, by the losing contestant, it only resulted in escalating the tension in Loko Masama. According to reliable sources those perceived to be opposed to the current paramount chief were massively arrested and detained. Notices were put out on the airwaves for some people who, I know, were even your supporters in Freetown to report to the police in Loko Masama. The paramount chief came to Freetown, according to my sources and effectuated the arrest of a section chief and caused him to be taken to Loko Masama to be detained.

I have dealt extensively in most of my Open Letters to you about the cause of the 11 years war and why we should not return to those dark days. This behavior certainly reminds us of one of the root causes of that period and we should at all cost avoid a repeat of the genesis of the brutal period. Prior to your visit and your statement, there was not such confidence on the part of the paramount chief and his supporters to use state power to victimize their perceived opponents. Certainly, this is not what the framers of the Constitution had in mind when in Section 40(2), they named the President of the Republic as the “fountain of honour and justice and the symbol of national unity and sovereignty”. It is hoped that behind close doors this matter would be handled more deftly and that peace and quiet would return to Loko Masama.

In closing let me as usual remind you of the poignant words in Governor Clarkson’s Concluding Payer for Sierra Leone, which is becoming increasingly popular: “Should anyone have a wicked thought in his heart or do anything knowingly to disturb the peace and quiet of this our Colony, let him O God be rooted out from the face of the earth; but have mercy upon him hereafter”.

In the next Volume of Open Letters among other burning issues that would be addressed for your attention would be the visit to Washington DC., on taxpayers’ expense, of the irrepressible Abdulai Bayraytay and Mohamed Bangura, the Leader of the UDM, who these days is full of sound and fury, with no results to show for it; ostensibly their visit was to convince our compatriots in the United States that you, Mr. President are not interested in a third term. Also to be addressed is their visit to the Human Rights Watch Office in New York, with the Sierra Leone Ambassador resident in Washington DC., in tow, to refute the Human Rights Watch Report on African Minerals and Government’s role in regulating mining companies, such as AML; the feedback from our compatriots in the United States about such useless trips at taxpayers’ expense, would all be addressed.

Sincerely,

 

Raymond Bamidele Thompson, Sr.

Presidential Candidate 2002

Citizens United For Peace and Progress (CUPP)

Founding Member People’s Movement For Democratic Change (PMDC)

The Indefatigable Patriot and Democrat

Representing The Voice of The Voiceless

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