By KABS KANU AND PASCO TEMPLE
The latest Interview by President Maada Bio’s Finance Minister Jacob Jusu Saffa to a local tabloid and the latest letter penned to stranded diplomats abroad by Director General as instructed by the Chief Minister Prof Francis – Regent foreign Minister raises concerns that he will arrest the ambassadors when they reach Freetown.
It has happened to some Heads and Deputy Heads of Institutions. Even the pronouncement by Information Minister Mohamed Rado Swarray describing as criminals former members of the All People’s Congress (APC) government during an interview on VOA’s « Night Line Africa » without a court’s verdict is unfair and raises the spectre that the diplomats could be in trouble on arrival in Freetown .
In the letter dated June 29, 2018 , an aid of the Foreign Affairs Director General threatened the diplomats that those who remain at their posts after his June 30 cut off date (dictated in the June 29 letter) for handing over of all embassy property and returning to Freetown , do so at their own peril since their reparation funds had been sent .This statement has left diplomats afraid that the moment they step their feet on Sierra Leonean soil, they could be arrested and taken to prison for allegedly defying the government to return to their country.
But are the diplomats really defying their government and failing wilfully to return ? No! They are aware that their term of offices are expired, so they too want to move on.
The main reason that the diplomats are not home yet is that they are stranded abroad because the Bio Government did not send them the required amount of money to cover their repatriation expenses. The monies sent by the government are not enough to cover the costs of plane tickets for them and their families and the expenses of shipping their personal belongings. The SLPP Government rejected the estimates sent by the diplomats , contrary to normal protocols and decided to send flat rates dictated by the government to the diplomats, even though their individual circumstances differ based on the number of dependents being repatriated and the quantity of personal belongings . The amounts sent fell far short of the total expenses for buying plane tickets and shipping their belongings home.
Without any iota of disrespect, this type of illogical action manifested in the June 29 letter begs for the publication of the C.V. of Prof. Francis , the Regent Minister of Foreign Affairs: Where did he study? Which school was he lecturing prior to his appointment and how long was he in the Lecture room? No sober minded person who had lived in the United Kingdom or the United States or in any modern day city would would have been so brave to issue such an unscientific instruction to educated and committed Sierra Leoneans who had given their best to a Country. .
Added to the insufficient repatriation monies sent, the government has made it even more impossible for the diplomats to return as scheduled by refusing to pay their June salaries. In reprisals for not returning to Freetown yet, the Bio government told diplomats in the same letter that they « will not receive their June salaries here and will get them only when they arrive in Freetown. » This is a case of a hardy-headed leader treating educated adults like children and nonentities. This is also the case of a bullying, insensitive, callous and heartless President and team not trying to understand the diplomats’ precarious and desperate plight.
THE SHAMEFUL LETTER WRITTEN TO THE DIPLOMATS
It is not only an approved strategy by the Bio government, but a continuation of harassment and consistent campaign to subdue them to subsist. For God’s sake, how can you refuse paying Ambassadors, but pay the domestic staff of Ambassadors and give them five days notice to stop their services. The Sierra Leone law prescribed for either a month in lieu or at the end with a full months pay coupled with his/her terminal benefits.
Irrespective of Political Party affiliation, the diplomats adopted a policy to work with community groups including Political groups like the All People’s Congress (APC) and Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) to rebrand Sierra Leone from stigmas like war, Blood Diamond, International Fraud, Teen violence etc. Are these the diplomats that this government would refuse to give a decent exit, though they need to go home and continue with there lives. ?
THE diplomats cannot leave without their June salaries because they owe their landlords , banks and service-providers like the gas and electric companies in America and abroad for the month of June .The government did not send the insufficient repatriation benefits until the 15th when the diplomats had already incurred new debts and commitments. Would it not be criminal for the diplomats to abandon these debts and move out of their rented houses illegally and return to Sierra Leone ? Were they to do that, it would be most unbecoming of diplomats and the irate landlords and service-providers could raise an outcry and take legal actions that could tarnish the international respect and reputation of our country.
These are the reasons that the ambassadors have not returned home. They are stranded abroad.
The government must try and arrest this shameful impasse.
The UN , international organizations and stakeholders might ostracize the government because this callous behavior by President Bio’s men contravenes civility and the Geneva Convention on the treatment of diplomats
As the government continues to stick to its guns and refuse to give the diplomats their due repatriation benefits and June salaries, the problems will worsen as the diplomats will owe rent and utility services for July if they do not move out before the 15th.
From all indications, it seems like the SLPP government is taking out on the diplomats whatever grudges it is harbouring for the APC. It would also seem like the Bio government is really determined to embarrass the diplomats.
They started by firing the diplomats illegally and on social media without following the usual diplomatic channels and protocols. They went on the rampage to blackmail them with cheap media and radio propaganda, but the truth will only be hidden and covered for a short while, at its own time, it will twig its head and come to light.
The government will eventually end up embarrassing itself and the country if this impasse continues and results in a scandalous diplomatic furor that will bring ill-fame and shame to the country.