By Chernoh Alpha M. Bah
I have been listening to the arguments and responses by various government spokespersons regarding what they consider to be President Maada Bio’s first one hundred days achievement. For the most part, they have only held up the recently released “David Francis Report” regarding “massive corruption” occasioned by the past government of Ernest Bai Koroma and the much-talked about “consolidated revenue collection” as evidence of Bio’s success and departure from the status quo. While citizens are certainly excited about the idea of fighting public corruption, I think we have been deprived of the opportunity to carry out the required real assessment of the new government’s first one hundred days score-card.
We have not actually examined, in a critical way, how the “new men” at State House have conducted government business in the first three months after the elections. So far, the discussions have not gone beyond the ongoing noisily unprogressive cross-fire debate between SLPP and APC over appointments, ethnicity, and region. This is a very old argument that has been the norm of our political landscape for over fifty years now. We must not forget that the ongoing war of words between the SLPP and APC – the usual red versus green caustic and polarizing debate – is not new at all, and neither is the current mentally draining and energy sucking horizontal arguments all surprising. They were all expected. It is always how the SLPP and APC try to settle their scores at the expense of the masses.
In the same token, how long did the current group of men at State House expect us to listen to these sermons about how bad the APC was in power? Was it not clear from the SLPP’s Manifesto that they – the SLPP – knew that the country was economically sick and bankrupt? Did they not promise, in the course of the campaigns and in the party’s Manifesto, that they actually have the solutions to the ailing economy created by Koroma? Thus, the stories of corruption, of bias ethnic appointments, of bad governance and of lack of regard for law by Koroma and his APC have been part of the national dialogue for the last ten years. They culminated in the defeat of Koroma and his gangster politicians in the March 2018 polls. So, now that Koroma and his gangster politicians have been electorally defeated and removed from power, we expect that the national discourse should change: it should no longer be dominated by “what APC and Koroma did over the last ten years and how they organized a national racketeering enterprise.” The public is aware of these graft stories and they are still suffering its consequences. What the hungry public is awaiting to see is what Bio promised them during the elections: what practical differences will Maada Bio and his largely male dominated government introduce that will be drastically different from the way Koroma ran the country?
Hence, pro-democratic and progressive forces must now begin to look at what this “new president” promised the country during the campaigns, and begin to hold him to account on his words and pledges. That is what should dominate the national discourse henceforth: we must begin to examine what Mr. Bio and his group have set-out to do, and how they are going about what they set-out to do? We must begin to question whether Maada Bio and his men at State House are doing anything different from what Koroma and his political gang did in the past ten years?
For instance, Maada Bio did promise that he will, within his first one hundred days, review the ACC Act to ensure that Asset Declarations are made actually public, that he will legislate the 30% quota on women’s representation to ensure it is made a mandatory requirement on all public sector appointments, that he will depoliticize NATCOM, that he will not govern by extra-ordinary powers, that he will get rid of powers from above, and that he will do away with ethnic and regional favoritisms that often characterize government appointments. Has he lived up to any of these basic pledges in his first one hundred days in power?
I personally think that those who want to talk about Maada Bio’s first one hundred days, must now endeavor to ask the following questions to his divergent spokespersons: why did the president fail to make open the details of his assets when he declared them to the ACC? Why did the president equally fail to review the ACC Act within the first one hundred days as he promised? Has the president lived up to the pledge regarding the 30% quota on women’s appointments or representation? Did the president depoliticize NATCOM? Why did the president award a “temporal sole timber export license” to his party folks; to an individual who was part of the Finance Committee of his campaign? Why was there no public tender and any bidding process before the said “temporal timber export right” was given to this SLPP supporter and staff of the president’s campaign? These are just example of a few questions that can be put to the president and his staff. These questions certainly need answers.
Of course, we want all those who have been accused of stealing public money in the past to be held to account, and they should be brought before a competent judicial authority to face trial where the evidence so suggests. But we can’t use the reported thieving of previous government officials and the claims that the economy was rendered bankrupt by the previous regime as excuses to blind ourselves from potential signs that are very likely to take us one step forward, and then ten steps backwards in due course.
And to those who would want us to argue that it is too early to engage government with some of these questions, let it be known to them that there is no law or rule which precludes questioning or examining a government and its activities on the very first day of its constitution or composition. There is no holiday or grace-period in the struggle for accountability and good governance in any country on earth.