By M. B. Jalloh (Press Attache to Saudi Arabia)
The idea of giving preference to our Diaspora brothers and sisters to serve in Government sprouted up notably in the previous Koroma – led APC administration, that created a special Diaspora office to coordinate the activities of Sierra Leoneans who support the then governing All People’s Congress (APC), and how to tap from their skills and expertise.
The office was right at State House as an indication of the importance erstwhile President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had attached to Diaspora affairs. Giving the opportunity to Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora to serve their country in various capacities in Government wasn’t a bad idea introduced by former President Koroma.
However, that opportunity had its attendant demerits, in that most of our brothers and sisters who were given responsible positions in the then Koroma administration had their families abroad. Consequently, the better part of their salaries and emoluments had to be remitted overseas to maintain the upkeep of their families and paying for mortgages with much telling effect on the national economy. Former President Koroma might have merely prioritized Diaspora affairs in his Government because the number of Diaspora brothers and sisters he engaged in his Government would pale into oblivion, if you consider the number of Sierra Leoneans His Excellency President Julius Maada Bio has employed from the Diaspora.
I stand to be corrected that about 40% of presidential appointees in the SLPP Government are from the Diaspora, notably from the United States of America and United Kingdom where Brig. (Rtd) Julius Maada Bio had sojourned whilst studying at the Bradford University where the current Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Dr. David Francis was lecturing. He even came in contact with his wife Fatima Jabbe Bio in the UK through a Sierra Leonean nicknamed London Jet, who had been in contact with the woman when they were in social business.
The two major political parties in the country – the ruling SLPP and the main opposition APC have to a very large extent encouraged our brothers and sisters from the Diaspora to participate in Government without realizing that the better part of their salaries and emoluments are remitted to their families abroad. These remittances could run into millions of United States Dollars, hence one of the reasons for the constant depreciation of the Leone against the US Dollar. If more dollars in remittances are sent abroad without Sierra Leone exporting abroad to attract more foreign exchange, our economy will continue to degenerate every time remittances are sent abroad.
Since the SLPP Government assumed power in April 2018, the dollar rate has continued to soar because the exportation of minerals and agricultural products are not impacting positively on the economy. The situation is exacerbated by the rampant remittances of the dollar abroad by our Sierra Leonean brothers and sisters in Government to sustain their families, many of whom are pupils and university students who are in very expensive universities, colleges, and schools abroad.
By and large, the marginalization of the home-based politicians, who are very much conversant with the political and economic landscapes of the country, because of material reasons has affected our economy to an extent that the Leone continues to depreciate against the dollar in rapidity. The dollar rate against the Leone was very much steady during the reign of the late former President Alhaji Dr. Ahmad Tejan Kabbah until when Ernest Bai Koroma took the reins of power and included hundreds of our Diaspora sisters and brothers in Government. The Leone automatically started to depreciate against the Dollar because the Diaspora politicians were remitting millions of US Dollars to their families abroad for the upkeep of their welfare. The Bio administration has worsened the situation by employing more Diaspora politicians from whom he reportedly received financial and other support as opposition politician.
Be that as it may, the inclusion of so many Diaspora politicians in Government has been the Hercules’ heel of the erstwhile Koroma and the current Bio administration whose campaigns were largely funded by Sierra Leoneans in the Diaspora and both Presidents had and have the penchant to compensate them for their efforts. Most of them, because of their being away from home for a very long time, are not conversant with the political landscape of the country; they are far removed from the grassroots, and have consequently failed to deliver to the disappointment of vulnerable Sierra Leoneans. One year after his ascendancy, President Bio visited the SLPP party office and the angry supporters booed at the diaspora appointees. The supporters claimed that the diaspora guys were only focusing on themselves forgetting the ordinary men and women who toiled, suffered and faced all sort of challenges, but they remain steadfast in the party.
For the Leone to stop depreciating rapidly against the US Dollar, the remittance of the Dollar abroad by our Diaspora politicians occupying mouth-watering positions in the Bio administration should be constantly monitored by the Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) to determine how much should be remitted abroad.
Sadly, many of the diaspora guys who served under the Koroma administration were quick to board flights to return to UK or US when the party lost in 2018, while the local politicians had no place to run to; the only option they had was to face the elephant in the room. Take a deep look at the APC now from Parliament to Old Railway Line who are the people that have sacrificed for the party during these four years; they are the home – based politicians. Similar fate will befall the SLPP one day when they are out of power.
Based on the above, many would advise future Presidents to prioritize national interests over personal obligations to friends whose sole interest behind their financial support might exclusively be to enjoy the fat returns as a compensation for their meager financial support. Former President Koroma and President Maada Bio have both fallen into this trap. Perhaps, their intentions behind appointing the Diaspora brothers and sisters were two fold – first, to demonstrate that they are grateful; second, they might have thought that these Diaspora compatriots might deliver better goods than the grassroots politicians on the ground. Away from grudges, many observers have concluded that these appointed Diaspora brothers and sisters have by and large have disappointingly underperformed, and thus have turned out to be more or less a liability to the ongoing plummeting economy.
That said, instead of focusing on the recognition of good deeds to one (despite the importance of expressing gratitude), Presidents should primarily be looking for some professional and high-tech Diaspora compatriots who have got a proven track of their competence, skills, professionalism, and expertise in their fields of specialization regardless of their political affiliations . Appointing this category of men and women would unequivocally pay dividends, as they would be better positioned to deliver the goods expected of them, and as they would definitely serve in the interest of the country in a wider range other that partisan narrow area.
Unfortunately, on the other hand, there are a host of highly skilled and professional compatriots living in the Diaspora who might never be considered for any positions by the Government simply because they are not part of the political clique. So, in so doing, what is largely applied here is the old adage that says: ‘It is NOT a matter of what you know and what you can do; but rather, it is a matter of who knows you’. When this applies, it is the country and nationals that suffer the consequences. And sadly this is often the case.
Hope readers, especially our Dispaora brothers and sisters, will read this piece with an open mind; as I have nothing against them.