By Amin Kef-Ranger
Over the weekend the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) ended its orientation program and inauguration ceremony for incoming Executives of the association.
The event took place at J & E Hotel, Koribundu Road, Bo City, Southern Sierra Leone targeting newly-elected and outgoing SLAJ Executive members across the regions. Heads of affiliate bodies of SLAJ and Secretariat staff were also invited to be part of the program so they will understand the operations of the parent body and how to relate to and support the Association.
In a presentation on the Association’s Financial Management Policy, Isha Kamara- a representative from Freetown Nominees Limited (the institution that manages SLAJ’s finances)- noted that the draft Finance Manual which the new SLAJ Executive will review and adopt will not only assist the finance team in the day-to-day execution of accounting operating procedures but also help them understand their relationship to audit materials.
She furthered how cash management is a key component since cash is the key to every institution’s daily operations emphasizing that all audit trails must be properly filled to ensure transparency and accountability. (Audit trails include documentation, media, and financial transactions).
The financial manual, she continued, will provide management with pathways to attain the goals and objectives of the Association. Its main function is to measure organizational efficiency through proper allocation, acquisition, and management. It also provides a guide in financial planning and assists in acquiring funds from different sources.
Key components of the manual pointed out that, in line with best practices, the President must be in the know and he must be a key signatory for the release of cash, cheque or transfer transactions.
Each document, Isha underscored, must meet certain requirements including the fact that all documents must be financially correct with all supporting documentation attached. Every transaction must be within the regulations of donors, SLAJ’s financial procedures and General Accounting Principles.
In his presentation on Project Implementation, Dr. Francis Sowa- National Coordinator of the Media Reform Coordinating Group (MRCG), guided the SLAJ project team on important components they must take note of in project management. The session was to equip the team to better execute, monitor, and handle the various projects SLAJ is currently implementing. The term Project, he says, refers to any temporary endeavour with a definite beginning and an end.
“Project implementation or project execution is the phase where visions and plans become reality. That means we are all in this big SLAJ project and we must know about project implementation to succeed,” says Dr. Sowa.
He cautioned that projects must be taken seriously because all the institution’s hard-earned reputation can be lost if just one project is not properly managed and implemented.
The implementation phase, he says, is the phase where the team carries out activities described in a laid down work plan. He mentioned that the two main components that must be accurately done in the implementation of a project are the narrative report and the financial report.
Joseph Egbenda Kapuwa Esq (COOR), Director General of the SLBC, admonished the new executives on their constitutional roles and responsibilities as enshrined in the SLAJ revised constitution. He maintained that all regional and national Executive members must work in line with the vision of the President of the Association to achieve the institution’s aims and objectives and advised all executive members that even though they are all elected officials they are firstly directly answerable to the President, and secondly to the membership.
He solicited the views of members on several constitutional provisions which he says will be looked into when the Association reviews its constitution, an action which he says is ‘urgently needed.
Dr. Julius Spencer shared his wealth of experience when he spoke on Governance, Management and Fundraising. He made references to several sections of the Companies Act of 2009 as amended in 2014, pointing to leadership, delegated responsibilities from the Board of Directors (the National Executives), separation of functions, checks and balances, and management of essential staff.
He reiterated the points raised by lawyer Kapuwa, laying special emphasis on the management structure and how SLAJ should be run as a company limited by Guarantee in line with the Companies Act and the institution’s constitution.
In the area of fundraising, Dr. Spencer encouraged SLAJ to seek funds from projects using its credibility and track record in managing its existing projects. He stated that projects can even be sought from non-SLAJ members, and that he said could add up to the membership dues which can be collected using new and improved methods with the aid of technology. He stated that the national and regional executives must be creative and innovative and should think outside the box in raising funds to sustain the Association’s operations.
In his presentation on Vision, Approach, and Visibility, SLAJ President Ahmed Sahid Nasralla informed those present that his SALT manifesto, which stood for Stimulate/Strengthen, Appreciate, Listen/Learn, and Transfer, basically targeted the mindsets of journalists and reinforced their roles and responsibilities with regard to responsible practice and the overall growth of the media in Sierra Leone officially ends on Saturday 23rd July 2022 and a new Manifesto titled MEAL is immediately born.
The new manifesto MEAL, the acronym for Mobilize, Evaluate, Allocate and Liberate, he said, seeks to consolidate the gains made in the SALT manifesto by continuing with the SLAJ project of defending, promoting, and protecting free speech and free media whilst strengthening professionalism, financial sustainability, and accountability at national and regional levels.
President Nasralla noted that when running for office three years ago he promised to look into the welfare of journalists, address the gender imbalance in SLAJ and the media, provide mentorship and training for members, and advocate for the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law. According to him, to a large extent his Executive succeeded in achieving the SALT manifesto promises.
Key among the successes include the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law and the passing of the IMC Act 2020, the annual Government of Sierra Leone subvention to SLAJ (which has been increased by H.E. President Bio), launching of a Journalism Welfare Fund to promote public interest journalism and to support journalists in times of emergencies, establishing a Gender Advisory Panel to help SLAJ address gender imbalance in the media, increasing the membership intake (with the highest number of female members) whilst attracting a lot of qualified people with various academic credentials among several other achievements.
President Nasralla also mentioned the national media viability and investment conference and its prospect of establishing a national basket fund to support public interest journalism in Sierra Leone; the biggest gains ever made in the World Press Freedom rankings since the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law, and successful celebration of the Association’s 50th Independence Anniversary.
He used the opportunity to appreciate the entire membership of SLAJ for the overwhelming confidence reposed in him to continue as President of SLAJ for the second and final term UNOPPOSED.
He recognized the national and regional Executives, affiliate bodies and partners including MRCG, Guild, IRN, Mass Comm USL, Bournemouth University UK, BBC Media, IMDEV, IMC, RAIC, HRSCL, and NPDC.
He further acknowledged donors and sponsors including Mercury International, Orange, Africell, UBA, RCB, SLCB, GTBank, and the Diplomatic Community for their continued support to media development in Sierra Leone.
President Nasralla also recognized the Government of Sierra Leone for its continued support to media development initiatives and for ensuring Sierra Leone joins the Global Media Coalition.
Conclusively, President Nasralla noted that in implementing the MEAL manifesto he shall use his usual approach of teamwork, inclusivity (leaving no one behind), dialogue, engagement, consultations as well as being receptive to constructive criticism.
Former SLAJ President Kelvin Lewis shared his experience with the incoming Executive and urged them to change the face of SLAJ. He noted that although President Nasralla has made quite a success a lot more needs to be done to improve the Association.
Lewis encouraged the regions to work in tandem with the National Executive whilst calling for improved transparency and accountability. He encouraged Nasralla to continue to improve the structures (including the annual audit report and the new draft finance manual) which he says will make SLAJ an accountable and respectable institution.
The program ended with an experience-sharing session by the outgoing Executive members across the regions, an official handing over to the newly elected Executive members, and an inauguration.