By Cornelius Oguntola Melvin Deveaux
The die is cast for the ECSL to conduct the upcoming multitier elections under the district block proportional representation.
The Supreme Court of Sierra Leone has ruled that the directive of President Julius Maada Bio to the Electoral Commission of Sierra Leone (ECSL) to conduct the 2023 national elections for Ordinary Members of Parliament by the Proportional Representation system instead of constituencies is constitutional and lawful. It is only a judicial review that can question this ruling.
But the opposition All People’s Congress (APC) should know that the ruling is a further testament to the judiciary doing the bidding of the ruling Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) just as it did with the unconstitutional removal of 10 opposition MPs from Parliament and the nullification of the petition against the election of President Bio in 2018.
Agreeably, the political discourse in the coming elections is not about political parties as much as it will be about the character of the candidates (particularly the presidential candidates) and the failure of the SLPP to fulfill key 2018 election promises anchoring on national cohesion and security, the fight against corruption and cost of living.
Other contentious and grieving issues, such as the erratic supply of electricity across the country, the incompletion of the three-hundred-bed hospitals inherited from the past administration, the collapsed free health care scheme and the national ambulance services, the unfulfilled promise to construct the ‘Lungi bridge’ and a dossier of lies and other unfulfilled promises, in tandem with the strangulation of civil and political liberties, unwarranted killings and arbitrary arrests and detention will constitute the political discourse during the election campaign.
It is obvious the failures of the SLPP to fulfill its manifesto promises of inclusive politics and governance, economic growth, and development and to promote national cohesion in tandem with the deliberate institutionalization of regionalism, tribalism, intolerance, and extreme partisanship in the governance of the state are sufficient to inform the voters on why not to vote for the SLPP for a second term.
The voters also need not be reminded of the SLPP’s inability to fulfill its manifesto promise to ensure the efficient political and economic management of the state and its natural resources to capacitate our country to pay for and finance all basic and essential services and to invest in critical infrastructure for sustainable development. Uncontrolled inflation and its consequent effects on the exchange rate and the increasingly high cost of basic and essential commodities, including rice and fuel, are a testament to this policy failure.
Ironically, the SLPP may want to dominate the political discourse and influence voters with election campaign messages on issues like the employment of more teachers and nurses, its cosmetic development programs, the free education scheme, the repeal of the seditious libel laws, and so-called gains in the fight against corruption.
Undisputedly, the opposition APC was supportive of the successes of the ruling SLPP.
For example, an amount of money was deducted from the salary of opposition APC Members of Parliament (MPs) to finance the free education scheme. Equally, APC MPs and local councilors have been promoting and supporting free education in their localities. The gains trumpeted by the Ministry of Basic and Senior Secondary Education will not have been possible without the cooperation of opposition-controlled local councils across the country.
Similarly, in his contribution to the debate to repeal the seditious libel law, opposition APC MP Hon Ibrahim Ben Kargbo spoke about past journalists who he said contributed to the development of the media landscape and had earlier championed the repeal process. He said, as an opposition party, the APC fully supported the repeal process and praised President Bio and the Minister of information and Communication for what he referred to as “positive work done”.
Whatever gains the SLPP may have made in these five years is drowned by the heightened frustration from the anxiety of the inadequacies of national cohesion and security, the horrifying consequences of corruption, the excruciating hardship due to a high cost of living, and the insusceptibility of the people to falsehood and rhetorics.
Notwithstanding, the bull’s eye in the political discourse during this election campaign is the fight against corruption.
In its 2018 election manifesto, the SLPP identified corruption as the governance Achilles heel and the greatest threat to national progress and development, stability, and security. At the launching of the three Commissions of Inquiry in January 2019, President Julius Maada Bio parroted corruption as a deterrent to the development of Sierra Leone and mischievously described former APC government functionaries as ‘ayampies’. The SLPP then launched a politically motivated calumnious campaign of corruption blackmail against key APC functionaries to confine them in various legal entanglements.
In five years of the SLPP, the global non-governmental corruption watchdog, Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index report ranks Sierra Leone 110th out of 180 countries perceived to be the most corrupt in the world in its recent report. It indicates a 19-point upward progress from being ranked 129 in 2018.
Pro-SLPP outfits, including the Anti-Corruption Commission, are already on rooftops trumpeting this feat and other international accolades and will continue during the election campaign. Although this is good for the SLPP, it is not good enough to undo the record of the APC administration of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
In its first term in office, the APC gained a 27-point progression from ranking 150 in 2007 to 123 in 2012 by the same Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index report. This record is a legacy etched in time in that the realities on the ground spoke to the progress made.
Against its glaring failures, one can conclude that the progress made by the SLPP government in the fight against corruption only paints the levels of lip service because the realities on the ground speak of a different story.
In five years of the SLPP, public officers, and political appointees have perfected the art of mismanaging and siphoning public funds. The inability, or rather, unwillingness of the Public Accounts Committee chairman (SLPP) of the current Parliament to scrutinize the audit of the public accounts throughout these five years made parliamentary oversight completely moribund, thus entrenching a culture of impunity for corrupt practices, gross inefficiency, and ineptitude.
Notwithstanding claims by the Anti-Commission agency to have recovered well over 34 billion Leones in out-of-court settlements throughout these five years, the ACC has, in the spirit of transparency, failed to make public disclosure of defaulters who have refunded monies to the state.
The president promised to utilize funds recovered from corrupt public officers to construct a medical diagnostic center. Although the ACC, in these five years, presented billions of recovered stolen money to the president, there is no tangible evidence of the medical diagnostic center.
There is much more to the tale of corruption under the current administration. The SLPP, therefore, has no legs to stand on to talk about gains in the fight against corruption during this election campaign.
Because the fight against corruption is a national crusade, the political discourse in this election campaign should not be a matter of the pot calling the kettle black or vice versa.
Therefore, the opposition APC should match the SLPP candidates with persons that are not blemished. The APC should match President Bio with a presidential candidate who has no skeletons in the cupboard and can tell him straight in his face that corruption stinks in his government. The APC should match President Bio with a candidate that can bridge the tribal and regional divide and promote national cohesion.
In this regard, as the opposition APC gravitates toward its national delegates conference to elect its officers and the party’s 2023 flagbearer, I wish to admonish the esteemed delegates to seriously consider not entrusting leadership in the hands of persons who have been tainted by the SLPP corruption blackmail against APC functionaries and confined in various forms of legal entanglements.
I will similarly entreat every comrade who is trapped in the SLPP corruption blackmail and wish to aspire for an elective position to save the APC from the risk of a legal entrapment (faulty as the COI reports maybe), withhold their aspirations, bury their ego and take a back seat.
The APC must demonstrate a commitment to the fight against corruption as a national crusade. The party must make a deliberate effort to avoid the scenario of the pot calling the kettle black.
The APC must not lose sight of the fact that the fight against corruption became a national crusade during the first term tenure of the APC government of Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma. According to Transparency International, the APC gained a 27-point progression from being ranked 150 in 2007 to 123 in 2012.
In conclusion, the SLPP’s 19-point upward progress from being ranked 129 in 2018 to 110 in 2023 is not good enough to undo the record of the past APC government and a weak premise to campaign on the ticket of fighting corruption.