Opinion

Open letter to President Koroma

17 November 2007 at 22:14 | 1037 views

Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria
Hordaland Fylke(Province)
Norway

TO: His Excellency Ernest Bai Koroma
November 16 2007

Your Excellency,
RE: “The police must stop taking tips from the driver and the teachers must stop taking handouts from kids and parents"

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate you on your assumption of the highest office of our beloved Sierra Leone. I am, from my personal viewpoint, convinced that Sierra Leone now has the opportunity to make progress as you are the first elected leader that has lived and seen it all whilst it happened. By this I mean you have been in Sierra Leone all along and you know, if not all, but most of what went wrong and how it went wrong; if not who made it go wrong. The first step towards solving any problem is the ability to understand the problem and that I believe you are in a position to do.

However, I was touched by the comment you made(to a BBC correspondent) before your inauguration quoted above. This, incidentally, has been used by the BBC and other international media houses to epitomise your will to eradicate corruption from the Sierra Leonean society.

Your Excellency,
This statement left me in a state of confusion as I find it to be one of understatements with regards to the problem of corruption in Sierra Leone. I am saying this not out of contempt but from my personal experience as a professionally trained teacher who had been part and parcel of the same society with you from my graduation in 1979 to 1992.

Within the said period, the social infrastructure of Sierra Leone was destroyed by people outside of the two services mentioned above but who are also public servants.

The political class and civil servants, in that said period, were engaged in mismanaging the economy whilst teachers, nurses, doctors and police officers will go for months without pay. Within the same period also many a young and talented teacher left to join other public services that seem more lucrative whilst some left the shores of Sierra Leone for assumed “greener pastures” and today there are a lot of them who you will be surprised to know are languishing in Europe and the Americas.

Some of us bore it out and by 1990 when we could not take it anymore there was a four months teacher’s strike in which I actively participated and some of us risked being charged for treason and subversion between January and May of that year but for our tenacity and honesty of purpose.

The key issue of contention at that time was that the Kinsley -Davies conditions of service was outdated and that facts and figures in that document did not measure up with the realities at that time.

Another issue was that the then government had compromised the profession by appointing the teachers’ union secretary general to Parliament and for as long as he was in parliament he had little or nothing to do for teachers as personal considerations over rode his official considerations.

That was of course a contention borne out of desperation as teachers were at that time going for six or more months without salaries that were not even enough to pay their rent let alone feed or clothe them not to talk about other needs. The man who by then was secretary general, was a gentleman who was a victim of circumstances as by then the government was in very desperate straits and was negotiating with the IMF for assistance and a lot of conditionalities had been put on the table for that government to meet.

The government,as we were made to understand later, had asked for buffer assistance in cash to pay salaries for a period and had been told outright that such assistance was not in the domain of the IMF.This cash assistance was meant to pay teachers, nurses and other public servants for at least one year if it was approved whilst steps to put other modalities for revenue collection would have been worked out, as revenue by then could not meet the monthly demands for payment of salaries not to talk about servicing the government.

The secretary general, a friend of mine, was used as a scapegoat after it became clear that teachers were 100% behind us who were the leaders of that strike. He was honourably asked to resign and we took over the administration of the union’s affairs.

We set out to negotiate with the government on a number of new conditions and were finally asked to present a draft of what we wanted after the government had realised that we were hard nuts to crack. Several of the ministers and politicians had advised President Momoh to arrest and charge us for subversion as by then the government had information of the pending RUF war. In fact some even said we were the RUF.

I WILL TAKE THIS OPPORTUNITY TO SAY THAT MOST, IF NOT ALL OF THAT HAPPENED BECAUSE OF THE PATIENCE AND TACT OF THE LATE JAMES BAMBAY KAMARA,BY THEN THE INSPECTOR GENERAL OF POLICE. MAY HIS SOUL REST IN PEACE!

I am writing all this, Your Excellency, because I want you to have a picture of the fact that within that period new conditions of service that were more realistic were drafted .I will firmly say here that I did most of the drafting work along with the Late Tony Rogers by then desk officer at the Ministry of Education.

I am proud to say that one condition I included was SOCIAL SECURITY for teachers so that the average teacher will be able to get a place to lay his head and retire with benefits that will make him die a peaceful soul. This was necessitated by the fact that teachers died and were buried like paupers. I am happy that the erstwhile minister of Labour, Alpha Timbo, did ensure that this got off the ground whilst he was serving as minister in the form of the present national social security institution (NASITT).

Your Excellency,
If you are going to succeed in getting rid of corruption I believe this is one institution that you must improve on(teaching). Corruption, an endemic situation, cannot be gotten rid of by words and an anti-corruption commission, IF alternative measures are not taken to make the public service more meaningful by having benefits such as housing, an attractive retirement benefit and even a scheme for workers to travel and relax during their leave, medical insurance etc.

The bottom line to corruption at any level is that the expenses are not at par with the income so the individual has to look for extra sources of income. Some can be wilfully created by lack of discipline whilst the majority of such cases, even involving members of parliament and ministers, are circumstantial.

I am saying circumstantial because even as I am writing the people who elected you are on your back asking what you may not have to give. So it is better you consider the alternatives of political suicide by standing firm on policy even with your close relatives and friends or let the beat go on! If the beat goes on then your statements will be mere words not translated into actions.

So, Your Excellency, now that you have made this open statement using two very key and politically volatile groups as an example of your understanding of what the situation is I will personally advise that you take steps to make the conditions of service in the public sector more realistic.

I will advise against any increase in salaries because any per centum added will mean nothing added as 50% of 0 =0.If salaries are to be reviewed let it be on the basis of real indices based on the present bread and basket situation in Sierra Leone.

Also look at the conditions in terms of paying salaries on time, improving the benefits and allowances, upgrading NASITT and making it more functional in terms of real estate, medical insurance and such areas that will take the bulk of the strain off the public servant’s head.

Above all, Your Excellency, you cannot give what you do not have and that means if salaries are to be paid regularly and on time there must be a ready source of income or revenue.

The National Revenue Authority, an institution that has been in the headlines of late should be made more efficient than it is now. This has to be a project with short, medium and long term goals that will make it productive enough that Sierra Leone will move from a donor dependent to a self sustaining economy.

Along with the provision of electricity, Your Excellency, you must be looking at the possibility of beginning to develop an electronic database that will be a national register of persons, businesses and assets of the Republic of Sierra Leone. It took the Transition committee a lot of time and work to get to where they got and a lot of information is missing or were destroyed because there is no national database from which those data could have been retrieved.

This database will also make it possible for government to know the status of immigration, births, deaths and every worker will have a social security number and it will be easy to know who is paying taxes and who is not. Above all it will make ghost workers something for the history books.
As of now there is no concrete data on how much revenue the state can make or how many businesses are registered in Sierra Leone, who is effectively paying taxes and who is not.

On the issues of taxes, I would advise that you set up a review commission now, because, as it is,less than 40% of the taxes that should be collected is what goes into the state’s coffers and a greater part, in percentage to the total potential tax payers, of this is income taxes from public servants. Also the quantum paid for most business activities are just not realistic. Businesses ,foreign and local, are looting the nation whilst those who serve are taking the blame for all that is going wrong.

When this area of the political economy is taken care of then your government can have the ability to pay realistic salaries and on time, undertake projects and service the social sector by maintaining hospitals, schools etc.

Finally, Your Excellency, the state of Sierra Leone’s economy is such that you must encourage the development of a national think tank from all the stake holders in the Sierra Leonean society.Openness and consultation must be your key to finding solutions because as per the present realities, only Good’s grace, wisdom and frankness can make it better.

May God guide Your Excellency through these very challenging times and long live The Republic of Sierra Leone!

Yours Faithfully

Mohamed Boye Jallo Jamboria

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