From the Editor’s Keyboard

Random Thoughts: Health Care and More

By  | 19 August 2013 at 08:42 | 1219 views

Ministry of Health officials in Sierra Leone recently presented a very interesting report to President Ernest Koroma on the terrible state of Connaught hospital, the country’s leading hospital.

As the President said at the meeting, much of what was stated in the report was not strange to him and indeed to many Sierra Leoneans including myself. What is however strange was why it took so long to come to grips with this problem. The gruesome civil war certainly has something to do with it; to many people at the time food and shelter came first but we should also remember that the bureaucrats who run the show at the Ministry and who have over the years become filthy rich through embezzlement would not want the status quo to change as long as they are in their offices.

I will therefore quickly recommend they not be allowed to implement what is contained in the report because doing so will only return us to square one. What the President should is to take health care out of the hands of the civil servants and medical bureaucrats and hand it over to a semi-autonomous body run by health care professionals as is done here in Canada and some Western countries.

Civil servants know little or nothing about hospital administration and most of them are just there to steal donor money. This should stop. Also there is nothing the Minister can do to stop these guys; they have set up a perfect thieving mechanism no Minister can penetrate or dismantle; the only thing to do is to remove them from hospital administration and let them do their normal "I have been instructed" civil servant tasks.

The same thing should be done for the country’s schools. They should be run by semi-autonomous school boards, the Ministry only playing a supervisory role. Every district should have their school board, answerable only to the Minister of Education. This will reduce wastage of resources and more efficient work.

Maintenance Culture

This brings me to the issue of a serious lack of a maintenance culture in the country which was adequately dealt with by Mr. Abdul Karim Kamara of Winnipeg, Canada, in a message to President Koroma that was recently published by this newspaper. I will only add a few more things.

We should drastically reduce our dependence on Government and foreigners to solve most of our problems. Government is not or should not be in the business of solving problems for the citizens; their role should be to empower and guide the people while using tax payer money to do the empowerment. For example, constructing a hospital and providing medical staff in a town will empower the people of that town by making it easier for them to access medical services which in turn would make them healthier and more productive and able to pay taxes and in some cases enable them to set up businesses that will employ other people that will again pay taxes putting more money into Government coffers, and so on.

Here in Canada where I live, a devastating flood happened recently in the city of Calgary on the west coast, causing massive destruction and homelessness for many residents. Before even Government authorities and the Red Cross could intervene, the local people themselves had already moved into action and launched an impressive rescue operation, protecting lives and properties in a very laudable way. Young and old, male and female, rich and poor, were all involved.

If it were in Sierra Leone most people would just stand by and watch, waiting for government or some Non-governmental organization to do something. Most of our people lack initiative, lack the ability to do things for themselves after centuries of colonialism and decades of Western Aid. They have become, without even realizing it, somebody’s burden. Some of those who are aware of this psychological disease, the so-called educated, simply do not care. It’s easier for them to pick up their pay cheques at the end of every month and live a life of luxury. Life is too short, they may have reasoned.

Yes, there is a massive culture of dependence among our people and this has been going on for decades. It is ridiculous for teenagers from the Western world, barely out of school, to go to our towns and villages and dig wells for us as if we cannot do it ourselves. What kind of craziness is this?

It is a great shame and I agree with the Chinese Ambassador to Sierra Leone who recently remarked that he could not understand how a country like Sierra Leone with abundant rainfall and very fertile land could lack clean drinking water and food.

I would suggest that a massive campaign on self-reliance be launched immediately. After so many years of dependence our people, especially the so-called educated ones, should be taught, once again, to start doing things for themselves, to stop the begging and do something meaningful with their lives. Their destiny is actually in their hands. The educated should help the uneducated change their lives and we do not need volunteers from outside to do it for us. We can do it ourselves. This kind of education should start in the primary schools, then the secondary schools on to the colleges and universities. Courses at our schools and colleges and universities should be drastically overhauled and purged, reflecting today’s realities. What realities ? The realities that say you should create wealth with your education and use it to solve problems in your community.

Take the ancient Magbele bridge in Port Loko district, north of Sierra Leone which is creaking and may collapse any time as warned by Mr. Kamara. Now is the time for the people in that area and their sons and daughters abroad to mobilize themselves and spring into action to save that important bridge which is closely linked to their livelihood and well being. They should bring their Member of Parliament and traditional leaders to the table immediately and draw up a plan of action. They should start working on this NOW by gathering stones and other building materials while preparing for meetings with stakeholders. If people see they are serious, they will join them.

That is Self-reliance, the best way to solve problems and improve the standard of living in our country. Outside help is good but we have to start doing things for ourselves first. The West was developed and is still being developed by ordinary people sweating day and night to get things done and to do things for themselves. That is why they always say TIME IS MONEY. How many Africans respect time? Ask the Chinese Ambassador in Freetown.