From the Editor’s Keyboard

Sanpha Koroma , a name associated with controversy

31 August 2008 at 05:08 | 847 views

Commentary

By Alpha Rashid Jalloh, PV Freetown Bureau Chief.

Sanpha Koroma is no longer Secretary to the President, a post equivalent to that of Chief of Staff at the White House.

This is the third time he has fallen out with governments. The name Sanpha Koroma has therefore been associated with controversy. There has been a lot of media hype over the incident that led to his resignation. Opposition papers have been quick to link the president with it even though Sanpha Koroma took full responsibility for what happened. In fact the documents bearing the correspondence between his office and parliament plainly speak for themselves. This is a matter of res ipsa loquitur (the facts speak for themselves).

During the reign of president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah, a bill for an increase in the salary of the president and vice president up to Le 25,000,000 (twenty five million leones) per month was initiated but was never passed in parliament obviously owing to the immense unpopularity of the government at the time.

This bill was kept till 2008 when Ahmad Tejan Kabbah was no longer in office, but has been pestering the government for his benefits. It was as a result of the correspondences between Kabbah and Sanpha Koroma that a letter from Sanpha Koroma’s office signed by one of his assistants was sent to parliament and even copied to the head of cabinet for the payment of Kabbah’s benefits. A second letter was also sent to parliament but was signed by a different assistant. This is the crux of the matter.

Now some questions: First,why did Sanpha not sign the letters? Second, why did two different people sign two different letters pertaining to the same matter when the second was part of the first? Prior to the bill that was introduced during Kabbah’s reign, there was a law making provision for retired presidents. When Joseph Saidu Momoh asked for benefits under that law the Kabbah regime issued a release that such provisions could not be made because of the economic constraints the country was facing at the height of a civil strife.

Momoh was therefore offered a lump sum of Le 900,000 only. Today Kabbah too is out of power and he wants benefits. What brought about the problem was that instead of he being compensated under the old law, the bill that was initiated during his reign but not passed in parliament was quickly gazetted without consulting the president on the correspondences that had taken place prior to the gazetting of the bill.

But why should it be so? I have been in journalism for donkey years and have seen governments come and go. I knew Sanpha Koroma when he was younger. He was Managing Director of the National Development Bank. It was there that he first fell into trouble with government. There was a liquidity crisis in the country and the government passed an Economic Emergency regulation forbidding businessmen to be in possession of an amount above Le300,000. It happened that the government at the time owed Nir Guaz, commonly known as SCIPA ( which was the name of the Israeli’s company) twenty seven million Leones (a lot of money at the time). The money was paid through the National Development Bank, and Sanpha koroma was not expected to pay all that money outside the banking sytem.

But surprisingly, the money was paid and transported by a hired company called Allied Trading Company which the prosecution in court at the time revealed was owned by one Hadson Taylor and Sanpha Koroma himself. The money was "arrested." But before the police could blow their whistle, “p-e-re-i-p!”, it was through the BBC that it was learnt that Sanpha Koroma had entered the United States without a passport.

He returned after a number of years and opened a private bank called Union Trust Bank. He has a reputation of being strict, arrogant and controversial. He is however surprisingly always lucky to get out of trouble.

The relationship between Sanpha Koroma and Ahmad Tejan Kabbah is very intimate. It was Sanpha Koroma who sponsored Ahmad Tejan Kabbah’s election in 2002 and not surprisingly, he was appointed Governor of the Bank of Sierra Leone after Kabbah won. But again, it happened that president Kabbah received an anonymous letter alleging financial impropriety in the Bank and Sanpha Koroma was indicted by the Anti Corruption Commission. He fought the matter tooth and nail and won. He was awarded a substantial amount in pound sterling but never got his job again.

When Ernest Bai Koroma became president the fityest person appointed was later removed in favour of Sanpha Koroma. This time he is in trouble again but surprisingly or not surprisingly he has got away with it by just resigning and taking responsibility.

The question people have is whether the money involved in the benefits scandal is just twenty five million or more is involved. This question is asked because the wording of the bill states that the payment was in retrospect, taking effect twelve years back. If it is in retrospect and Koroma is only in power for a few months why should he be in haste to put it into effect when the man out of office was in a position to benefit more?

Kabbah would have gained not less than two million dollars and Berewa would have got the same. There are people who are already making insinuations that this is not a new game. It has been happening in past governments and that was how people make fat commissions. Some even insinuate that a smart person could have netted six hundred thousand dollars commission without the knowledge of president Koroma.

Others observe that owing to the intimate relationship between Sanpha Koroma and Kabbah, the former could have taken the risk to bail Kabbah out of his economic conundrum. It has also been asked: If Kabbah wanted such fat benefits why did he refuse to give them to Momoh even though the law made provision for it? And why does he not get his benefits under the law in which Momoh was paid his benefits? Did Sanpha Koroma not know that there is an old law under which Kabbah could have been paid? Why mislead parliament to pass a law initiated by Kabbah just to compensate Kabbah?

Unfortunately for Kabbah, the opposition which had wanted to embarrass the government leaked it to BBC. But the casualty in the end was Kabbah’s man, Sanpha Koroma. But one journalist had once described Sanpha Koroma as a man with “nine lives”.

He can survive any trouble and board any new government train. For those who had not seen the bill it is easy for them to believe the media propaganda that president Koroma wants a pay increase. It sounds illogical for a man to initiate a pay increase that benefits his rival more than him. But Sanpha, who caused the problem, is now in a corner licking his wounds, but the blame is being thrown at someone else (president Koroma) by the opposition media. Sierra Leone politics is interesting.

Photo: James Sanpha Koroma.

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