From the Editor’s Keyboard

Should public officials in Sierra Leone own businesses?

By  | 3 December 2015 at 19:40 | 1949 views

There is a raging debate right now in Sierra Leone on the question as to whether public officials should own or run businesses while they are in office.

Some people are saying they should not do so because they might run into conflict of interest issues while others say they should, as long as they separate their public duties from their private obligations as businessmen or businesswomen.

This debate has surfaced (it has surfaced in the past) because of media reports that Information Minister Alpha Kanu owns a travel agency which is often patronized by government officials. Mention was also made of President Ernest who owns an insurance company with a number of government agencies as clients.

What has not been emphasized by the media in Freetown is that both men owned these businesses long before they went into politics and had had many of these clients long before they assumed political office.

And they are not the first politicians and public officials to own businesses in Sierra Leone. In fact you will find politicians who owned businesses in ALL the political parties in Sierra Leone. People like the SLPP’s Dr. Abass Bundu ( diamond mining), John Benjamin (ICT), Andrew Keili (civil engineering consultant and contractor), Julius Maada Bio (rumoured to have a business empire in Ghana), Solomon Berewa ( had and still has a law firm even when he was Attorney General at one time) and many others.

PMDC, before it disintegrated into fragments also has former public officials who also had their own businesses beginning with the leader himself, Charles Margai who has a law firm that has existed for decades even when he was a Minister or parliamentarian.

The ruling APC was of course founded by business people, usually small business people (called petty traders in Sierra Leone), trade unionists and ordinary working class people which served and still serves as a counter force to the elitist and bookish SLPP. Among its founders were the prominent trade unionist Siaka Probyn Stevens, businessmen like Sorie Ibrahim Koroma, Bangalie Mansaray and Edward Kargbo, community activists like Pa Kallay and many others.

Today, most of the APC’s strong supporters and activists are involved in some kind of business enterprise or the other employing dozens, sometimes hundreds of people. The APC is synonymous with entrepreneurship, economic independence and self-help.

My personal opinion is public officials should be involved in business if they want to, as long as such businesses do not interfere with their daily tasks as public officials and as long as they do not misappropriate government money or seek undue advantages. In fact you find this happening almost everywhere in the world. It’s quite legal. Most of the insurance companies in the country have clients in the government, the biggest employer.

Ordinary people in Sierra Leone normally do not consider law firms, medical clinics, consultancies etc as businesses. Yes, they are businesses, folks.

And that’s where you will find most of our former Ministers, parliamentarians and top civil servants if you want to see them. And guess what, most of them had those law firms, clinics and consultancies running while they were serving as public officials.