From the Editor’s Keyboard

State House and State Secrets

27 August 2008 at 17:26 | 3634 views


By Gibril Koroma
Vancouver, Canada

When I was a kid growing up in Freetown in the late 60s and 70s, I, like most of my friends, was afraid, very much afraid, of State House, the office of the president of Sierra Leone. Why? Because there was this unsmiling soldier standing outside the State House gate with gun a by his side(is he still there?).

I first saw that soldier when my dad and I walked quickly (yes, quickly) in front of State House one day. I asked my dad whether that soldier would shoot at people with his gun and he laughed and said: "Well, he is just there to let you know that this is a serious place and maybe to scare away bad people." Yes, State House was a very serious place for me as a kid. Siaka Stevens (Pa Sheki or Pop Shek) was then in power.

As I grew older, (high school, university) I became less afraid of State House. I was involved in many student demonstrations while in high school and university which mostly ended in front of State House or close to it with a lot of tear gas and kobokos (whips) and gun fire by the dreaded Internal Security Unit, known then as ISU or I Shoot You. Yes, I am no longer afraid of State House but I have respect for it as the seat of government.

Which brings me to the issue of state secrets. Most developed countries have laws that make sure journalists and other members of the public have access to government documents and other types of information. This is well and good for any democracy. People need to know what their government is doing in their name, but there are limits and restrictions. Very sensitive or crucial security and economic matters should not be in the public domain, at least not when such matters are ongoing or under consideration. Again, many developed countries have such restrictions, it’s not a matter for debate.

That’s why I am puzzled when I hear that confidential documents from the office of the president are now freely published in newspapers and read over the radio in Sierra Leone. I don’t have any problems with colleagues who publish these documents, it’s part of the game. Those are valuable scoops for which the journalists concerned should be commended. But who leaked those documents? That’s the question.

I think State House and other sensitive government offices should be reorganized and people who work at or regularly visit those places should be properly screened and monitored as is done at the White House or No.10 Downing Street for example. The number of visitors and hangers on should also be curtailed or drastically reduced.

The APC government of Ernest Bai Koroma is still very popular but it needs to pay attention to state secrets and matters of security for its own good and for the good of the country. Nobody would take seriously or would like to do business with a government whose confidential documents are found in local tabloids almost every morning.

Get rid of the moles at State House, the Vice President’s office, the Office of National Security and other places. No government can survive without state secrets. However the media should not be blamed for publishing state documents although they should be very careful on what to publish or not publish. It’s all about discretion and professionalism.