From the Editor’s Keyboard

Websites, Budgets and Financial Reports

By  | 8 April 2014 at 20:20 | 1333 views

The need for accountability in both the public and private sectors in Sierra Leone was brought out forcefully to us when we stumbled upon the website of the Moyamba District Council whose head is the highly respected Professor Bob Kandeh. Moyamba District Council is one of only two district councils in the country with websites. The other is the Koinadugu District Council in Kabala.

What made the MDC website very interesting is that it has annual budgets and budget speeches detailing what has been received and what has been spent and how it has been spent in the preceding year. Thus, through this website the people of Moyamba can easily see what their district council has been doing with their money and what work they had done to justify their positions. This is rare in Sierra Leone where public actors local and national tend to operate in secrecy leading to all kinds of rumours.

It is a disgrace that Moyamba (which is seldom in the national public eye) can have a website like this while nearby big news makers like Bo, Kenema, Kono, Tonkolili and Bombali districts do not have any.

Sierra Leone lags far behind other countries in the region in terms of 21st century technology. The internet is still a a very strange creature for most Sierra Leoneans including many actors in the public and private sectors. A lot of government officials and entrepreneurs in the country do not have access to the internet but go about their business happily as if it does not matter. Most of these people mentally live in the Sierra Leone of the 70s.

This must change if the current government’s Agenda for Prosperity is to be realized. There will be no progress and real prosperity in today’s world without the internet. As a practical example how can national security officials vet and screen a person claiming to be an investor without access to the internet? How would parliament properly screen nominated senior government officials if the computers at Parliament building are not working or are not linked to the internet? How can a business person realize and sustain meaningful profits in today’s world if they do not have access to the internet or are computer illiterate?

No wonder many Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs complain of being swamped and dominated by foreign business people with better skills. Many, if fact most, Sierra Leonean entrepreneurs do not even know how to advertise and promote their businesses on the internet. Those with Smart use them often to make phone calls and nothing else. Government officials seldom think about the internet and Sierra Leonean online publications when they put out their messages.

The Sierra Leone Government and its agencies NEVER advertise in online publications as a matter of policy, I guess. What a strange policy (if that’s what it is) at a time in history when the world is swiftly moving towards digital (online) journalism. Moreover, when foreign governments and investors want to know about a country the first thing they do is to consult that country’s online publications. So for any government functionary and entrepreneur in a country like Sierra Leone to shun online publications is sheer self-destruction. But revenons a nos moutons (Back to our topic) as the French would say:

We would like to suggest the following:

1. All government Ministries should have a website and make known their annual budget and expenditure.

2. All local/municipal bodies should have a website with detailed annual budgets and expenditure. Mayors and their city councils have been accused of high level corruption over the years. Websites and annual financial reports should put those accusations and allegations to rest.

3. All primary and secondary schools, colleges, and universities should have websites, with information on current number of students, teachers and auxilliary staff. They should also post their annual budget and expenditure information for all to see including school boards, parents and other members of the public. Names of teachers, their photos and qualifications should be on public display in the websites. That should make it easier to weed out crooks or "ghost" teachers (teachers who are not present on campus but collect salaries). The Anti-Corruption Commission should be monitoring these websites and ask questions if and when necessary. I am talking about real websites like those owned by Moyamba and Koinadugu districts, not blogs.

4. All our diplomatic missions should have websites where Sierra Leoneans abroad and foreigners can access up to date information about the country and the work the various missions abroad have been doing in terms of assisting fellow Sierra Leoneans and encouraging bona fide foreign investors to invest in the country.

If all the above are done and other problems addressed, then we would begin to talk about true prosperity in Sierra Leone.