Who does the Office of Diaspora Affairs represent?

23 May 2009 at 04:24 | 974 views

By Brian Conton, USA.

One of the major reasons why our institutions of government fail, is that we consistently refuse to hold them accountable. In 2007 His Excellency the President, put into effect the office of Diaspora Affairs. The nomination of a somewhat controversial director to lead the office, has however been distracting from the excellence of the initiative. Adding to the confusion, the Government has not seen fit to publicly define basic parameters for this office like what it does, where it falls in the civil service, and other such trivialities. The office itself seems to revel in this shroud of covert operation. The answer to the basic question as to whether the Office represents the Diaspora to the Government or the Government to the Diaspora is as elusive as the Holy Grail.

Truth be told, at inception, the Diaspora community pursued what in hindsight turned out to be a disastrous non-engagement policy with the Office. (I am however at a loss for how better the community could have displayed its displeasure.) This was in protest of the flawed nomination process of the Director. On the dark side, this permitted the crafting of a framework that is independent of opinion from and performance toward what is the constituency of the Fifth region of Sierra Leone. And thus, the political leadership sees a distortion of its Diaspora through the prism of an “L’etat c’est moi” Director.

Earlier this year I met the Director in informal circumstances, and asked him what his office does. His response was that the office was created to facilitate Diaspora Sierra Leoneans wanting to do business in Sierra Leone. Hang on a minute said I, that is not purely a Diaspora office function. What about the indigenous entrepreneur, does he not deserve facilitation? Why not just reduce the administrative barriers to trade and business and have an annex at the Ministry of trade and industry? Having been at his position for about a year, I figured he must know something I don’t so I asked him to name one diasporan whose business his office had helped. The chatter in the room stopped, the music fell silent and even the tide went out in a collective held breath of anticipation. I nearly asphyxiated waiting for the answer. There was none.

I have the unpleasant trait of not being able to suffer this sort of abuse gladly. I cannot have my being and beliefs insulted by the person who represents me and stay mute. I have felt compelled to press on in pursuit of intelligible answers with this article. I mean here I am, a member of the Fifth region, face to face with my representative and he did not seem to know what he stands for. The fig leaf that the office was created for the purpose of facilitating Diasporans doing business in Sierra Leone qualifies as the ultimate definition of NON SENSE. If that were the case you would really staff the office with someone who has ties to the business community in Sierra Leone, some business experience, some entrepreneurial track record, some policy or academic credentials, some communications abilities, anything other than what we got.

Everybody grumbles in their little corner and refuses to request what is rightfully ours: Some plain old accountability. If we the supposed exposed, enlightened and affluent Sierra Leoneans won’t push accountability for the system to work, why should we expect the “homies” to do so. At least they get to express their displeasure with their vote every five years.

Are we really satisfied with the representation from our representative? All efforts to publicly get the Office to give some guidance on where it stands have been met with non- answers. It is embarrassing enough when official announcements carrying the seal of our country have no regard for proper syntax. Just this week a notice for the mining sector bearing grammatical errors that would not be tolerated at primary school level was put out by the Office. A couple of weeks ago I cringed at a report lauding the Director’s “formidable performance” at the UN talking about “restructuring the army, secret and national police”. For heaven’s sake, even if we do have secret police, there is such a vile and lasting image of their abuses in people’s minds that is amplified when mentioned in the same breath as the APC. It is irresponsible to be so flimsy at this level as it undoes years of work in things like the MCC indicators. As grave as these lack of competencies are, they pale in comparison to the non-answers that the Director has provided his constituency. They have indicated a total lack of communicative ability and a shallowness of thought intolerable in even a dog catcher.

We as a constituency must request a clear vision, mission and channels of communication and operation from the office of Diaspora Affairs. This must be done in language that is representative of graduate level studies and thought processes worthy of a responsible Government functionary. It may have been interpreted for the President as individual disagreements with personalities. The Diaspora itself will have to assume its culpability if it maintains its silence much longer on the misrepresentation.

We must boldly call for accountability and express our displeasure at the dysfunction of our office. Beyond representation, there are grave public trust or rather distrust issues at risk here. Public trust in the youth, US graduates, medical practitioners and especially Government seriousness. All too serious to let fall to the ego of any one personality.