"The Patrimonial Office"
As debate over cash at a State House summit mounts amid unrelenting criticism, transparency is proving to be one of the main challenges.
On Thursday, January 23, 2014, Awareness Times reported Sierra Leone government and State House officials contacted the newspaper to say they were not aware President Koroma paid out 20,000 American dollars (Le 88Million) at the summit with ten party leaders.
The Awareness Times report comes more than two weeks after the political scandal broke revolving around the payment by the Koroma administration of US$20,000 to political leaders, including Somano Kapen, chairman and secretary general of the Sierra Leone People's Party; Charles F. Margai of the People's Movement for Democratic Change; Peace and Liberation Party leader, Kandeh Baba Conteh, and Mohamed Bangura of the United Democratic Movement.
Information and Communication Minister Alhaji Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leone's official spokesman, reportedly told Awareness Times Thursday that the alleged payment “is simply not true," adding "I was present in that meeting from beginning to the end and no such incident happened where President Koroma gave money to party leaders," the minister said.
Sylvia Blyden, founding publisher of Awareness Times now State House special executive assistant, said: "If President Koroma handed US$2,000 to party executives or gave US$20,000 to the ten executives, I will confirm it happened. But I cross-checked the allegations with His Excellency the President and I can confirm no such money changed hands neither did President Koroma hand over $2,000 each to executives of the ten parties," said Blyden.
"The US$2,000 reports started as gossip," wrote Awareness Times.
But did it?
A few hours after the State House summit, Abdulai Baraytay, a national publicity and outreach coordinator in the Koroma administration, told David Tam-Baryoh who hosts "Monologue" a popular weekly radio program in Siera Leone, that the payment of $2,000 each to party political leaders was a goodwill gesture. Bayraytay also said it wasn't the first time President Koroma has paid cash to a group invited to a State House summit.
"He's met with journalists and there were no complaints," Bayraytay said. "From "Okada [drivers] to musicians, President Koroma pays when people come to visit," he stressed. "They had the option to say no but it was a goodwill gesture," Bayraytay added.
"The patrimonial office lacks above all the bureaucratic separation of the ‘private’ and the ‘official’ sphere. For the political administration, too, is treated as a purely personal affair of the ruler, and political power is considered part of his personal property, which can be exploited by means of contributions and fees." --Max Weber
Mohamed Bangura of the United Democratic Movement (UDM) was also interviewed on the Monologue radio show aired two weeks ago. Awareness Times said Thursday that Bangura dismissed efforts to get him to address the issue of the $2,000 cash payments to party political leaders. Sam Vandi, a Sierra Leone People's Party supporter, thought the UDM party leader was "a bit evasive" and instead "tried to stress the importance of the meeting which he sa[id] was unprecedented."
Pressed on what cash at the State House summit means for Sierra Leone, Bayraytay said on Monologue that President Koroma gave money like a Chief [aristocrat in traditional society]; as the "father of the nation"--an honorific title in common use by the president's supporters.
A State House press release following the summit said the president had noted that he had no intention to be Machiavellian. "I am not doing this to score political points. I am not in a contest with anybody anymore," he emphasized.
But critics like Jacob Saffa, onetime secretary general of the Sierra Leone People’s Party, expressed disappointment that the president gave money to political leaders.
"I consider it bribery and totally condemn it," he wrote in an e-mail two weeks ago. "In other democracies, the very idea of a President offering money to an Opposition party will invite the question: why?" Saffa wrote.
"How can it be OK for a President to dish out thousands of dollars for "transport" in a country that has its own currency--the Leone?" asked TM. "How can it seem acceptable on the part of the opposition to take this money one needs to equally ask?"
Is President Koroma's money aimed at obtaining influence? Does funneling cash to market women, Okada riders, musicians, farmers, and civil servants at State House fuel corruption?
Listen to the Abudulai Bayraytay interview here