Moves and Changes in Sierra Leone's Corridors of Power

Soon after Ernest Bai Koroma was inaugurated in 2007, there was a huge outcry over the number of political appointees asked to step down. A decade on a similar crisis is brewing, but nobody seems to know the rules governing political appointees in Sierra Leone.

On April 12th, Julius Maada Bio was declared the winner of the 2018 presidential elections. Five months on, President Bio has made over a hundred political appointments including ministers, deputy ministers, high commissioners and ambassadors, and heads of state-owned enterprises. He has also appointed technocrats, non-elected technical experts for science and technology.

Going by the precedent set since independence, Bio has the power to hire and fire heads and deputies of all Sierra Leone's Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) as well as public boards.

These include the Ports Authority, Maritime Administration, Roads Authority, State Lottery, Housing Corporation, National Social Security Insurance Trust, Revenue Authority, Sierra Leone Commercial Bank, Rokel Commercial Bank, National Telecommunications Company, Tourist Board, Media Commission, Broadcasting Corporation, and the Human Rights Commission.

In Sierra Leone, change of government is a challenging time for many politically appointed officials.

Several of those I spoke to over the past several weeks did not resign before Inauguration Day on May 12. However, unlike career civil servants, political appointees serve at the pleasure of the president.

While President Bio promised on assumption of office that he will have an inclusive government, some Sierra Leoneans from the northwest of the country say that but for a few nominal appointments of Northwesterners, many political appointees are from the Southeast, and are members of the Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP) or the minority party that helped the SLPP win in Kono district.

Others say that the issue is not so much about tribe, region or district but the competence of political appointees.

One respondent said that the practice of appointing party loyalists comes from the American system in which when Republicans replace Democrats, and vice versa, political appointees change.

SLPP supporters maintain that party politics goes along with ideological differences, adding that the administration cannot take the risk of keeping representatives of the All People's Congress (APC) party in sensitive political positions.

They added that the cost of not delivering to an electorate that punishes poor performance at the polls dictates that President Bio, just like former president Koroma, appoint only those the new president can trust to implement policies, programs, and projects.

Abdel Koroma of the Open Government Initiative (OGI) said if President Bio were true to his slogan 'Paopa, Salone for betteh' loosely translated as Sierra Leone must improve; he would not have been in such haste to throw the bowl out with the water.

“OGI works to bring government to the people as it gives a platform to express grievances against government officials that fail to fulfill their mandate. The closure of OGI by the Bio administration is a big slap to freedom of expression as guaranteed in our democratic dispensation. I bet you; Bio will never create an equivalent medium of democratic expression, as he fears public debate,” Koroma said. 

Isata Moseray, former head of projects in the office of the chief of staff in the Office of the President sums it up this way:

“We will work elsewhere shortly. But the truth is President Bio detests everything that former president Koroma initiated. The (Bio administration) lied about  the defunct Chief of Staff’s office; that donors financed the projects that were channeled by our office, that donors approved our salaries; that the money was never paid from the Consolidated Revenue Fund.”

Joseph Kamara, a political coordinating aide at the National Health Insurance Scheme (NASSIT), said one of the last projects implemented by former president Koroma was intended to help create more health facilities for vulnerable people to access medical treatment at an annual payment of Le15, 000. (less than two dollars).

“Now, together with the chiefdom ambulance scheme, it has been abandoned. Ernest did it to complement the free health care he launched on 27th April 2010; but oh dear, it has fallen into the wrong hands,” Kamara said. 


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