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Sunday, December 10, 2023

THE CABINET IS FINALLY OUT OF THE CABINET: NOW WHAT?

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PONDER MY THOUGHTS: By Andrew Keili

Many have been waiting with bated breath to see whether President Bio would match his rhetoric of dramatic change with action in his choice of Ministers. A new thirty-six-year-old Chief Minister, a Cabinet comprising mainly young, highly educated people, a significant number in their 30s and 40s came as a surprise to many as was the significant female representation and finely balanced regional and ethnic composition.

The house clearing has been a massacre, with senior Ministers hitherto considered untouchable, many of them close associates of the President and party loyalists shown the door. The President’s supporters have referred to the radical change as “an infusion of youth and dynamism to bring about transformational change”.

Allow me to ponder the changes.

The outcasts and the survivors

Some old hands stayed in place to provide continuity-probably a show of confidence based on their past performance. These include Kanja Sesay at Energy, Turad Senesi at Lands, Tamba Lamina at Internal Affairs (hopefully armed with a solution to the “Tom and Jerry” fight between the Ministry and the Freetown Mayor), Austin Demby at Health, Mohamed Fatamadi Bangura at Finance, Attorney General, Mohamed Lamin Tarawali and Mohamed Orman Bangura at the Youth Ministry. Others like Mohamed Rado Swarray and Nabeela Tunis changed Portfolios to Labour and Tourism respectively and Melrose Karminty was upgraded to be Minister of Social Welfare. Francess Piagie Alghali as Deputy at the Foreign Ministry will undoubtedly build on her stellar performance as Minister of State at the VP’s office, where she will be replaced by former Gender and Children’s Affairs Minister, Manty Tarawali, who many expected would stay to steer the implementation of the GEWE Act she championed. Julius Mattai, the Director General of NMA becomes the new Mines Minister, the fourth in the Bio Presidency, whilst the former incumbent Musa Timothy Kabba moves to the Foreign Affairs Ministry. All Deputy Ministers in both Education Ministries stayed in place-Sarjoh Aziz Kamara in Higher Education and Mamusu Massaquoi and Emily Gogra in Basic Education where Conrad Sackey who was at the TEC is now Minister, ensuring continuity.

Though some Ministers and advisers in the view of many deserved to go, there are however some that have been let go that performed credibly. One is left wondering what combination of factors led to their departure……Unduly long periods on the frontline? Political falling out? Need to make way for new blood? We will never know.

Strong female warriors

Some new and experienced Ministers include Hannah Sao-Kpato Max Kyne, the new Minister of Water Resources and Sanitation, who excelled as head of NACSA and the very competent Kenye Ballay, Minister of Development and Economic Planning, who acquitted herself well as head of SAPA before earning further laurels in the development sphere internationally. The appointment of the peripatetic and hyperactive Haja Isata Abdulai Kamara (formerly, Resident Minister, North West and recently Deputy Minister at the Trade Ministry) has been lauded. One supporter stated – “I hope she starts chasing those errant fishing vessels soon!”

Uncertainties about carrying the flagship programme

There have been questions asked about Dr. Henry Kpaka heading the government’s new flagship programme of Agriculture at the Agriculture Ministry. While some hail his impressive academic credentials and considerable experience in the sector locally and abroad, others say his recent involvement in the sector as an adviser did not yield tangible dividends. He however now has the opportunity of proving the naysayers wrong.

When the hunter becomes the hunted

The appointments of Chernoh Bah and Isata Mahoi as Minister of Information and Civic Education and Minister of Gender and Children’s Affairs respectively have been applauded by many, who consider them highly qualified to perform their functions. They have also been avid and articulate proponents for change as model representatives of civil society. They are expected to perform well but should note that “the hunter has now become the hunted” and should therefore take any criticisms in their stride.

Surprise, surprise: Whacha going on?

Augusta Jame Teima at the Sports Ministry is a surprising appointment as she was Chairman of the of the NDA party. Though some government supporters say this is indicative of the government’s commitment to inclusivity, other people ask why the NGC which is in a formal, highly publicised alliance has been left out in the cold. The retention of the Western Area Ministry headed by Adenkule King, which many consider a non-Ministry for various reasons also comes as a surprise. Well, what can I say about Denis Sandi, the new Minister of Works? A political survivor known for membership of multiple parties, he was until recently the ill-fated Minister of Lands, but obviously his political obituary was written much too hastily. There is a silent TV programme called “No comment” whose title I would like to invoke as an excuse for me not to comment. The hordes of people who were glad to see his back at the Lands Ministry may legitimately ask, as Vamboi the comedian would- “Whacha going on?”

The combative, battle tested loyalists

And lest I forget, I would like to congratulate our new Resident Minister East, Gbessay Jusu Ngobeh aka Chalkie for his new job. Time will tell what this colourful, larger than life, garrulous Resident Minister will bring to the table. He is one of three Resident Ministers with a long history (from pre-presidency) of fierce loyalty to President Bio-the others being Mohamed Alie in the South and Abu Abu Koroma in the North. They make the other Resident Minister North West, the urbane Umaru Bon Wurie appear like a Boy Scout!

The nice guys

There are high expectations of Ibrahim Alpha Sesay (Tex) at the Trade Ministry and Ernest Ndomahina at NACSA, both of whom have had considerable professional experience. The articulate Alhaji Alpha Kanu’s appointment as Presidential Spokesman does not come as a surprise as he is also well liked by the President. He holds the distinction of being Presidential spokesman for the two major political parties. Congratulations to Solomon Jamiru the new Press Secretary, who always articulates the government’s position very well and with candour. He is widely regarded as competent and trustworthy.

There are however criticisms of the cabinet which have been aired by both government critics and supporters. These include the relative inexperience of some of the appointees, perceived misplacement of some members considering their professionally bent, the near absence of people with private sector experience, poor representation of true green-blooded SLPP supporters who may also be young and brilliant, the bloated nature of the cabinet, and the perceived inordinate influence of “hidden hands” close to the President. Whilst some of these may not matter much or may be mere sour grapes, it behooves government to be mindful of what others say.

The truth of the matter however is that it is difficult for any President to make such appointments when there are so many considerations, some of which we may not be privy to. Besides, it is the President’s prerogative to hire and fire as he takes full responsibility for his government’s performance. Only he can rationalize his decisions. I borrow the words of the hymn writer and say: “Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan his work in vain. Bio is his own interpreter and he will make it plain”.

Notwithstanding the appointments, there are a few issues, which, though clear to some of us may need to be better articulated to detractors and to a wider populace.

  1. Better clarifying the role of the Chief Minister and his monitoring, supervisory, coordination and other responsibilities.
  2. Clarifying the roles, responsibilities and limits of authority of Dr Kandeh Yumkella in his new appointment as Chairman, Presidential Initiative for Climate Change, Renewable Energy and Food Security and giving this very competent man support in his new role.
  3. Clarifying the roles and responsibilities of the Minister of Communication, Technology and Innovation and how her job relates to other allied institutions;
  4. Clarifying interrelationship between ministries and parastatals and Agencies under their Ministries. This has been a long running problem. Many of them are still under the National Commission of Privatisation which continues to be headed by SLPP Chairman Dr. Prince Harding or under obdurate Boards.

Also the elephants in the room are the matters of ensuring that the elections-related squabbles with our development partners and the non-participation of the opposition APC are deftly and satisfactorily handled.

The new Ministers have a lot of work on their hands. Their work may be hampered by a host of factors including inadequate financial resources, poor human capacities in some MDAs and political adversaries and fifth columnists. They come into the job when Sierra Leone continues to face considerable financial problems with a big balance of payments deficit requiring the performance of the Real Sector to improve markedly. The government cannot continue to be a ” spend-spend” one, dishing out limited resources. Revenues from the Agriculture, mining, tourism and other services sectors, fisheries and manufacturing sectors need to improve significantly. The markedly big boost in our energy supplies is a few years down the line. Dialogue with the private sector needs to improve and I am glad to note the new Chief Minister has already started embarking on this.

Our new Ministers, young and not so young need to inculcate positive attributes like patriotism, honesty, integrity, humility, collegiality etc. which are not necessarily age-dependent to be successful. My prayer for them as they embark on this arduous journey is based on the serenity prayer- “God grant them the serenity to accept the things they cannot change, courage to change the things they can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Hearty congratulations to all appointees. The cabinet is finally out of the cabinet. Now what?

Ponder my thoughts.

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