The Vice President of Sierra Leone is supposed to be Chief Samuel Sam-Sumana. He was President Ernest Bai Koroma’s running mate in 2007, and again during the past 2012 presidential elections. But since becoming VP in 2007, Sam-Sumana has been in the shadows of his boss, keeping a low profile, not to surpass the president’s stature both in public and on the international field. In the past, Vice Presidents have yielded a lot of power in Sierra Leone. In fact, at one time, the country had two VP’s – to balance the ethnic equation – this was under President Siaka Stevens. S.I. Koroma and C.A Kamara-Taylor, were powerful political figures and were on many occasions sworn-in to act as President during the absence of the substantive holder, Siaka Stevens. They were both looked upon as leaders of their respective communities, and their positions never challenged despite some controversies during their tenure.
Siaka Stevens never made his VP’s look inferior in cabinet or public. Stevens knew that belittling his two VP’s would in a way demean his own position as president, as the position of Vice President is an extension of the presidency. But modern day politics in Sierra Leone has changed all this. The constitution has been modified to a certain extent, and the VP’s powers seems to have been indirectly diluted. But his role remains predominantly the same. But, has the present leadership taken steps to ensure the VP’s powers are curtailed?
When one takes a close look at the present political spectrum in the country, one may be tempted to think so. There has been an avalanche of appointments and role-shifting by the Head of State. New advisers have popped-up here and there. A new position of Chief-of-Staff has been created at state house. Even the disgracefully sacked Information Minister, I.B. Kargbo, has been given a new advisory role at State House that has seen him being delegated with functions that are typically those of the Vice President of the republic. The VP’s role has been systematically lynched by the state, to demean his authority, and present him more as a ceremonial implementer than anything reflecting the significance of his position.
The Head of State has the prerogative to assign state functions to anyone, as he so wishes, but it becomes fundamentally flawed when those functions are prescribed to be the direct role and responsibilities of the Vice President, especially when he (the VP) is capable, present, and qualified to perform such duties. Such actions have the propensity to undermine the role of the VP and could necessitate serious insubordination across cabinet leading to utter disrespect from his inferiors. In the past, it has been reported that I.B. Kargbo and a few other cabinet colleagues were given directives to approach the VP and question his role in a certain scandal that had threatened the credibility of the government. What could be more demeaning?
Kargbo, who has been kept in government despite serious allegations of corrupt practices, has in the past also been accused of sabotaging the presidency by aligning himself with rogue opposition journalists to slander the good name of the president. It was shocking to then learn that after all the debacle, he was appointed as adviser to the president. It lends no credibility to the presidency, when people are appointed to positions of authority by virtue of political arm-twisting, despite their perfidious background. I.B. Kargbo was one of those in the cabinet who was asking for the VP’s head to roll. He is still yet to answer to questions of misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars of donor funds meant for U.N. projects in Sierra Leone. This matter seems to have been swept under the carpet. But, the ACC Commissioner will be approached by this press for answers as to the former Information Minister’s role.
Prior to I.B Kargbo’s appointment as adviser to the president, no other presidential adviser have been given such prominent roles representing the Head of State at important functions, well not to my knowledge, and considering how Kargbo was at the fore-front of masterminding the exit of the VP, one may be forgiven to wonder whether there is any deliberateness at play to frustrate the VP, despite all the humiliation he has already faced in a turbulent tenure as the country’s second-gentleman.
The Head of State is without doubt someone who habours good intentions, but it will be a disservice to him if he is not told that he has surrounded himself, albeit inadvertently, by some who do not have his interest, or that of the state at heart. Corruption is at the very heart of government in Sierra Leone, and the reckless fashion in which some abuse their offices to divert monies meant for the welfare of the people, is indeed alarming. Some top government officials are dismissive when confronted about lucrative contracts being handed over to family members or political associates, saying its all about the Agenda for Prosperity, and they will not be left out, they will also prosper.
The Sierra Leone diplomatic service is in total shambles after being left in a derelict state by the former Director General of Foreign Affairs, Sulay Daramy. Diplomats have endured a reign of terror under Daramy’s stewardship, as top career personnel were required to fly in to Freetown on a yearly basis to pay ‘homage’ to Daramy, or face the consequence of being recalled, or transferred to a less lucrative posting. Daramy was the recipient of corrupt payments by diplomatic staffs, some who even sold the country’s diplomatic license plates in exchange for thousands of dollars – to ensure their survival in their respective missions. Despite such abuse of his position, Daramy was appointed recently as Chief of Protocol at State House. Daramy even masterminded the recall of an outstanding diplomat, Joseph Koroma, who has served his country with impeccable credentials and distinction both as an international diplomat at the UN, and as a cabinet minister, and subsequently as the country’s Ambassador to China, fabricating the most ridiculous stories about the man, just because he didn’t dance to his tune and that of the corrupt cabal in government. Daramy accused the Ambassador of diverting funds meant for the celebration of the country’s Independence, when in fact the Ambassador hosted the most outstanding event in the entire diplomatic service, marking the country’s 50 years of Independence from Britain. In his short time as Ambassador to China. Joseph Koroma successfully negotiated the construction of a new international Airport for the country with the Chinese government. Daramy presided over a disgraceful act that has brought shame to the country’s diplomatic service. There must be relief in diplomatic circles to see Daramy’s back.
The appointment of Richard Konteh as the new Chief of Staff at State House was a timely one, as not only is he qualified for the office, he is a distinguished Sierra Leonean who has carried himself exceptionally well in public office since his time as a cabinet minister. He took over the reins at State House after a controversial period when his predecessor was also accused of usurping the role of the Vice President. As Chief of Staff, Keifala Marah ruled State House with an iron fist and was reported to challenge ministers and give directives as if he was their boss. Whether his work was cut-out to be like that on the orders of the presidency, or it was all just a blatant abuse of power, only he could tell. But many were thrilled when he was moved and appointed Finance Minister. There were also reports before the November 2012 elections, that he was positioned to replace VP Sam-Sumana as running mate, something State House quickly denied, with a statement saying Marah was not a politician but a technocrat, a regrettable comment that has come to haunt the presidency now that he has appointed him as Finance Minister.
In about five years’ time, the country will again go to the polls to elect new leaders, and with the current destabilizing structure within the opposition SLPP, it is only obvious that the ruling party will once again secure the mantle of state. And the battle as to who will succeed President Ernest Bai Koroma has started in earnest. The natural successor is the current VP, Samuel Sam-Sumana, but as the party convention starts in earnest, a few political heavyweights are positioning themselves as potential heirs. And one of them is reported to have bragged that he has the support of the current leader and Head of State. Selecting someone as running mate in an election, and subsequently becoming your Vice President, is an endorsement of their capabilities and qualities to act in your capacity at any given point. The VP is supposed to be the principal adviser to the president. Whether this is apparent in the current status-quo is a matter for debate. When other so called advisers are encouraged to step into the shoes of the VP, how much damage has this done to the presidency, when in fact the two positions are one component?
© 2013, Ahmed M Kamara. All rights reserved. – The views expressed here are purely those of the author and not necessarily those of the publishers. – Newstime Africa content cannot be reproduced in any form – electronic or print – without prior consent of the Publishers. Copyright infringement will be pursued and perpetrators prosecuted.
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