Sierra Leone Association of Journalists at 46 YEARS …
Celebrating President Kelvin Lewis With A Standing Ovation
Being the voice for journalists and journalism in the country, the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ) was established on 5th June 1971 during the one party rule of the All Peoples Congress led by President Siaka Probyn Stevens. As an inclusive association, it was established to protect its members, guard, and promote media freedom, professionalism and ethical standards in journalism.
Over the years with no technological advancement in the country, SLAJ and its practicing journalists fiercely served as a watchdog over the excesses of the government and those in positions of trust. The media industry acted as an advocate and an intermediary between the government and the governed. At that time, many Sierra Leoneans, if not all, were with the opinion that the media adequately took the role of the opposition party. Most publications were geared towards promoting democratic good governance and exposing the ills of society.
Today, in as much as the media can serve as a channel for national cohesion, and as a weapon for social and political change, it has not been able to flee the visage of criticism. The media has been accused of compromising their ethical principles by showing awful disregard for the notion of truth and neutrality. Others are of the view that majority of the registered media outlets have outlived their usefulness and resorted to promoting the ideals of their political godfathers.
Celebrating 46 years of either successes or failures, SLAJ has gone through different leadership from Frank Kposowa, Hon. Ibrahim Ben Kargbo, Umaru Fofanah among others. One of those whose leadership has revolutionalise the association with high caliber of dexterity and integrity is the Kelvin Lewis and Moses Kargbo’s led administration. Similarly, President Umaru Fofanah’s led executive did a very good job amidst serious controversies between him and his Secretary General-Ishmael Koroma. What was unachievable is institutional structure, which is key to the development of any organization or nation.
Borrowing from the Sixth President of the United States of America-John Quincy Adams, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” Inspired by this wise quote, I have been unapologetically tempted to say that Kelvin Xander Lewis is the best President of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists (SLAJ). Yes the professional actions of this unassuming gentleman has inspired me and many Sierra Leoneans within and outside the media profession to conclude that he is one of the greatest leaders the association has produced.
The foundation for Kelvin Lewis’ re-election bid was “integrity.” Honestly, integrity is strongly a missing gap in our socio-economic and political system. In one of his numerous campaign messages to be voted in, Kelvin said, “I have brought into this profession integrity, and I think that people with integrity should stand up. I want this profession to be respected. And I am changing the image of the association and I want to continue to do that.” This was also alluded by the renowned Economist and current head of Department for Economics and Commerce-Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone-Mr. Samuel Brima aka Sammy J. Sammy ‘J’ has reechoed on popular radio Democracy-FM 98.1’s Good Morning Show that “we are stagnated because of lack of integrity.”
Former President of the United States of America, Barack Obama, during his visit to Ghana affirmed that, “development depends upon good institutional structure. That is the ingredient which has been missing in far too many places, for far too long.” President Obama was addressing members of the Ghanaian Parliament at the International Conference Center in Accra.
In order to give a facelift to SLAJ as an effective functioning body, Kelvin embarked on a transformation agenda by putting visible and working structures in place. He said, “I am putting those structures in place. Before me SLAJ had employees but none of them were paying their NASSIT. Their NASSIT, Pay as you earn, NRA, were not been paid. I regularized all of that.” This was what none of his predecessors could achieve!
Without being sentimental, Kelvin Lewis’ opponent-Stanley Bangura (although not served as President), a fine hard working gentleman has been an intimate friend and a colleague. I would have prejudiced my pen to write more about Stanley (a man I am always around with) but truth is the healer of an open wound called conscience.
Inherently, Kelvin inherited a system where SLAJ had no comprehensive data/register for its members and no audited account was ever presented by his predecessors from a professionally certified accounting firm. In an exclusive interview with Politico newspaper, Kelvin Lewis said: “SLAJ registration as a body corporate was nothing. It never existed. The documents were nowhere to be found. I regularized that. So I am fighting now to have a register, electronic data base. I have developed that. And I would continue to put financial structures. Never in the history of SLAJ, 45 years, has anybody presented an audited account from a real, certified, professional, accountant. I am going to be the first to do that and I am not going to do that with any accounting firm but with the fourth largest accounting firm in the world – KPMG. And if anybody doubts the integrity of KPMG, they should look back at the Ebola funds, when people started twinkling with the Ebola funds; KPMG said we are hands off. That tells you how they value their integrity. They are doing it now and they would do it for three years and you would get to know the whole history. If I have eaten money would I open the books to an auditing firm like that, who could not bend on their integrity?”
Even though he went to Njala University, Kelvin has frowned at Masters Students who lectures at Masters level especially at Mass Communication Department (University of Sierra Leone). He is of the view that it will not be nice for Masters Students to continue to be teaching other Masters students. To help remedy this situation, he lobbied to secure a PhD Scholarship. Indeed an offer from Airtel to get a bursary of US$5, 000 for one PhD student was secured. This is a demonstration of a sincere leadership. I have refused to mention the prominent Kelvin Lewis Commission of Inquiry and the reliable leadership and integrity demonstrated with impartial findings and recommendations. If not all, almost 95% of journalists have benefited from trainings facilitated by Kelvin Lewis led executive. Let us finally commend Kelvin and his team for the partnership to organize the ongoing National Dialogue Series.
Like I stated in the previous Pen of The Voiceless Column, the media in Sierra Leone is a free-for-all enterprise as stated in section 25(1) Act No. 6 of the 1991 Constitution. Some Editors, Reporters and other newsmen are using this constitutional provision and stopping at nothing but to satisfy their selfishness and personal desire in the news business to satisfy the wills of their political godfathers at the detriment of the profession.
The other challenge is that the ethical standards of Sierra Leone’s media or journalism found in the Independent Media Commission’s Code of Ethics/Practice are being repudiated by quacks and so-called professional journalists without any compunction. This is the challenge we are confronted with as a body. The unanswered question is, what are we doing to less the burden on SLAJ and IMC?
- As a way of recommendation/s, let me recommend that IMC should make it compulsory that no one should practice without accredited license from SLAJ and IMC. If lawyers can put this in place, why not IMC/SLAJ.
- Kelvin Lewis led executive should have a working website and a digitalized ID cards for all members.
- What is the status of the land provided to SLAJ for the construction of its headquarters? SLAJ should start working on this project now.
- Kelvin Lewis’ led executive should encourage all the old folks (Journalists) to regularize their status and allow them to fully participate as there are a lot to learn from them. The young folks need to learn from their experiences.
This is the pen of the Voiceless Sierra Leoneans: Follow me on twitter-SannohElkass and LinkedIn
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