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Rice for the soldiers, what’s the novelty?

Rice for the soldiers, what’s the novelty?

I admired the late President Siaka Stevens in many respects; he certainly was an astute politician, a self-made man who would have earned the enviable title of being one of Africa’s greatest leaders. I have often said that if he had applied his great talents towards the economic development of this country, Sierra Leone would have been the Singapore of West Africa plus some more today, especially as our country had the resources. But it didn’t happen.

It was always great fun to be around him when he was in his elements; of anecdotes, he was second to none. Shekie would reproduce every one of Smythe’s Andy Capp cartoon strips which appeared in the London Daily Mirror of those days without repeating himself.

In the run-off to the 1982 general elections, S I Koroma was determined to demonstrate who was really “IN CHARGE” in the Port Loko district. There occurred one of those familiar incidents in late Abu Kamara’s constituency where a youngster who all were aware was sponsored by SI, was an intending challenger to my friend Abu. The victims were brought down to State House and Abu Kamara told the bizarre story of how they spotted a supporter of his opponent pushing a pedal bicycle at the far end of the field where they were  holding a rally. His men then “attempted to retrieve the young man’s bicycle from him.” After listening carefully to Abu’s narrative, Shekie turned round to him and said, “AB, I am not a scholar of English, but how could you retrieve something that does not belong to you, is that not asking for trouble?”

So it is with the APC; they have that penchant to drag things from the past, things that the leadership is well aware were not only not in their best interest but which was also a source of much disaffection among the people. So it is with their proposal to restore the infamous rice supply to the military. And they’ve announced it with their usual fanfare as if it is a novelty.

Kef Dukulay writing in the Unity newspaper of Wednesday June 20, has given a detailed account of the practice, especially how it was abused and made every officer rich, while most senior officers became very rich. It was a source of corruption and a get rich gimmick by the top brass of the army. Besides, the supply from the contractors was usually far in excess of the number of enlisted men and women of the armed forces.

On assuming office former President Tejan-Kabbah and his deputy defense minister Hinga Norman saw through the conspiracy to defraud, weighed the negative effect on the country’s meager resources at the time. They decided to abandon the practice and substituted direct cash payment to each enlisted man and woman in lieu of the supposed bag of rice which never reached the majority and which was often accumulated by a few greedy senior officers. Thus the soldiers were never left high and dry, nor was the cash deducted from their monthly salary.

It is that cursed programme that the party is resuscitating with an obvious objective. They give the impression that they are doing the troops a great favour when we all know who the ultimate beneficiaries will be. The current deputy minister of defense was a commissioned officer at the time having retired with the rank of major. It must be assumed that as a senior officer he must have been a direct beneficiary.

As far as the rest of us are concerned, like everything else let the APC continue with total disregard to the problems such schemes create for them. There is no scarcity of rice in the open market, so why do the top brass have to buy it for the men? We wish them well.  

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