Salone Independence Anniversary: a Tale of Multiple Woes
In May 2010 or thereabout, President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma inaugurated a presidential task force known as the 50th Independence Anniversary Planning Committee with Dr. William Konteh as Chairman. The President had invested so much trust and confidence in the committee that their appointment inspired hope in the people for a successful celebration. Some of the committee members he directly appointed. (Photo: Adeyemi Paul, author)
The committee, representing various shades of opinion, was given the task to plan and organize the country’s independence anniversary in a manner that will add colour and glamour to a nation that was notorious for coups and violent conflicts that climaxed in a protracted civil war. Invariably, planning and organizing the country’s 50th independence anniversary also entailed re-branding Sierra Leone such that it will attract more foreign visitors of all shades and colour with the ultimate goal of boosting the nation’s ailing tourism industry and further lure investors to the country.
At the domestic front, the anniversary celebration, if properly organized would show-case the country’s rich and diverse culture; its unique and fabulous hospitality and heritage. But above all, it will unite its people around a common purpose: the consolidation of peace for sustainable development!
But alas, just when Sierra Leoneans were hoping that the celebration will be a huge success, the anniversary cards started falling apart. Revelations of financial impropriety involving some members of the committee began to make headlines. Crisis of confidence set in.
At the centre of the crisis was Dr. William Conteh, formerly Chairman, later coordinator and then finally sacked from the anniversary committee. He was reported to have been earning a monthly stipend of Le18 million plus overseas bonuses. He was sacked alongside his secretary, Yenniva Sogbeh-Sesay who too was reportedly netting Le12 million a month. Only these two were receiving salaries from a source that is yet to be established.
I am convinced that the sacking of these two key figures from the planning committee close to the independence anniversary will have some bearing on the work of the committee although Charlie Hughes, said to be the committee’s programme manager, pretended as if nothing had happened. He was on air the other day lying to the listeners that preparations were far underway. What are they preparing and for who, if one should ask?
Barely one month to the anniversary there is nothing visible on the ground: the streets are bare and filthy; only one or two banners are flying in some parts of the city. The roads are dusty and bumpy, the rest of the populace are virtually excluded from the planning, left to grope in the dark for bits and pieces of information. Mere speculations have only undermined their hopes, so to speak.
The fact of the matter is that the anniversary committee is in crisis and the celebrations are in jeopardy!
It is sad to note that while other countries in the sub-region such as Senegal and Nigeria in 2010 and Ghana in 2007, have had their 50th anniversary celebrated in grand style, Sierra Leoneans at home are raising eyebrows, wondering what was happening to their anniversary which has been enmeshed in controversy of one sort or the other.
The case of Julius Spencer is even more embarrassing. A former dramatist, lecturer, government minister and media guru, Spencer’ action amounted to a sabotage; some regard him the mastermind of the near collapse of the anniversary celebrations. His hasty resignation has done no good to his image. He is NOW facing the music. The Anti-Corruption Commission, we are told, is after him and when one becomes an undesirable visitor to the ACC, history begins to frown at you. The doors of Pademba begin to open wide to receive you.
I hope this will not happen to poor Julius. I hope the sackings and resignation do not derail preparations ahead of our celebration otherwise those who have invested their trust, their hopes and their monies in the committee would have done so in vein – a disservice to this nation!
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