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Deputy Info Minister raps ‘Voice Of America’ TV and Radio

Deputy Info Minister raps ‘Voice Of America’ TV and Radio

Sierra Leone’s Deputy Information Minister and Co-Government Spokesman, Sheka Tarawalie (Shekito), was a special guest of the Voice of America (both radio and television) on Monday 23rdApril 2012 as he granted a series of wide-ranging interviews at their Independence Avenue NW studios, Washington DC, USA.

Received and led by Sierra Leonean-born VOA anchor David Vandy, the Minister was welcomed and introduced to virtually all staff at the studios before granting the interviews to ‘African Beats’ (radio), ‘In-Focus’ (television) and ‘Daybreak Africa’ (radio) in that order.

Among the issues discussed were the following (and how the Minister responded to them):

How is the present government different from traditional African governments?

Minister Tarawalie said the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma is manifestly different from stereo-typed African governments in many ways, including an impeccable record of good governance and tolerance (where no one, including journalists, has ever been put in prison for their political or critical views). He said the government is so different in the approach to fighting corruption that the President, Ministers and all public officials declare their assets annually to ensure transparency and accountability.

Why the government has imported arms and ammunition

The Minister said, contrary to the propaganda being churned out, the Government did not purchase the arms to intimidate opponents during the elections. He stated that the procurement was done about three years ago, and it was only delivery delays that coincidentally made them to arrive in an election year. He said the security forces have the legitimate right to equip themselves for the protection of the State, especially to secure the borders (as the rebel war started as a cross-border skirmish), to fight against armed robbery, to protect large-scale investments, and for extremist sub-regional groups like Boko Haram not to perceive Sierra Leone as a soft spot. “When you come to America, you would at times see police officers with machine guns at the airport. It is not to kill people at random, but to send the message that the country is secure and being protected,” he maintained. He said in the immediate post-war era, it was the United Nations Peacekeeping Forces that were carrying modern weaponry in Sierra Leone, andthat since the security of the state is now solely at the hands of the local forces, they need to be equipped to modern standards. “We have a responsibility to maintain law and order,” he asserted.

Opposition figures in court

The Minister said no one is above the law, and just because you are in the opposition does not mean you should not be arrested if you break the law. He narrated the issue of the Freetown bye-election where some stabbing took place and the elected opposition councilor who got involved in an alleged kidnapping case. He said none of these cases are politically-motivated, but the law-enforcement agencies have a duty to perform their functions; while stating that the courts will give fair verdicts on the cases.

How independent are institutions like NEC, ACC and the Judiciary?

Minister Tarawalie said the independence of the National Electoral Commission (NEC) could be traced to the chairperson, Christiana Thorpe, who was first appointed by the previous government but went ahead to declare the results when the incumbents lost. He said, since the APC came to power, there have been bye-elections wherein both the opposition and the government have lost and won without any interference with the work of the commission. On the Anti-Corruption Commission (ACC), he said it was this government that gave independence, autonomy, and teeth to the commission by removing it from supervision by the Attorney General’s Office, and that government ministers and other top government functionaries have been indicted, prosecuted and found guilty without any interference from the government. He maintained  that this also goes to show the independence of the judiciary.

War victims and the prevention of another war

The Co-Government Spokesman said, in collaboration with humanitarian organizations, many war victims have been provided for in terms of accommodation and other material support, and that Government had set up the War Victims Fund for the purpose of continuing to look into their affairs. He said former combatants are now intricately integrated into the society that one can hardly now tell who was a participant or not. He said the setting up of the Special Court was a good idea as the leaders of all factions, including those on the government side, were indicted and subsequently imprisoned to act as a deterrent. He said the proposed sentencing of former Liberian President Charles Taylor (the ‘kingpin’ of the war in Sierra Leone) on the 26th April (eve of the 51st Independence celebrations) could only be a coincidence that would cheer up Sierra Leoneans on Independence Day (27th April).

Winning the November elections

Minister Tarawalie did not mince his words in categorically stating that President Ernest Bai Koroma will indeed be given a second term by the Sierra Leonean people because he has demonstrated a love for his country by transforming its landscape through the ‘Agenda for Change’. He said the people of Sierra Leone have been praying for a good leader, and they have found one in President Koroma. “We don’t need to intimidate anybody about it, President Koroma’s popularity is unmatchable,” he stated.

The interviews will be aired and broadcast this week.

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