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Comeuppance and the arrogance of ministers in Sierra Leone

Comeuppance and the arrogance of ministers in Sierra Leone

“Comeuppance” is one of my favourite words in the English language. When pronounced by some non-native speakers of the language it sounds a bit like “come upon us”. That may not be the etymology of it – coming up before a judge or a court for judgement is more like it – but it basically boils down to your actions catching up with you.

I have observed many of our new political leaders in the last one year. It’s unbelievably pathetic how many of them have learned nothing from the iniquities that had characterised the actions and inaction of those before them. In power, they behave as if there is no God let alone a tomorrow. They develop a swagger, their comportment begs for pity and their perception of all things and people powerless begins to smack of jiggery-pokery.

It is sad how politics in Sierra Leone has always been a matter of anything but public service. This was taken to a new shocking level in the last 10 years when beggars yesterday became the nouveau riche over night, as has been made evident by revelations albeit allegations made at the commissions of the inquiry and the many audit reports we have read. This was also made evident by the behaviour of public officials in yesteryears as we observed ourselves as ordinary citizens. So much so that one would imagine that those memories of recent bad behaviours by those political appointees would at least for some time be kept in the backburner.

But no! Not in a country where politics has been made so financially rewarding that for many – perhaps most – it is the (only) means of survival and even relevance. Without it there is hardly anything else to fall back on. They become so lacking in presence that their existence is in doubt or question. So you begin to understand why they even betray themselves – never mind others – to remain politically relevant.

One of the most irksome things in the last few years was the pattern adopted by some senior government officials, among them ministers, to be driving as recklessly as the word can be. They violated traffic rules with reckless abandon by driving against traffic, covering their registration plates with some black cloth, and having unnecessary convoys.

Section 8 of The Road Traffic Act of 2007 reads thus: “When an identification mark fixed on a motor vehicle or trailer being used or kept on a road is in any way – (a) obscured, or (b) rendered, or allowed to become, not easily distinguishable, the owner commits an offence”. Despite this, it is common practice by some government ministers to obscure the registration plate of their official vehicles using a black cloth. Relying on the fact that the police are not insulated from political control, traffic officers even salute them when they commit such an office. But what else can they do? Even senior police officers don’t have their bosses to back them in such situations.

One of the most decent police officers I have known is Chris Charlie. He is now retired. When he was Assistant Inspector General of Police he accosted the then Mayor of Freetown, Herbert George Williams who had covered the registration plate of his official vehicle with a clot and was parked along Campbell Street. Not only did the then mayor sound remorseless, Chris’s complaint against Herbert to the police boss at the time, Brima Acha Kamara never saw the light of day.

Four months into the presidency of Julius Maada Bio, this old habit started manifesting itself by the new kids on the political block being as bad as those before them. It prompted the president’s office to issue a statement part of which reads: “His Excellency the President has expressed grave concern over the disregard/disrespect for Traffic Rules and Regulations by vehicles and other motor-driven objects, including Government Registered Vehicles carrying Ministers. This practice is not only contrary to Traffic Rules and Regulations, which are punishable by law, but also, it demoralizes disciplined and law-abiding users of the road, and has the potential to cause fatal accidents, particularly when they drive against recognized traffic. With immediate effect therefore, all vehicles and motor-driven objects, including vehicles carrying Ministers of Government (save Emergency Vehicles as defined by law) MUST adhere to Traffic Rules and Regulations. Any vehicle or motor-driven object that violates Traffic Rules and Regulations, particularly those that run against the traffic will face the full force of the law. The Inspector General of Police and the Chief Executive of the Sierra Leone Road Safety Authority are advised accordingly.”

This was followed by a release from the Sierra Leone Police to the same effect. But 10 months on, not a single lawless-behaving minister has been brought to book. If anything the recklessness has worsened with almost every Tom, Dick or Harry who has political appointment driving against traffic and/or covering their plate. Or the police pick and choose who to bite eh! The law should be no respecter of anyone especially one who breaks it with arrogance and without compunction.  At a time when it was apparent that he was the UK prime minister in waiting, David Cameron rode his bicycle against the traffic on a one-way street. He apologised and paid the fine and committed to never doing it again.

In February 2012, Chris Huhne resigned as Energy Secretary (Minister of Energy we would call it here) when the police were obviously going to charge him with perverting the course of justice. It was over a 2003 speeding incident. Then he and his wife, Vicky Pryce, had been driving home. The speed camera picked up the car for exceeding the speed limit. He was apparently on a penalty point for an earlier traffic offence. So the wife lied by owning up to the offence and bore the penalty.

Nearly 10 years later, the edges frayed between husband and wife, and the truth came to light. The minister had to resign. And the wife was also punished. This is a society where the law doesn’t pick and choose. Not in Sierra Leone where people in power seem to be above the law. Sickening!

Also an MP and former minister, Richard Benyon was banned from driving for six months. This, after he had pleaded guilty to texting while driving. He was stopped by a police motorcyclist who had seen him committing the offence. He apologised and admitted that his action was inexcusable. Here the policeman would have been sacked for simply doing his job.

“I deeply regret my actions and entirely accept the verdict of the court” he said, adding: “There is absolutely no excuse for texting whilst driving – even in stationary and very heavy, slow traffic, as was the situation in my case”. In addition to the ban, he was fined £421 which included prosecution costs and a victim surcharge. And by the way what is this thing about the Minister of Internal Affairs having a convoy of vehicles sandwiching him! We criticised Pallo Conteh for this showboating even though we failed to stop him, and we must also do so to Edward Soluku in the hope that we will succeed. Such ostentatious lifestyle is unnecessary, showy and wasteful to the taxpayer. Who is after him anyway!

And by the way the police chief has also joined in the lifestyle. You wonder why they lose weight, finesse and face when they leave power!

You wonder why they are desperate to get to power or keep power! Or you wonder why we keep making the same mistakes of the past as a nation! They do not learn. This is why comeuppance comes upon them.

But this is not all about the arrogance of some of our politicians in power. Here, some political appointees, whose job description requires them to report for duty probably only once a month, jockey for official vehicles and drivers, and a salary so high that some of those who work their butts off every day have reasons to feel de-motivated. How arrogant! The status quo must change! Impressively, a friend in a very critical Whatsapp group I am a part of, posted yesterday that he was pleasantly surprised that President Bio’s morning convoy passed them on the same day by The Light at Brookfields without much ado. No blockages, no wasting of the people’s time needlessly when there is an alternative way of doing it.

By Umaru Fofana

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