Two significant events have taken place, which the press went in depth and succeeded in saving the country from embarrassment and robbery at broad daylight: The cocaine plane and the salary increase of the President.
The constitution declares that the press shall at all times be free to uphold the fundamental objectives of the constitution and to highlight the accountability of the government to the people.
When the cocaine saga occurred, it was the press that went in depth in helping the situation and it was also the press that forced the powers that be that because of the explanations from the control tower at the airport and the Transport and Aviation Minister, that he be sacked. The press was accused by some people of doing the trial by the media hype, but it was restoring honour and dignity for which the president heeded and asked the Transport Minister to step aside. The exposé is still ongoing by the press into the cocaine saga.
Again, what could be referred to as broad daylight robbery was exposed by the press when last Thursday the salary increase of the President broke out. Parliament is on recess, but was called last Thursday to discuss and amend the National Drug Control Act 2008 – to make it retroactive on the cocaine suspects – which was sent by the president under a certificate of urgency and signed by the president. On the order paper for Thursday 21st August 2008, first on it was laying of papers by the Acting Majority leader of the House, Hon. SBB Dumbaya, which contained the Presidents, Vice Presidents, Ministers and Deputy Ministers (conditions of service) order 2008 and also the state salaries, pensions, gratuities and other benefits Act 2003 (Act No 4 of 2003). Mind you, these were statutory instruments No. 11 of 2008. Who cannot say the statutory instrument was not just why Parliament was convened? If after being tabled in parliament and nobody raised a motion for it to be debated, it becomes law after 21 working days. Hon. Eric Jumu of SLPP raised a concern that, because of the nature of the statutory instrument, it was better if it were debated. Also because it has been gazetted and the press having a look at it, exposed how it was going to kill poor Sierra Leone.
It sparked debates that the president was not aware of the instrument and also not interested in salary increase. All minds pointed at the resigned Secretary to the President, Sanpha Koroma, that he might have given Parliament the consent without the notice of the president. In Parliament, there is the committee on privileges that determines the salaries, especially that of the President. That committee is headed by the speaker and other members like the majority leader, minority leader, the labour minister and the finance minister advising the committee. This committee after agreeing informs the President’s Office and if the President’s Office gives consent it is gazetted and then laid before the House.
The press pushed further to ask since it was denied that the president knew nothing about it, for it to be investigated which finally landed in the resignation of the Secretary to the President. It is better to have somebody as Secretary to the President who has gone through the civil service diligently. The President appoints his Secretary on his sole discretion.
Two offices were blamed: The Secretary to the President and that of the committee in Parliament and if it’s an embarrassment for the President’s office, why not blame the committee for privileges in Parliament? Parliament is the organ of state in which the constitution vests the power to make laws for the peace, security and good governance of Sierra Leone. It is the supreme legislative body and is not subject to any other authority except the constitution that is why it has to exercise its law-making power within the limits of the constitution – otherwise, the law it makes is unconstitutional.
It is interesting to know that Parliament is composed of the President, the Speaker and members and that is why it becomes doubtful when it is said the President was not aware of his salary increase. Our 1991 constitution is modeled partly on the British Parliament and partly on the American Congress. The United Kingdom Parliament is composed of three institutions: The Queen, the House of Lords and the House of Commons. Our draft constitution was to be made of the President, a second chamber and the House of Representatives, but that idea of a second chamber was not bought; rather, it was replaced with the speaker in order to maintain the tripartite composition of Parliament.
Questions really needed to be asked that, had the statutory instrument not been objected to or exposed by the media and passed into law, would the president not take the salary increase? And why was it that the statutory instrument was placed on the order paper on that day the amended Drug bill was sent under a certificate of urgency? And also, was it a hoax that it was tabled on that day when Parliament was only reconvened to amend the drug law when they are on recess and after 21 days, by which time they would have returned from recess and it would have become law?
Can somebody praise us (the media) for our good jobs and can somebody tell someone that the media stands for the people and not against them? But I do not want you to have it that it was the media that caused the laying off of the Transport Minister and the resignation of the Secretary to the President, it was the circumstance and their involvements.
But I must also laud Mr Sampha Koroma for taking the blame for his staff when they acted without his authority. I wish under similar circumstances, other heads of department will take full responsibility most notably the former Transport Minister.
By Ishmael Bayoh