When David Cameron was leader of the then opposition Tory party, he rode his bicycle against the traffic on a London street. Even though he was obviously seen then as the Prime Minister in-waiting, he apologised and paid the fine any other citizen would have paid on the commission of such an offence after the press had highlighted the incident. Not here!
I have noticed an unnecessarily large and heavily-armed police convoy criss-crossing the nook and cranny of town and country with the new Minister of Internal Affairs, Musa Tarawallie and another, this time with soldiers, with the defence minister, Paolo Conteh. Obviously Mr Tarawallie is not the first such minister but he is the first to show such extravagance and waste of state resources and personnel on convoy and self-importance. What’s more is the fact that the minister and his convoy flout traffic rules at will.
Sometime last week I was driving down Liverpool Street, a one-way route where situates the office of the minister of internal affairs. I was delayed for over five minutes by a police pickup van in the convoy of the internal affairs minister, making a U-turn in clear breach of traffic rules and regulations. There was clearly no emergency. Once the driver had struggled to make the U-turn the police onboard wanted me to give way with no sign of an emergency or purposefulness. I refused insisting they should pull over and let me continue going downward since I was on the right. Of course as is expected with some overzealous uniformed men in such situations, they started screaming at me to pull over but I stuck to my gun. Apparently one of them identified me and told their driver to pull over so I would continue to where I was headed. I took time though to tell them they were doing the wrong thing and that their neither they nor their boss was above the law.
The fact that Musa Tarawallie as minister of internal affairs has the police under him should not get into his head and make him see himself as being above the law with such blatant disregard for law and order. This is a country where even the president has driven alone in his car without let or hindrance. Even though I wouldn’t advise him to do such again, one thing that clearly points to is the fact that senior government officials are under no threat to warrant such huge convoy my dear friend internal affairs minister uses. He probably needs to be told that even though the entire police force was under his control, it was police officers who arrested Chief Sam Hinga Norman when the law required such, and handcuffed him. It is amazing how our class of politicians doesn’t learn from the past.
Somewhat interestingly, if Minister Tarawallie can use, maybe misuse, his power in such a manner in the capital Freetown, one can only imagine the extent to which he can go in the less exposed and not-too-conscious provinces where people worship authority even at the risk of their own existence their own safety and their own security. But perhaps Musa Tarawallie is borrowing from the leaves of his opposite number in the military. The defence minister also drives in an unnecessarily long convoy with the soldiers following armed to the teeth.
Despite the tremendous power he wields, probably the third most powerful in government, Minister of Information Alhaji Ibrahim Ben Kargbo drives around often uneventfully and unnoticed. But for the letters “MIC” his car plate carries you would hardly know he is a minister driving past. Shouldn’t the young and effusive ministers learn form him and be a bit modest, less wasteful and law-abiding in their public show of power and authority? A minister was once not a minister and will one day cease being one.
What’s more is that some of the trips these ministers embark on, especially at dark, have nothing to do with state functions and are as personal as personal can be. They keep their security detail long hours beyond their labour rights would allow for, and wear out and tear the vehicles and consume so much fuel at the expense of the taxpayer. Someone please tell me what stops the state from operating on a deficit!
The other day I read a complaint written by a former colleague and now civil society activist Fallah Ensa-Ndeyma about his encounter with the Deputy Minister of Health, Sahr Borbor Sawyerr. The activist alleged that he was physically assaulted by the deputy minister because he did not refer to him as “Honourable”. I also read what was intended to be a rebuttal by the deputy minister but appeared to be anything but that. And in an interview on a local radio station, the deputy minister did not deny he assaulted the civil society activist. He admitted to pointing his finger at him and went further to say that that constituted an assault.
Even if he didn’t slap him as alleged, he assaulted him. In fact he owned up to it and kept rambling and prevaricating in one of the most puerile of ways. And instead of responding to the issue he kept teaching Kissi language on air, sounding as unremorseful as he did not sound convincing. Gosh! Honourable indeed! Was that an honourable behaviour by him to point a finger at the activist even if he’d disrespected him? And hear him threaten his fellow citizen and tribesman, on air, that he would be dealt with if he went again to the house of the incident. My goodness! What’s happening to law and order in the head of some of our public officials.
Can DfID or some other institution please offer some course for our ministers and deputy ministers on the use of public property and respect for the rights of the citizens they should be most accountable to. They should let the police rise up to the challenge and refuse to carry out unlawful orders and implement the rules and the law as enshrined. The police force needs the many police officers gallivanting with the internal affairs minister to help maintain law and order. So does the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces need the extra soldiers assigned to the defence minister. Mind you we have not inherited this country from our grandfathers. Rather, we have borrowed it from our grandchildren hence must hold it with honesty and humility and not destroy it for future generations.
By Umaru Fofana