By:Winstanley R Bankole Johnson
Sometime in 2006 and together with Mr.Kanja Sesay and two others I cannot now recollect, I was a panelist in an Fourah Bay College (FBC) Mary Kingsley symposium organized by Dr. Denis Sandy, former Cabinet Minister of Lands, to dilate on the topic “Are Non Governmental Organisations (NGOs – including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) Really NGOs? The rationale I believe was to either compliment the goods deeds of CSOs as partners in national development (which in fact should be their remit), or expose their nefarious activities as saboteurs and 5th Columnists within 3rd world emerging economies and which in practice most of them are.
Back then even though (unknown to Kanja Sesay) I was intricately enmeshed within his extended family connections, that initial contact basically degenerated into a psychological contest between the APC (Mayor) and the SLPP parties. As an FBC alumnus (Fourabite), the location afforded the other panelists a nostalgic ambience to use the first few minutes into their presentations to reminisce on their glorious student days, a possible stunt to win over the hearts and minds of participants just in case votes were going to be taken. They were not; and in fact no winner emerged from that debate. But perhaps because of the advantages of education, mutual respect between Mr. Kanja Sesay and myself have enhanced tremendously and even subsuming previously palpable parochial APC/SLPP rivalries on the altar of nationalism, since that encounter.
Suffice it to say however that whether by a default or otherwise, the rational for the 2006 FBC symposium remains un-clarified positively or negatively to date, as recently evidence from a raucous reported by Umaru Fofana in a BBC A.M news about two Wednesdays ago, between our government and CSOs over the need for the latter to be accountable and transparent, insofar as donor inflows into the country during our last multi-tier elections were concerned.
Government investigations into an alleged unreported donor inflow exceeding EUR.50,000 (approx: Le250mio) is now being misinterpreted nay, misconstrued by the CSOs as “a possible witch hunt” to paraphrase Ngolo Katta, a veteran CSO executive now famous for quoting the over-used CSO mantra of “taking government to task as a means of bringing the latter (government) closer to the people so as to ensure transparency and accountability”.
But as I listened to the BBC report, I couldn’t help laughing my sides out even if half asleep because two key questions immediately came to mind-:
– Is the government’s request for documentary evidence of CSO compliance not a statutory reporting requirement in the interest of transparency and accountability? If yes then Mr. Ngolo Katta and Co should stop crying “wolf” and simply comply with that basic request which is in accordance with Sec. 118 (7) of the National Constitution to wit: Parliament shall be notified by the appropriate Minister or authority of all gifts, donations, grants, and pledges made to the State of Sierra Leone” and also in the interest of transparency and accountability in the same way they too (CSOs) have been persistently hounding successive governments to evidence compliance in whatever they do.
– Mr. Ngolo Katta revealed that they are in regular compliance with the reporting requirements of their donor partners. So my next question is: between this constitutionally elected government and their donors, to which should CSOs show more patriotic deference, allegiance and respect?
The BBC, being (reasonably seasoned) knew the answers to both above questions, hence their reluctance to have repeated that specific news item since, which underscores the fact that the intention to have further presented government in bad light on that day failed miserably.
In the last three (3) years, CSOs have been springing up in this country by the minute; all purporting to have solutions to every aspect of governance and occasionally arrogating roles to themselves connotative of alternative government administrations, whilst surreptitiously acting as subversive agents of a regime changes. They profess to know everything: from supplying agricultural inputs to farmers, through distribution of Free Health Care Drugs unto the remotest corners of Sierra Leone to the manufacturing nuclear weaponry. The more vociferous they are; the greater their foreign exchange inflows and anybody attempting to enforce their strict observance of our regulatory requirements is deemed to be “witch hunting”.
Even where direct financial partnership support is provided by the government to CSOs, some flagship programmes have simply refuse to take off, or have been aborted mid-stream. And once CSOs have exhausted their “cuts”, they are the very first to turn back and criticize governments for bad implementations, which in actual fact is a “systemic blackmailing for more money”. Yet for every time they fail in championing such flagship programmes it is the very governments that take the flak and even gets booted out of office – Not the CSOs. In all of this, elections of their executives have remained as opaque as their accounting software packages. But I will amply address that in subsequent contributions presently.
Indeed in recent weeks, some CSOs have even gone “federal” in their appellate designations, just so as to evince “superiority” over their peers, whilst still operating from single-roomed accommodations or within a unitary state system, and which latter fact is criminal in design. Their bigotry and self arrogated air of importance have even motivated a few to pay for and access “diplomatic” number plates for their foreign counterparts’ vehicles, a temerity they dare not display in other sub-regional countries.
Means and Devices
It has to be accepted that CSOs have been left to their own means and devices for far too long, and assuming greater audacity in the process. Successive governments’ attempts to checkmate their activities through their supervising Ministry (of Economic Development) since 2004 have been like throwing water on ducks’ backs. Yet they want to control others. They must not only see, but even be made to supervise implementation of Performance Agreements/Contracts between an elected President Ernest Bai Koroma (whose mandate is tenured) and his appointed officers. On what basis? I have no qualms about their claims to be the “Voice of the voiceless”, but on which/whose mandate is that authority derived? And is it not about time governments begins to insist that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) conduct periodic elections for the “Executives” of all CSOs with specific office tenures? They all seem to be holding offices for life!!
This time around government must not recant from doing the right thing. All CSOs MUST be vigorously investigated not only to be transparent and accountable, but to regularly keep them on their toes in the same way as they too have been keeping successive governments on their toes. And by so doing, the government is simply requesting them to “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.
And the good thing about this imbroglio is that once the conspiracy between governments and CSOs end, the biggest beneficiaries will be the citizenry. So let everyone be accountable and transparent. Period!!!
Monday March 24, 2014