Many Africans – if not most – tend to lean on the side of the Labour party in British politics as they do on the side of the Democratic Party in the United States. Many would tell you it is because these parties, unlike their Tory and the Republican rivals, are more sympathetic towards issues of minority groups which include people of African origin and immigrants who also have a huge African impression. But when the current reality sets in then it is time for these ordinary Africans or people of such decent to rethink. And for the leaders of the world’s poorest continent they should sit up and listen up and change tact. Wondering what? Well… did you listen to the address by the British Chancellor of the Exchequer – or Finance Minister – George Osborne on Monday? You didn’t? I hope President Koroma did.
But while you are mulling over what he said, I think the general polity of the ideological policy that perceptibly divides the two dominant political parties in the UK and USA along selfish African lines is blurring somewhat. To many of the voters in these countries, yes, but also in the eyes of some of those Africans who had always seen them as the answer to the failings and frailties of their leaders back home.
Recent happenings in the United States – namely the electing of the first ever black man to the white house – may be deepening the trenches in the age-old school of thought regarding what a Democratic Party in the US means for Africa. This, despite commentators consistently citing the intervention in Africa by President George Bush as unrivalled by any President before him. And preoccupied with so many world problems that keep popping up like bees from a honeycomb, it is unlikely President Barrack Obama will better that, at least in his first term – assuming he gets a second term.
But back to that policy statement of the new British Government as typified by George Osborne’s statement early this week. In a continent with the largest assemblage tunnel-visioned and self-serving leadership, if this does not wake them nothing else will. From my cosy hotel in the Spanish tourist resort of Cadiz – at no cost of the Sierra Leonean taxpayer – I watched the British Chancellor of the Exchequer unravel the seeming maze that has bedevilled his country for a while. Thanks to the recent global economic recession, its attendant ramifications and, perhaps, the Labour Government’s approach to it, George Osborne announced spending cuts that should save nearly $ 9 billion of the British tax payer’s money.
Painful problems, they say, require painful measures. Britain finds itself in a very deep financial crisis that may affect even its support to countries like Sierra Leone. If an elected African government had been faced with a similar situation with a gaping hole in the treasury staring, they would be running to London, Paris, Washington, Brussels or even Beijing, with a begging bowl. That probably shows the classic argumentum of how aid to Africa make the continent’s leaders laid back, cavalier, corrupt; knowing nothing but claiming credit for things done for their countries by outside donors.
But back to George Osborne’s spending cuts. While the details are not what I intend focusing on here, the idea of compelling even some Government Ministers to travel on public transport should open the eyes of our African leaders with specific instance to Sierra Leone. There has been so much talk about the sincerity of President Ernest Bai Koroma to deliver Sierra Leone from evil politicians and cronies. But I have often disagreed with a lot that is contained as instances in this notion. And here is why.
Even with our badly-performing economy which Government ministers have told us over and over has forced us to sign anachronistic agreements with mining companies, why does President Koroma maintain the bloated Government that he has. The president knows clearly that there are too many ministers some of whom virtually have no job to do. What does a Lands and Country Planning Minister do when there is a moratorium on the sale of Government land and on building on public land. The good number of Deputy Ministers – in some ministries they are two – what do they do that should keep them in their jobs and the huge capital that is on their head and their maintenance and staff.
Has president Koroma thought about the huge revenue that goes into maintaining these deputy ministers? The wear and tear of the vehicles they use. The amount of fuel these vehicles consume on what are often times private functions they attend. The salaries of their drivers and the rest of the civil servants attached to them. The foolish errands some of these ministers carry out with tax payers’ vehicles especially at night with the blatant attempt to disguise the vehicles. Soon, they will start garaging and then they will wear out and the tax payers’ money will be dipped into again deep to replace them.
When will anything make President Koroma act on the fact that job-provision and luxury-living at the expense of the ordinary people is sinful. Apart from the Ministry of Finance and Economic development, how does any ministry need two deputy ministers if not because we want to pay some people with jobs even if it means our economy is haemorrhaging. I have often asked myself this; and I dare say some Ministers have discussed this with me too.
Britain’s cut on its expenditure will affect its overseas department, DfID. At least for the next year or two. No matter how London likes Freetown, it does not like it more it likes and feels obliged to its own citizens. And when Britain is asking its own public officials to tighten their belts, they need not tell us to cut down our own sometimes frivolous public expenditure that sees officials travel abroad on huge per diems with no benefit to the masses. Of if any benefits they can come anyway.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter whether it is Labour or Tory; or Democrat or Republican that are in power in Washington or London, our leaders have to stop wasting money on public officials that hardly function if at all. The first message from the new Tory/Lib Dem coalition is a wake up call. I wonder if our leaders are still slipping or even sleeping. By Umaru Fofana