After weeks and months of tongue-wagging and sometimes downright lying by speculators, President Ernest Bai Koroma has made his first cabinet reshuffle. It took, or may be had to take a long time, some would say, and it brought with it a long arm. The timing of the announcement of the shake-up, close to midnight on a Friday, has triggered as much gossip as the run-up to the announcement sparked off second-guessing. And the political fallout will soon manifest itself.
It followed threats by President Koroma that he would unload idle passengers from his vessel once the water had got stormy. And he owes it to no-one to give reasons for hiring or firing his ministers. It is entirely his prerogative even though parliament can reject his appointments.
From talking to some of the sacked and transferred ministers, it would seem the president had not alerted them before the announcement. Some one hour before the reshuffle on air, one of the sacked ministers had even confirmed a Monday interview appointment with me. Clearly he did not know he would be axed in some 45 minutes.
Technically six ministers have been sacked. Effectively only four will cease acting as such. Minister of Transport and Aviation, Kemoh Sesay was under suspension, while Marine Resources Minister, Moisa Kapu has been seriously sick for sometime now.
Probably the biggest casualty of the night was Minister of Mineral Resources, Abubakarr Jalloh. A well-educated technocrat in the job and one whom many had considered a contender for a presidential running mate in 2012, Jalloh’s sacking may not have come as a complete surprise. Recent happenings in the mining sector have created some disquiet. The drop by one-third of the country’s diamond exports, due largely to the suspension by Government of the activities of Koidu Holdings has a deep toll on that sector in particular but also on the investment climate in the country. How about the 99-year-long property lease agreement signed with African Minerals drawing blood from other companies like London Mining who quoted relevant clauses in their contract demanding for answers. Another potential dampener on investment in the country.
But there has also been talk of malfeasance in the ministry which has however not been proven. A decision taken therefore, based on such speculation may not have been the best thing to do. But if these accusations were true, and with a president who has won worldwide acclaim for his anti-corruption stance, investigations should be mounted.
Musu Kandeh can arguably be safely referred to as one of if not the most ineffective minister the country has had in a long time. There is, simply, hardly anything to write about as her success in the sixteen or so months she was in office. The issues of children, the disabled, women, among others, have all been on a free fall with apparently no clear sense of direction. The same can largely be said about the Minister of Works. Our already terrible infrastructure is crumbling. And the president has had to personally intervene to see the quick completion of the Masiaka Bo highway among others.
I was shocked even if not surprised by the sacking of Minister of Lands, Cpt (Rtd) Benjamin Davies. Not surprised because a statement from the office of the president not long ago took over certain functions of the ministry and slammed some form of a moratorium, if I remember clearly. Otherwise I thought he was a thorough minister who seemed to be restructuring the ministry with too many conmen. Whatever could have swallowed him up!
Four men have been drafted in. and I think they should be able to make a huge impact. If they fail us, then…
The most spectacular to me is the appointment of Professor Ogunade Davidson, a renowned scientist whose knowledge in the field of energy is being sought by all from all over the world. The man who won the Nobel Peace Prize as a member of the United Nations panel of experts on climate change and Al Gore blends his academia with administrative clairvoyance as the head of the post-graduate department at Fourah Bay College. If he adds the nerve to those then the unscrupulous so-called foreign experts and donors in our energy sector as well as our civil service are in trouble.
Another interesting new comer is the Finance Minister-designate, Samoura Kamara. Even though some questions have been asked about his dealings when he was Financial Secretary, he has an enviable track record. Having been an insider, as the current central bank governor, a former employee of the World Bank and a modest man, he should be a fine choice. But so was the man he has replaced. Francis Carew is not just a well-rounded clever guy with a deep knowledge of dealing with figures, he is modest too. And his apparent cleanliness, namely having a hand on the tiller, is impressive. He may have been demoted by being transferred to Trade, but he is still a round peg in a round hole.
Dr Dennis Sandy is a fine sharp young economist that I have met several times. The economics lecturer comes in as a representative of the ally People’s Movement for Democratic Change party whose representatives have dropped from four ministers to two; the other being the dramatically demoted Dr Soccoh Kabbia. He has been transferred to Gender and Children’s Affairs from that of Health and Sanitation; the first ever male to hold that position since its creation. But I doubt Dr Sandy van make a good Minister of Lands. The syndicate that goes on there can consume almost anyone. And it is not new.
Joseph Koroma is a perfect gentleman. The Minister of Presidential Affairs-designate was the country representative of the United Nations Industrial agency, UNIDO. And from my occasional meetings with him, he looks quite upright and methodical. A smooth talker like the man he is replacing, Alpha Kanu, but still a big foot to fit properly into.
Perhaps the most dramatic reshuffle is the demotion of health minister Dr Soccoh Kabbia which I have already mentioned. But a man who was an accomplished medical doctor in the States and who has presided over a massive reduction in the maternal and infant deaths, deserves more than his new posting. And if I were in his shoes I would rather resign than venture where I cannot function as well. I doubt his successor, who was his deputy, is anywhere near his qualification and suitability for the job.
Former finance minister David Carew has been transferred to trade where he is definitely new, hence difficult to predetermine.
Haja Haffsatu Kabbah has been shifted from Energy and Power to Marine Resources. One thing no-one can take from her is that she is hardworking and has been able to manifest that in energy sector even if her method of doing so is not always pleasant. However, the damning report by the anti corruption commission which pointed fingers of suspicion and flaw at her awarding of at least one contract, has bedaubed her tenure. If the president does not think her guilty why transfer her. If he thinks her so, why not drop her or even charge her?
I may have been surprised by the retention of tourism minister other than because it is necessary to get a southerner in cabinet, but Attorney General, Defence and Information ministers have, in my view, been good guards being guarded.
For very selfish reason I will talk about just two deputy minister moves. The choice of Haja Saudata Sesay as Deputy Minister of Information was not well advised. Her programmes on the We Yone Radio have sometimes drawn so much rage and controversy that exposing her by sending her to deal with journalists and the public is a bit of a tough call. Much redemption is needed.