Can Sierra Leone afford to spend $25million on 50th celebrations?

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Chairman William Konteh with actor Jeffrey Wright at a 50th anniversary event in NYC funded by the national planning committee

In 1980, the late president Siaka Stevens reportedly spent the equivalent of Sierra Leone’s 1yr national budget to host the OAU and many historians (Reno 1995) have earmarked this particular event as the tipping point towards the destruction of the economy and subsequent rebel war.

Fast forward 30 yrs to the 50th anniversary of Sierra Leone’s Independence and pohto pohto wan catch fire.

A couple weeks ago, the 50th anniversary committee announced a tentative $25million budget for the year long 2011 golden jubilee celebrations. The reaction from the press and public has been one of shock, outrage and in some cases even anger. Dr. Julius Spencer, acting committee chairman, was on SLBC TV to justify the amount by comparing our budget to those of our neighbors with larger economies and stronger GDP. He said “Sierra Leoneans think too small” that Nigeria spent $1bn and Ghana spent well over $50m (btw, both estimates are incorrect)

On January 1st this year there was a parade and assembly at the national stadium organized by the committee. It was attended by the president and other dignitaries, and was supposed to be the launch of the 50th Anniversary celebrations. I heard it was really beautiful and well put together but someone forget to inform the general public because no one attended. If this is any indication of things to come then public outcry is rightly placed. Why spend all this money for events and activities if the masses are not going to benefit?

To counter the negative response to the budget, Minister of Information I.B. Kargbo released a statement announcing that the government had not given any funds to the committee rather, that the $25m was simply a projection of how much the government may spend for the celebrations. He also added that GoSL had decided to downsize the scale and length of the celebrations and asked that the 50th Anniversary committee account for $600,000 donated by a a chinese businessman in Sierra Leone towards the celebrations. The committee has acknowledged that they raised $1.6m thus far but they deny the Minister’s statement that GoSL has asked for an account to be given.

A local paper has dedicated several pages to printing the findings of the Ghana commission of inquiry into the 2007 Ghana@50 celebrations to highlight missteps and possible lessons to be learned. They’ve also corrected Dr. Spencer’s claim that Nigeria 1bn dollars on its celebrations.

$25m is about 1billion trillion leones and it is a lot of money anywhere in the world but especially for a country like Sierra Leone with over 50% of our national budget still donor dependent. Those who understand our post war needs will no doubt read this $25m  as extravagant, irresponsible and wasteful.

But is this simply not the State’s manifestation of a chronic problem in our communities both at home and abroad? Mi pipul dem, wi too wanna get. Wi still noh sabi for cut wi coat accordin to im size. Salone man too lek ‘gladi gladi en  make make’, it is called ‘swit salone” for a reason, and that is because we prefer to spend money on parties, baby showers, birthday bashes, outings, jamboree,  to show off wealth and position than to pay our child’s school fees, invest for a rainy.

Last year Sierra Leone Fire Brigade budget approved by parliament was 2bn leones, the ministry of Sierra Leone only disbursed about 850m leones of the budget. If we are to spend $25m on celebrations, it will be more than fire brigade spent all of last year on training, buying equipment, and educating people on fire safety.

The public (myself) included wants to commemorate 50 years of independence from the British, 50 years of being Sierra Leonean but the question now is how much do we have to spend to make this happen? If we spend $25m for the golden jubilee how will this affect the economy? Where is GoSL going to find these funds?

Furthermore, how do we know that the monies allotted will go towards the celebrations and not in the pockets of a few. $25m too boku fo make we sell we birth rite for coco ebeh, jeep, or fo make e go for build ose, oh to wan small gyal friend, or cousin, uncle, or broda. If na dat, make we take di money sabe am equal want tem. All man get $5 en if u day na di diaspora u noh count, na wi way day na ya noh moh dae get.

On a more serious note…

For those of you out there who are full of ideas, please add your two cents and let us know how u think we should proceed on 50th anniversary. If the budget is to be reduced, how much should we spend? What should we spend it on? And most importantly, what types of checks and balances should be put in place so that the money ends up in the right place?

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