Groundless dismissal of 8 senior army men by Sierra Leone’s Defense Council

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minister of defence redismissal
Palo Conteh ( Minister of Defence – SL)

Words & Images by Amadu Lamarana Bah

The Ministry of Defense through the Defense Council headed by President Koroma as Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces has forced 8 senior army officers into retirement.

The officers that have been forced to retired include Brigadier General KSM Mondeh SL 493, Major F Gevao SL 848, Major PC Combay SL 939, Major B Kargbo SL 972, Captain P Fefegula SL 1101, Lieutenant LL Leema SL 1323, Lieutenant V Muana SL 1330 and Lieutenant BB Byle SL 1339. These army officials are all under the retirement of 55 years old. The government has given no grounds for its action.

According to Colonel Unisa Turay Director of Personnel at the Ministry of Defense the decision to retire the officers with immediate effect came after a Defense Council meeting at State House that was chaired by President Ernest Bai Koroma Commander-in-Chief of the Republic of Sierra Leone Armed Forces on Tuesday 28th May 2013.

Army rep, Colonel Turay said that the dismissal of the above eight is line with sections 26 and 27 of the Army orders of 1965 which says that retirements can either be voluntary, age based, due to misconduct and or on health grounds.

“Even though officers that are retired on compulsory grounds are not normally paid their end of service benefits the defense council out of magnanimity resolved that the officers retired under this category of received their benefits in full”, Colonel Turay noted.

However despite several questions as to what may have led to the reason that led to Defense Council’s decision to force Brigadier General Mondeh and others to a compulsory retirement, the Minister of Defense who is a member of the Council Retired Major Palo Conteh said the decision of the council cannot be disclosed.

“The third schedule of the 1991 Constitution states that every member of the Defense Council must take an oath of secrecy so whatever transpires there will not be disclosed to the public”. He stated.

Recent local news reports suggest that Conteh good working relationship with Brigadier General Mondeh  as a result of his involvement in the 1992 coup,Paolo Conteh said the report is on the contrary because they have for the past five years shared a very good working relationship.

“Mondeh was jittery when I came because he was afraid that I will revenge his actions in 1992”,  Conteh disclosed.

“But I called him to my office in 2007 and gave him the confidence to work. We  are good friends and even play squash together”, he added.

One of the army officers, 29-year-old Lt. Lahai Leema said that his removal from the force came as a surprise. Leema was endorsed by the Ministry of Defence to go on study leave. He is pursuing a law degree from the University of Sierra Leone. Leema says he has never faced a disciplinary committee during his tenure in the army, he knows that he is not being let go because of poor performance.

“I came in the army to give service to my country, this is not only an embarrassment to me but my family and the entire nation”, he stated.

Lieutenant Leema said that he has spoken to the other seven officers dismissed, and they are all surprised and unhappy with the defense council’s decision. With the council not stating the reason for their dismissal Lt Leema believes that this action is a witch hunt.

“With the exception of Major Kargbo and Lieutenant Byle all of us are either Mende’s or from the South-Eastern part of the country and this must not be tolerated, we are going to take a legal action.”

He says that six of the eight officers dismissed have been let go because of their ethnicity

Including those sent on forced retirement the military let go of 29 officers, three had reached the army retirement age of 55 years old, two took voluntary retirement, eight were absent without leave (AWOL), and the council rescinded the punishment of a severe reprimand awarded to Colonel U. Turay on account of alleged sexual harassment.

Of those forced on retirement the most renown is 47-year-old Brigadier General Komba Mondeh. Mondeh was one of six young soldiers including Valentine Strasser, who led the coup d’etat that removed Joseph Saidu Momoh’s APC government from power in April 1992. He served as the Chief of the Defense Staff of the National Provisional Ruling Council (NPRC) from 1992 to 1996. He has been on active duty in the army since then.