Vickie Remoe Institute of Digital Communications

Final Words on Sierra Leone 50th Anniversary Scandal

Salone na we all yone

Last week Standard Times News paper got a copy of the 50th Anniversary Secretariat Accounts and published them. I bought the paper and not having access to a scanner and infuriated at the numbers i tweeted the line items of who was paid what, why, and when.

I knew that in doing so that I would lose friends and possibly receive lots of criticism but at the time, i really didn’t care. I was angry and upset that a small group of individuals (one of whom i held in really high esteem) had so carelessly and lavishly spent money that was intended for Sierra Leone’s 50th Anniversary Celebrations.

In late August 2010 I agreed to take up the post of Public Relations & Communications Officer after I was convinced by the Executive Secretary of the Committee that things were going to be on the up and up. In previous conversations, i had expressed my reservations in taking up the post because “i didnt want my name to be associated with anything that wasn’t going to be well executed”.

I was informed that the salary was $1000(4million) and i explained that this was hardly enough of an incentive to wake up in the morning and head into an office for 8 or more hours of work a day. When I asked the executive secretary about wages she said “that is what everyone is getting, there really isn’t any money in the budget”. I accepted her words and agreed to work for that much because ultimately, “we were doing it for mama salone”.

Three weeks into the job, and in signing for my salary I saw that that the Chairman had collected $4500 and the Executive Secretary $3500 and I was being paid the same wages as the Chairman’s PA. I confronted the Executive Secretary who was quick to dismiss the figures claiming that I had been misled. I didn’t tell her that i had actually seen the docs at finance rather i said that someone had told me. When I threatened to quit my salary was increased to $1500. In addition to salary I received fuel, and phone credit along with all other senior staff members.

One  month into the job at the end of October, five members of the committee including the Chairman and Executive Secretary had taken a 10day trip to Nigeria to” learn from the Nigerian independence experience and also to gather Sierra Leoneans in Lagos and Abuja to gather funds for the celebrations”. The committee spent close to $80,000 on plane tickets, and per diem but they came back penniless. While they returned to Sierra Leone the Chairman proceeded to the States to “sensitize the diaspora re 50th anniversary” but was quick to admit upon his return that the trip had been a failure.

In the absence of both the Executive Secretary and the Chairman planning for 50th anniversary events came to a halt as the committee and secretariat had little or no directives. November came quickly and the Secretariat struggled to accomplish tasks including getting sub-committees to meet and develop plans etc and the golden jubilee song contest. In all this turmoil however, the spending continued. A car was purchased although London Mining had already donated 2 brand new cars for the use of the chairman and the executive secretary. A PABX system was installed in our very small office and plans for weekly management meetings were thrown out of the door after only one week.

I submitted a  plan highlighting media activities that I believed would garner international media attention as well as those to involve young urban youth in the 50th independence anniversary. One of which was nominating actor Jeffrey Wright of the Taia Peace Foundation as a goodwill ambassador and the other was a Freetown wide community mural competition. I figured a letter could be sent to Jeffrey via his local office in Freetown but the Secretariat leadership decided that they had to travel to the US to once again “sensitize the diaspora about 50th anniversary and raise funds and present Jeffrey Wright with goodwill ambassador letter”.

I advised that there was too little pre-planning for this to be successful and that we were going to waste lots of money in undertaking these events. Instead i suggested hosting another fundraiser during  December while those in the diaspora would be home on holidays. When I was called in to help develop the points with which the Executive Secretary was to convince the committee to approve the trip to the US I realized that she cared more so for the trip than its actual usefulness. They had all set their minds to going to America and no one was going to stop them. The Secretariat management co-opted members of the committee into the trip and with that, getting the larger committee to say yes was easy.

So for the second time in just 1 month the chairman and executive secretary and committee members including the PA to the chairman left Sierra Leone. Unhappy with the direction things had taken and feeling helpless I called my family and close friends informing them that i was going to resign. My mother always cautious and wishing that i’d find a stable salaried job, advised me to just keep my head low and continue working at the secretariat. I told her that my conscience couldn’t bare it and that in the long run Anti Corruption would probably need to investigate. My official last day of work was October 31st and the committee flew out to the States for 3 weeks again spending close to $100,000 on airfare, per diem, and contingency.

Replacements were brought in for myself and another staff member that resigned in the same month and I moved on to focus on producing the Vickie Remoe Show.

In the past week the Chairman who was first demoted to national coordinator and the Executive Secretary have been sacked from the committee and the Anti Corruption Commission is investigating claims of mismanagement and misuse of public funds.

What I learned from my 2 months at the 50th anniversary secretariat is that complacency leads to corruption even for those with the best of intentions. Without a stringent system of checks and balances it is easy to abuse public funds. I learned why some really good companies don’t get contracts and how with proper orchestration those on the inside can manipulate Sierra Leone’s weak institutions. People, myself included always curse the bureaucracy but i think that a little red tape might have helped in this situation. The Secretariat should not have had control of its own account and someone should have overseen the spending perhaps a monthly cap on spending.

Sierra Leone had a great opportunity to use its golden jubilee 50th anniversary of independence to celebrate a new beginning (what some have called a renaissance) but instead a small group of individuals have spoiled it for all of us. Some social media pages have called for total boycott of government 50th anniversary events while elsewhere an online opposition paper has used my tweets as anti government propaganda making baseless conclusions to tie me into an attempt to call the president a thief. Many of the claims in the article are false especially that “i was summoned to the ministry of foreign affairs by JB Dauda”.

While all this makes for good reading I would like all Sierra Leoneans the world over to know that the battle for change and progress is long and hard. And although on a bad day being disheartened i said that i’d renounce my citizenship, those who know me know that this couldn’t be more far from reality. Ah noh go ever able!

I love Sierra Leone, always have, and always will. It will take more than a few greedy, misguided individuals to kick me out of a country that as far as I am concerned belongs more to all of us honest hardworking citizens than to the few and shameless.

So I hope that those of you who can, do find a way to celebrate 50 years of Sierra Leone while understanding that Independence is a process and not a destination. I’ll be at every 50th independence anniversary event i can attend and no one will stop me from representing the green white and blue.

For better or worse Salone na we all yone en we go betteh BGIP – By God Im Power

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