Oct 21, 2013

Natinpasadvantage (Part 3)




Paul Conton


When I first wrote natinpasadvantage (read natinpasadvantage, Part 1 and natinpasadvantage, Part2) three years ago the articles achieved wide circulation, both on the internet and in Peep! newspaper, then published by the late Olu Gordon. Indeed the articles inspired the website of the same name, on which this article, Part 3, now appears. The articles were prompted by the forceful seizure of land without compensation from about 220 private landholders for the purpose of expanding Wilkinson Road in the west of Freetown into a four-lane highway. This forceful seizure of land without compensation was later repeated along the length of Spur Rd. I received a considerable amount of feedback on the articles, perhaps more or less equally divided between those who agreed with my point of view and those who disagreed with it. My sense at the time, though, was that the majority of the masses on the street supported the government’s actions, and this buoyed the APC. In a country with a small percentage of homeowners and a large percentage of people living in poverty, it is easy to convince the majority you are acting in their interest when you seize property from the well-to-do, and the APC are no strangers to demagoguery. The government press release over this last weekend announcing the sacking of Minister of Works, Alimamy Petito Koroma, and SLRA Director-General Munda Rogers confirms many of the concerns raised in the earlier articles and lends credence to doubts about the entire government agenda for this nation’s development.



The architect and implementers of Wilkinson Rd


SLRA D-G Munda Rogers with officials of CSRG, Chinese construction company

If President Ernest Koroma is the presumed architect of the road construction program, of which Wilkinson Rd is the flagship, then Petito Koroma and Munda Rogers were the prime implementers. It was Petito Koroma and Munda Rogers who sent in bulldozers to start tearing down properties along Wilkinson Rd at fifteen minutes notice. It was Petito Koroma who went on air to justify the nonpayment of compensation to property owners, even though it was pointed out to him that this was a breach of the constitution. It was Petito Koroma who brushed aside all the concerns raised with him about the violation of citizens’ rights, including fundamental human rights entrenched in the constitution, by the Wilkinson Rd seizures. It was Munda Rogers who arrogantly refused to even

Sierra Leone Minister of Works, Alimamy Koroma

respond to letters sent to him by affected property owners (read letter to SLRA). The two went on radio and television repeatedly, then and since, to tell the public what a wonderful service they were performing for this nation in constructing roads all over the country, even though the evidence was there for all to see that most of the roads were falling apart (read After six years of Ernest roadbuilding, Sierra Leone’s roads are in a mess). “The entire nation has been turned into a works yard” and “the greatest road construction program in this nation’s history” were oft-used slogans of President Koroma and party stalwarts. Wilkinson Rd was the showcase government project in the infrastructure program, cited by all loyal government functionaries as evidence of the government’s achievements, Now, one year after Wilkinson Rd was completed it turns out from the government’s press release (read Sierra Leone State House press release) that all is not well in the roadbuilding program.


Suicidal policy


If the implementers of the policy have gone, the presumed architect remains and, as far as we can tell, the policy remains in place. For a cash-strapped country, dependent on donor funding, to have spent a sizable percentage of its budget on just a few showcase roads was a near-suicidal policy decision. In fact, if Sierra Leone’s economy had not been boosted by high commodities prices during this period the effects would have been even more far-reaching. Even with this windfall boost from our minerals exports, the decision has inevitably meant less money for maintenance of non-priority roads, plain for all to see, less money for education (read POW School – Symbol of a Dysfunctional System), for health, for agriculture and for all the other areas so badly in need of funding. Similar grandiose infrastructure megaprojects (read Do we really need a new airport at Mamamah?) only serve to make this problem worse and erode our precious human capital.