The President said he has been listening to the “positive noises” in the country, and thought it was time to meet and discuss as people committed to achieving a common goal. He described CSOs and the media as partners in development, saying, “Without you, we cannot continue to function”. He urged everyone to “put the past behind us” and focus on the critical issues that continue to derail our development aspirations, insisting, “It is no more about me (as my name will not be the ballot paper in 2018), it is no more about APC, but it is about laying the foundation of a country that we will all be proud of”.
He did recognize the progress that has been made since the end of the conflict, and in particular, by his administration, but was quick to admit that serious challenges persist. These challenges, he said, include lawlessness, corruption, lack of effective monitoring of government programmes, among others.
Addressing many of these challenges, he emphasized, would require effective collaboration between CSOs, media practitioners, and law enforcement agencies
On the issue of lawlessness and the infamous “order from above” excuse used by public officials or private interests, the President said, “any order from above that is inconsistent with the law should be challenged”. The President said it was important to bring everyone onboard, declaring, “Nobody is an enemy, nobody is under attack, and no one will be excluded”. He said in spite of the tremendous challenges, it is important that Sierra Leoneans begin to disseminate the positive things that are happening in the country.
During the Q&A session, the participants urged the President to do a lot more about addressing lawlessness, impunity, politicization of state policies and institutions, strengthening the justice and security sectors, among others.
Messrs Charles Mambu, Soko, Koroma and Mrs. Marcela Samba-Sesay spoke on a number of critical issues. Emmanuel Abdulai ESQ of SDI urged the President to do something about the ongoing harassment of journalists, the apparent implementation gap in the Local Government Act, and the need to pass a civil libel law.
CARL’s Executive Director Ibrahim Tommy welcomed the President’s idea of promoting regular engagement with various stakeholders, stating that it would help promote trust between non-state actors and the state. On the issue of the recent constitutional amendment, Mr. Tommy told the President that he would have expected such a session between the President and civil society before giving his assent. He said such engagements would help deepen trust between CSOs and the state.
In his response, the President said could have probably done nothing about it, as even without his signature, Parliament would have still passed the bill into law. He did urge CSOs to be more proactive on some of the issues, saying, it is better to address some issues at the embryonic stage.
The President concluded by urging everyone to “Put Salone above all political, ethnic and personal issues”. He promised to continue engaging because as he put it, “When we fail we fail as a nation”.
For the record, no transportation reimbursement was provided.
On the whole, it was a good meeting. The President sounded very frank and appeared determined to address the challenges still facing the country. I genuinely hope that he will back up his stated commitment to combating lawlessness, addressing impunity, and strengthening state institutions, particularly the judiciary, with action. Until he can translate his words into action, the jury will be out on him. I am certainly the first juror in that respect.
Ibrahim Tommy, CARL-SL