By KABS KANU :
The role of Civil Society is to serve as a negotiator between government and the people . There is no doubt that given the complexities of everyday living Civil Society is very important, especially in a democratic society like Sierra Leone. Consisting institutions like religious organizations, labor unions, charities, community groups, nonprofits, and the media, Civil Society helps to nurture healthy working relations between the Government and the people.
Some other roles of Civil Society are to influence decisions and public policies ; monitor the Government and stimulate citizenship while also raising public concern for development issues, releasing and disseminating information and exchanging experiences and developing coordination and networking relationships.
Though Civil Society is therefore a sort of pressure group, looking at its functions , it is not a militant group fighting to use coersive methods to antagonize and harry government . It conducts its business in a responsible, mature and civilized fashion because its duty is not really to unnecessarily annoy Government but to work with the establishment to help produce tangible results in society .
Unnecessary and nuisance ultimatums and threats to Government by Civil Society therefore represent a worrying trend , especially when issued to a government that is making genuine and commendable efforts to address the welfare of the people. Only people who do not face reality will fail to accept the fact that the Government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has exceeded expectations in its quest to address socio-economic and political problems since it came to power in 2007. The Ernest Koroma Government has not only been addressing the gangatuan problems facing the nation.It has also been respecting fundamental human rights, the rule of law and the tenets of democracy. No government has prioritized the functions of Civil Society in our laudable democracy than this All People’s Congress (APC) Government under the exceptional leadership of President Ernest Koroma. If any government has ever demonstrated that it wants to work amicably with Civil Society, it is the Koroma Government. This is because the government is fully aware that progress can only be achieved in an atmosphere of peaceful discourse , mutual respect and cooperation .
Since President Koroma came to power in 2007, his doors at State House and the Presidential Lodge at Hill Station in Freetown have been open to Civil Society. There is not a time that the President has delayed to meet with and listen keenly and progressively to Civil Society when the occasion demands. Recommendations from Civil Society have often been treated with the necessary seriousness and urgency, because the government wants to work with Civil Society. It is therefore surprising that Civil Society in recent times has made it a habit to threaten the government or issue spurious and unnecessary ultimatums that are not be in the spirit of mutual coexistence and engagement between government and civil society.
What is the purpose of the threats and ultimatums Civil Society has been bandying lately ? Before even Civil Society began issuing ultimatums, the Government had set up structures to address the very problems that Civil Society thinks it is fighting for.The Government does not need threats or ultimatums to do its job. The Sierra Leone Chamber of Agricultural Business Development knows fully well that Agriculture is one of the centrepieces of the Koroma Administration under both the Agenda For Change and the Agenda For Prosperity. In President Koroma’s Address from the Throne during the State Opening of Parliament in December, the Head of State did say : “…Since 2007 our Government identified agriculture as a top development priority and increased investment in the sector from 1.6% in 2007 to almost 10% of GDP in 2011. The National Sustainable Agricultural Development Programme is Government’s platform to make agriculture the ‘engine’ for socio-economic growth and development by promoting “farming as a business.” My government will act to phase out subsistence agriculture, provide cash reserves in order to help cope with food emergencies and natural disasters, stabilize grain prices during price hikes, and promote cash/export crop plantations in appropriate areas.
According to the Agenda For Change , “Government has embarked on implementing a National Agricultural Response Programme (NARP), which focuses on providing support to farmer-based organisations, developing agricultural markets and enhancing the capacity of other institutions to support agricultural development. The Smallholder Commercialisation Scheme introduced 2009 has created cooperative clusters using a value chain approach. Consequently almost 400 farmer cooperatives are now engage in the scheme. ” In addition to that, President Koroma set up the Presidential Task Force on Agriculture which he controls as Chairman and draws a lot of inspiration from the hard and efficient work of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security, Dr. Joseph Sam Sesay. Does such a government need to be pushed through unconscionable ultimatums and threats ?
It is indeed really absurd that “a coalition of civil society groups criticised the government for condoning violations of the country`s laws by multinational mining companies”, as one newspaper reported. According to the paper, the groups gave the Government a 21-day ultimatum to reverse “a controversial contract involving a French logistics company that is under investigation.” Since the Government kicked off mining activities throughout the country, it has been seeking the interests of both the country and the people. Civil Society should have simply sat down with Government in an atmosphere of civility and fine fellowship to discuss the matter and seek a recourse. It is not as if the Government is dragging its feet to correct perceived anomalies in contracts with mining companies where they exist at all. The Government has demonstrated a willingness to even revisit all the contracts it has signed with mining companies .
Kemo Cham, in an article , wrote : “A third organisation, Health Alert, issued a 90-day ultimatum for all potholes in Freetown and major towns across the country to be repaired.” What cheek ! ! ! Is this the Government that should be issued such an ultimatum when infrastructural and road developments have been at the heart of its socio-economic transformation of Sierra Leone ? Where have the members of this so-called Health Alert Group been ? Have they not been seeing how the Government has been transforming the infrastructural landscape of the country with state-of-the-art roads and expressways ? If the Government has not been found wanting in constructing modern highways throughout the nation, is it in the small matter of repairing potholes that the Government will shirk its responsibilities ? Health Alert just wanted to create a very wrong and convoluted impression about the Government ‘s commitment to the improvement of the quality of our roads .
Part of the reasons that Civil Society has been belligerent to this government is that some of the groups and organizations that constitute Civil Society are headed or composed of individuals who have partisan sympathies for the opposition. The nation really went to sleep during the 11-year reign of President Ahmad Tejan Kabbah as our Civil Society groups and organizations got highjacked by individuals supporting a certain party now in the opposition. Some sections of Civil Society demonstrated their partisan character during the last Presidential, legislative and local council elections.
Sierra Leone’s Civil Society groups and organizations must shape up or else their salt will lose its savour and when that happens Civil society will be good for nothing but only for men to tread under feet.