MINISTRY OF DEFENCE
Cell Phone: 076616457/033441279
OPEN LETTER TO THE PRESS
Dear Members of the Press,
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has observed with utter dismay that for the past few months its activities have been unnecessarily under constant media spotlight. Both the electronic and print media have been incessantly engaged in broadcasting or publishing damning reports on the activities of this Ministry, particular financial issues, with gross impunity disregarding the repercussions of such action on state security.
For a recap on issues reported:
1. On the Monologue Programme of 12th October 2013, the Presenter claimed to have received a call from someone in Somalia complaining about neglect of their welfare at the theatre of operations, the fraudulent deduction of USD 200 from their allowances by MoD/RSLAF authorities and payment of inducement to go on peacekeeping mission. Even though frantic effort was made to clear the air on these issues; the Presenter already had a fixed mindset and therefore remained unconvinced. As if that was not enough, the Voice Newspaper of 17th November 2013 again alluded to the same broadcast and insisted that indeed there is corruption in the selection process for participation on peacekeeping. We insist that our selection process is free and fair, and that the USD 200 deduction from individual soldiers allowances is legal and not peculiar to just the Sierra Leone Contingent.
MINISTER OF DEFENCE PARLOR CONTEH
2. On a certain date in December 2013, an article captioned “Defence Spokesman Misleads The Populace” appeared on the Informant Newspaper. As a gross manifestation of the motive behind this piece, the writer initially veered off the headlined issue and started lambasting his fellow journalists for heaping praises on Ministers including the Minister of Defence, who for him, has not done anything much to deserve such accolades and that his colleagues were only displaying cheap journalism with the expressed aim of attracting incentives. Even when the writer eventually came back to the right subject, he only succeeded in displaying gross ignorance by still insisting that administration in the military is expected to be as democratic as any civilian organization. I wouldn’t want to belabor myself on this issue but would rather encourage this writer to do a research on “The Unique Nature of Military Service” and read himself into what the Confederation of British Service and Ex-Servicemen Organization (COBSEO) says about this.
3. On the Monologue Programme of 11th January 2014, an unverified report was again aired bordering on the Medical Screening of soldiers currently in training at the Peace Mission Training Centre at Hastings to relieve our troops in Somalia by the middle of this year. The Presenter claimed that the screening exercise was fraudulently outsourced to Dr Walid’s Clinic and Choithram Hospitals for Two Hundred Million Leones (Le 200M) rather than allowing the 34 Military Hospital to conduct the exercise for Thirty Million Leones (Le 30M). The Presenter harped on the point that he contacted me and I refused to provide explanation. If he did not have an ulterior motive, why would he contact me at 6pm on a Saturday to grant him an interview at 9pm? Furthermore, what was the urgency in broadcasting such an outrageously false report without first ensuring that it was thoroughly verified? The fact of this matter is that the 34 Military Hospital does not have the full capacity to conduct the medical screening. When they did it last year for troops currently in Somalia, they had to co-opt College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences and the reagents were procured at a very huge cost. When an attempt was made this year again for the screening to be done at the 34 Hospital, it was discovered through wide market survey that the cost of reagents this year has even tripled to the tune of about Two Hundred and Seventy Million Leones (Le 270M) on the average. Thus, a bidding process was instituted for the conduct of the entire screening; but still the price quotations of the bidders were too outrageous. We eventually got Dr Walid’s Clinic which opted to do the entire screening exercise, including the cost of reagents, at a fee of about Two Hundred and Thirty Million Leones (Le 230M). You tell us what you would do in this case.
4. On 18th January 2014, the Presenter of the notorious Monologue Programme once again claimed that authorities at the MoD have fraudulently withdrawn the sum of Five Hundred Million Leones (Le 500M) from the Peacekeeping Account at the Union Trust Bank without any justification for its purpose. This emanated from an interview with the Deputy Auditor-General of the Audit Service Sierra Leone that same night in which this Presenter failed in his frantic effort to lure him into admitting that no proper auditing is done on MoD Peacekeeping Account. He further went on to insinuate that the coup incident of 1992 was as a result of similar reasons. This is absolutely dangerous. In a similar story, the Standard Times Newspaper on 24th and 28th January 2014, published falsely alarming articles claiming of a withdrawal of One Hundred and Fifty Thousand US Dollars (USD 150,000), contrary to Le 500M earlier stated by the Monologue Programmme. I am pretty sure the listenership and readership of these media houses may have been left to wonder who is actually saying the truth. Infact, the Presenter of Monologue does not even know that there is no Peacekeeping Account that is operated in Leones; both the Darfur and Somalia Missions Accounts are in US Dollars. Also, as claimed by the writer on the Standard Times Newspaper, as of 28th January none of these two accounts is currently below USD 100,000 balance; and all withdrawals so far from those accounts are for genuine reasons and not personal gains. If anyone is challenging this and has any evidence to the contrary, we would encourage him or her to report to the Anti-Corruption Commission. Furthermore, this writer claimed that the Chief of Defence Staff denied having knowledge of any withdrawals when he was never contacted by anyone. This is certainly libelous.
The above extracts clearly indicate a new and deliberate attempt by the media to unnecessarily target the MoD and the Minister of Defence in particular. I wish to stress that the MoD is unique from all other Government Ministries; in that, it is synonymous to the RSLAF. Thus any malicious machinations targeted at the MoD also affect the entire RSLAF and may have the tendency to incite soldiers, thereby undermining state security. The media in this country is no stranger to the dangerous consequences when soldiers decide to go on the rampage. The media is expected to inform rather than misinform people; the aim should not be to create unnecessary sensation. Therefore, every media practitioner is expected to cross-check information before it is published or aired, rather than be in a rush to capture attention through falsehood. Not everything about the military is safe for publishing or broadcasting especially issues that have the potential to adversely affect state security. There are surely other corrective measures worth taking to achieve the desired results. The mind is like a farm; when it is used well you are sure of harvesting well.
I wish to also stress that this Ministry has surely not been performing badly in terms of compliance with extant financial management policies. Therefore, we are not averse to any probing by any individual including the media, but we urge you to be ethical in the practice of your noble profession and desist from targeting individuals at the detriment of state security. Our doors are always wide open if you want to cross-check any information. Most times telephone conversations do not provide all the answers.
This piece of writing is not an attempt to open a pen battle with the Press but rather to serve as a word of caution to all patriotic media practitioners in the interest of the state. It is my fervent hope that this will be accepted in good faith.
Thanks for your understanding.
Director of Defence Public Relations and Information