By Raymond Tornyamui…
This weekend saw me visiting Kono, the legendary district renowned for its mineral wealth. In my youth, Kono was the place where my uncles from Moyamba would go to for an opportunity to get rich, hit the jackpot, and return home millionaires. Many would lose their lives in the illicit underground mines (Damakuru), and many more would return home penniless, dreams shattered or fortunes wasted in the largesse of the noveau riche. But a few returned home rich and told tales of diamonds so easily mined, that they’d inspire a new breed of hapless youths to embark on the reckless pursuit of diamonds in Kono.
And so it was with this same spirit of expectation that I journeyed to Kono this weekend. Not in search of the evasive diamonds but in the hope of enriching myself with a wealth of knowledge that would give me a much better insight of this politically volatile region.
Driving from Makeni to Kono, I could not help but be awed by the speed at which the highway is being rehabilitated. I had not been to Kono before, so my only knowledge of this reputably bad highway was from the now common pictures of vehicles stuck along the pot-holed and mud-riddled highway during the rainy season. But as we drove from Matotoka to Masingbi, and from Masingbi to Kono, I witnessed an excellent highway, partially completed, and work to finish the project was at its peak; it is impressive. I make no secret of my allegiance to the SLPP, and I wish our blueprint for this same development had been put into action during our time in government; we may not have lost the decisive Kono vote. I’ll expand later on what I reckon The SLPP strategy for getting Kono back should be.
Upon entering Kono, I again observed extensive electrification and further roadworks within the municipality; I had hoped to see and report on a dying city, bereft of electricity and good roads. What I witnessed, however, was contrary to the many reports of doom that I had read and heard. Seeking to find out which authority had spearheaded such dramatic improvements, I headed straight for the City council offices in an area known as Community Centre. I’m glad that I did, because I saw cracks in the city’s infrastructural development that was more in line with what I expected. The inner city roads, those back streets within the communities, are dilapidated and dangerous. They appear not to have been rehabilitated or serviced in decades. Drainage gutters are non-existent, the streets are strewn with rubbish. Upon arriving at Koidu City council offices, it became apparent to me that the neglect which is evident along the lesser roads, and communities, had its source here at the municipal offices. The city council premises was riddled with rubbish, its flagship fairly-new offices are run down. The halls of Koidu City Council stunk of urine, its walls and floors were dirt-stained symbols of neglect. I came to Koidu City Council offices because I had seen pictures on the internet of the Mayor, His worship Saa Emmerson Lamina, inspecting a major city road, John Kellie Street, being paved. Like many, I believed then that this Mayor was responsible for such development, but upon entering city hall it became clear to me that the neglect evident there contradicted the spirit of development, and the culture of maintenance which I had assumed was representative of the Mayor in the picture taking credit for work that I now know was not his achievement.
Upon leaving City council offices, I parked my vehicle and stopped a passing Okada. I wanted to see more of Koidu city, the Koidu city roads and communities that weren’t being tarred by ‘GuicoPres’, a road construction contractor; a request my okada rider thought odd, but remarking “Enti na you money”, we rode off. I can now report with authority that, except for the roads that are being funded by central government, and worked on by GuicoPres, over 95% of the roads which I observed in my hour of touring by ‘okada’ were in a serious state of disrepair. Where then has the Mayor invested the 100s of millions of Leones which has been raised in revenue during his tenure?
As providence would have it, and by the unlikeliest of coincidences, an incident occurred on my second day in Koidu which summed up my view of the state of the city’s roads and services. Allegations of misappropriation of public monies by the Mayor of Koidu City, Saa Emerson Lamina, had been doing the rounds within journalistic circles and civil service corridors for a while now. (At this point, it pleases me to point out that Mayor Lamina is the APC candidate who won the 2012 Mayoral seat, defeating the far more respectable and capable SLPP candidate, Mrs. Tongu.) I am pleased to note that the people of Koidu city are paying for their lack wisdom in having voted for a Mayor purely based on party affiliation; thankfully the CRC’s recommendation to remove national party politics from municipal council elections will help address this wrong. News of Mayor Lamina’s suspension reached me at a most opportune moment; as I was being harangued by some miscreants at a local bar for saying that in my view Mayor Lamina displays all the signs of one who has been caught with their pants down. I expressed concern that Mayor Lamina avoids responding to the specific allegations made against him. To simplify matters I used this analogy to clarify my views with my tormentors at the bar:
Mr. B is manager of a fuel station whose employer has been informed that Mr. B hasn’t been paying all the fuel station money into the assigned bank account. Upon being confronted by his employer, Mr. B starts complaining about how the other fuel managers hate him, and of how he is being victimized. Meanwhile Mr. B would not produce the bank receipts which would immediately clear his name and prove that he is indeed being victimized. All the employer wants is for Mr. B to provide the receipts which would prove his innocence, but Mr. B instead takes to the airwaves, accusing the fuel station owner of siding with his tormentors. The fuel station owner repeatedly asks Mr. B for the receipts, but Mr. B offers no response to the owner, he instead asks his many friends to take to social media to threaten and insult the owner of the fuel station.
My questions to my tormentors at the bar were then these:
Do you believe that Mr. B is right to refuse to produce the receipts?
Do you believe that Mr. B is bullying or intimidating the fuel station owner?
Do you believe that Mr. B is hiding something?
It was during this conversation with my tormentors that I received news of Mayor Lamina’s suspension from office pending investigation of embezzlement.
I must say that the fact that this suspension came as a surprise to some Kono residents, astounded me. A day touring Koidu city made it very clear to me that something was amiss. I was already sure that there was gross mismanagement and theft of public money evident. I am then left dumbfounded to observe that some Koidu city residents fail to ask the only reasonable questions.
Why isn’t there any evidence that the 10s of millions of Leones which City council collects in revenue every month is being used to improve roads and services?
Why hasn’t Mayor Lamina provided proof that he did pay the monies in question into City council account?
To me these are reasonable questions that must be answered immediately.
My visit to Kono was at the request of an SLPP flagbearer aspirant who wanted to know the facts, because he had been approached by Mayor Lamina for help. I shall not disclose the identity of this aspirant, because he is a close friend. But I will report on some of my recommendations.
I informed my SLPP flagbearer friend that Mayor Lamina’s support in Koidu is flimsy and dependent on APC patronage. I reported that his support was more prominent amongst the poorly-educated and loutish. I concluded that if Mayor Lamina has indeed approached the SLPP with a proposal to jump ship, then there are questions about these allegations of embezzlement which he must answer truthfully. I left my SLPP flagbearer friend in no doubt that I do not encourage people who want to join the SLPP only when they are in trouble; people like the disgraced Alie Kabbah. I believe that these people will one day prove to be a pain to the leadership of the SLPP too; old habits die hard.
I advised my SLPP flagbearer aspirant friend to look to our last Mayoral candidate in Kono, Mrs. Tongu, for leadership in Koidu City Council. In my opinion, Mrs. Tongu was, and remains a far more capable, reliable and dependable candidate than the unreliable Saa Emerson Lamina; despite his laughable double Masters, and questionable self-proclaimed dynamism.
As for winning back Kono district and standing a chance of replacing APC at the next elections, I ask that we, The SLPP, learn a lesson from the New APC of the 2007 elections. We should stop trying to deceive the people of Kono with this talk about what our intentions were, we kid no one. We failed to bring development in 14yrs of being in government. We must admit that we failed to deliver. We must apologise for those failures, and promise to never again be unfair in government. We, The SLPP, must rebrand. Just like President Koroma did in 2007 when he launched the idea of a new APC. There is no shame in admitting one’s faults; as a matter of fact, it endears a party to the electorate.
Most importantly, we must not drop our guard and start accepting APC criminals or alleged criminals in our midst; The APC gets rid of them for good reasons. During the constitutional “crisis” which followed disgraced VP Sam Sumana’s dismissal, I was quick to express concern that our party, The SLPP, was joining forces with uncouth Sam Sumana disaffected supporters. I expressed concern that his ‘mammy cus’ crew would infiltrate the SLPP and bring their indecency into our midst. Now it appears that I was right, as I hear of violence and ‘mammy cus’ in The SLPP. Now I am saying again that discordance augurs for the SLPP if we turn a blind eye to Mayor Lamina’s alleged criminality in the hope that we would make political capital of it.
And most importantly, I advise this young Mayor to act responsibly, and address the allegations made against him. When you won the elections in 2012, it was time for you to end your ‘politricking’ and PR stunts. Once in power, your job was to deliver services to the people of Kono; and to me, at least, there is clear evidence that you failed to do so. ANSWER THE ALLEGATIONS MR. SAA EMERSON LAMINA.