By Lihai Turay……
Much has been written about President Koroma’s brief encounter with the United States President Donald Trump at the recent Arab Summit in Saudi Arabia. This encounter has even been described by pro-ruling APC media as a ‘divine encounter’ ordained by God. But what really was that encounter all about?
It is over a month since the Koroma government’s botched attempt at selling the second largest diamond ever found in the country. And questions are now being asked about the whereabouts of the diamond, which the government says is worth at least $50 million.
Is the diamond now in private hands? Has it been privately sold by president Koroma, and if so, where are the proceeds of the sale?
Amid fears of the diamond gone missing and unaccounted for, there are calls for president Koroma to make a statement on the whereabouts of the diamond, and to put the diamond on public display, so as to assure the country that all is well with the diamond.
But what is known is that immediately after the failed attempt to sell the diamond in Freetown through an open tender, the president left the shores of Sierra Leone to go on a shuttle sales trip to the middle east and the Mediterranean, perhaps looking for a private and discrete buyer.
According to government sources, no private buyer in the middle east or Turkey was willing to pay $50 million for the diamond.
But then came the Arab Summit, a perfect opportunity for the president to sell the diamond privately and discretely to any leader present at the summit, capable of and willing to part with $50 million.
President Trump is a multi-billionaire known along with his wife, for their huge appetite for the finest things in life – including precious gems. If Mrs Trump is interested in Sierra Leone’s second largest diamond which no one wants to buy for $50 million, but prefers a discrete and private sale, could the Arab Summit have been a perfect opportunity for president Koroma to make a quick and discrete sale?
Could the Saudis have invited president Koroma to attend the summit, purely and solely to help broker a discrete sales encounter between Trump and Koroma?
Sierra Leone is not an Arab state, nor is it an Islamic country. So why was president Koroma invited to attend the Arab Summit? Certainly, he was not invited to help the Arab leaders look for solutions to their centuries old divisions and protracted conflicts.
This is a summit to which not even the Iraqi leader was invited, nor some of the other key Arab nations. Questions are being asked as to why Koroma’s presence was so important, and what value his presence added to the summit.
There are suspicions that the so called divine encounter between Trump and Koroma was a socially engineered encounter not ordained by God, but brokered by the Saudis for the sale of the century diamond.
And was this the ‘divine moment’ president Koroma handed over the $50 million dollar diamond to president Trump? .
We will never know, because president Koroma does not score highly when it comes to transparency, openness, accountability and good governance, in a country that is ranked among the poorest in the world, and most dangerous for women to be pregnant and give birth.
Over 70% of Sierra Leoneans are unemployed because of the Koroma government’s misplaced policy priorities. Public services, such as education, health, electricity and water supply are woefully inadequate, with almost 50% of adults dying before their 50th birthday, due to preventable diseases, poverty and malnutrition.
The sale of a diamond worth $50 million should go a long way to meeting the funding needs of vital public services, instead of calling on the IMF to constantly bailing the government out of bankruptcy.
Just this week, Koroma negotiated a $244 million loan with the IMF, which will be disbursed over four years.
Ruling party media regard this new loan agreement as evidence of the president’s record of good governance and leadership skills.
But the majority of Sierra Leoneans believe otherwise, as they struggle to feed their families, pay school fees, and cope with poor supply of electricity and safe drinking water.
The Koroma government continues to rely on borrowing to meet its financial obligations, such as paying the salaries of public sector workers. Since coming to power in 2007, the country has seen its overseas debt grown from almost zero to over $3 billion today and growing.
Sierra Leone has no business being poor. The country is rich in vast reserves of natural resources, but poorly managed by the government.
With corruption in high places costing the nation hundreds of millions of dollars a year, few in the country are surprised about the apparent quietness over the whereabouts of the $50 million diamond.
Should the IMF continue to provide a nation with hundreds of millions of dollars in loans that do not seem to be benefiting the majority in the country, where those in power are failing to be accountable?
State House has to come clean on the sale of the diamond, because once campaigning starts in the next few months in advance of next year’s general and presidential elections, amid all the confusion and political tension, the mystery surrounding the $50 million diamond will quickly pale into insignificance.