By Titus Boye-Thompson…
Presidential delegations are a necessary evil that any leader has to contend with. The make-up of such delegations create the scope for exposing Ministers and Heads of Agencies to the responsibilities of governance and the obligations of high office. In a word, being chosen to attend a trip as part of the President’s delegation is one of the most singular honour a President can confer on his Ministers and at most times, the decisions on who to choose show the direction of the President’s favour and also the priorities that he has put on his developmental agenda. In effect, a Minister who is asked to join the President’s delegation must also be responsible enough to ensure that he is an asset to the team, a willing subscriber to the President’s objectives and understands the core tenets of the President’s call.
Every so often, Ministers are called to join the President on his trips abroad but the concern that has started to be raised is on the relative benefit that these Ministers add to the President’s deliberations and the overall support that they give to the President while abroad. Some in the Press already see the President as being overburdened by these Ministers who fail to account for the stewardship that the President has bestowed on them. In the event, there is some concern raised around the failure of Ministers who attend trips with the President and give no account of their experience nor do they follow up leads that would result in the leveraging of investment, trade and aid for this country.
There is widespread sympathy for the President who it seems, has to make do with the material that he has to work with in terms of the capability quotient of some of his Ministers. While it is understood that not all members of delegations may engage in the high level discussions that the President would be involved in during state visits, some argue that Ministers who are put on such visits should have done their homework and seek prior counterpart discussions with colleagues or otherwise identify strategic agencies with which they may already have had some links to broaden their relationships under the aegis of such high level Presidential visits. In Saudi Arabia for example, there already has been established relationships between the Republic of Sierra Leone and the Kingdom.
These relationships go back some while and include support for Muslim pilgrims, aid, religious collaboration and funding for development projects. However, apart from the high level meetings by the President of which snapshots were distributed via social media, no other mention of side meetings or strategic engagements were reported between the Sierra Leone delegation and their counterparts. The reports came through had no direct bearing on the expansion of diplomatic, cultural and development links between Sierra Leone and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that would have given any indication of the direct benefit to Sierra Leone. For these reasons, the President comes under fire to justify these trips and even the size of his delegation at a time when the country is under austerity measures in order to rationalize the economy.
Those who question the President’s delegation, its make up or size do him an unwarranted disfavour. No President would attend such high level engagements without having his people who are the technical experts of his policy at his beck and call. These people should be within easy reach to provide the President with up to date reports of specific initiatives that the President may need to be updated on. The presence of Ministers and other high level officials are therefore necessary for the proper articulation of the President’s agenda and developmental priorities when he is engaged with those who can provide help and assistance to this country.
Some political observers have attempted to draw the distinction between the current crop of Ministers and those who had to become Members of Parliament before being chosen as Ministers as a central reason for the disconnection and lack of enthusiasm that some Ministers display in terms of providing that national focus for development. Some Ministers, they argue, have no real or actual constituency and therefore no direct link with any District or Region and that this lack of connection causes them to be arrogant and distanced from the people. This disconnection, it is stated came about as a result of the tinkering that was done to our system of representation and the constitution which made it the responsibility of the President to choose his Ministers and which also restricted him from choosing Ministers from out of the pool of Parliamentarians. Whereas the old system forced the President to make his choice of cabinet from the pool at Parliament, the direct link that Parliamentarians had with the people made the issue of regional balance more easily defined and the duty imposed on the President to seek the best possible cabinet from a pool already chosen for him by the people less burdensome.
The current system, though seemingly open to a wider pool of technical and specialist oriented cabinet choice, it is more difficult that at first thought. In this system, the President, mindful of the umbrage that would befall him if he were to choose a Minister who turns out to be a maverick or a bad team player, is now constrained by his own circle of acquaintances or friends that he may know or have come to know over the years. In his dispassionate efforts to seek what may be the best for Sierra Leone, it is now even easier for the President to make a mistake and choose a Minister who turns out to be a bad apple or a rotten crop. In this circumstance, the President is even more belaboured by the choice that he may have made in the best interest of the country but in time becomes frustrated when someone who on paper seemed to have been a good choice turns out very badly. In the event, the President may be burdened by such a choice and the inclusion or exclusion of such a Minister in a delegation becomes a matter of vexed aggravation for the President.
When these issues come under public scrutiny, the questions raised become tactile when it becomes apparent that opportunities are being lost in circumstances where those who should have done well in batting for the country are dramatically absent from the field of play. Sierra Leone currently enjoins in a series of developmental projects especially in the area of agriculture with the Islamic Development Bank, one of the central financial institutions in the Arab World and with whose directions other financial institutions such as the Kuwaiti Bank and the Arab Bank for Development take their cue. The absence of the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Food Security is widely believed to be linked to the dismal performance of that Ministry within the Presidential Delivery Team priorities for Post Ebola reconstruction and a telling discomfiture with the performance of farm yields and produce availability that has led to a widening of the hunger period and a worsening of rural livelihoods.
In the interest of lessening the burden on the President, it is proposed that Ministers who attend such delegations must come back with tangible proposals of how they would use the experience gained on such trips or the results of deliberations on how to improve relations between Sierra Leone and the host countries or institutions. They must be prepared before attending such trips by proper briefings and position statements on policy and priority developmental focus of this Government and with particular emphasis of the relationships between such engagements and how that would be anchored on the Agenda for Prosperity. They must by now be fully aware of how such trips feed into the President’s legacy and provide some indications of how a future President would pick up on these events for further strengthening the ties initiated by President Ernest Bai Koroma. All in all, Ministers who attend Presidential delegations must show the rest of us that they add value to the President’s efforts and that they are not just there as a bagful of Ministers in a silent delegation.