Sierra Leone in standoff over repatriation of sacked diplomats

Wednesday July 4 2018

Julius Maada Bio

Sierra Leone's President Julius Maada Bio. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

KEMO CHAM
By KEMO CHAM
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The Sierra Leonean diplomats sacked by President Julius Maada Bio are up in arms over their repatriation.

Shortly after being sworn into office in April, President Bio ordered the sacking of all politically appointed diplomats assigned by his predecessor Ernest Bai Koroma.

The directive was followed by another statement from the Finance ministry announcing the disbursement of funds for their repatriation.

But it seems the government was impatient with the pace of the repatriation.

The affected diplomats say the money disbursed was insufficient for the repatriation costs, which include shipping of personal belongings and airfares for the officials and their families.

Return home

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Last week, a warning letter from the Foreign ministry to the sacked diplomats appeared on social media. It issued a 24-hour ultimatum for the officials to return home – by June 30.

“The continued stay of all recalled diplomats in their respective countries of former accreditation is at their own peril since government has remitted their repatriation cost to them,” the letter from the office of Director General at the Foreign Affairs ministry said.

It added that salaries for the month of June, for the affected officials, would be received in Freetown.

That letter appears to have further angered the affected diplomats.

Initially, it was the press attaches who openly complained via social media platforms, accusing the government of misleading the public.

And now the senior diplomats have joined the fray.

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai

Sierra Leone's former President Ernest Bai Koroma. FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Through the Dean of the Sierra Leone Ambassadors, Mr Bockarie Kortu Stevens, who was the country’s envoy to the US, they accused the government of ignoring the regulations of the Sierra Leone Foreign Service code, as well as international laws governing the repatriation and withdrawal of diplomatic staff at the end of their tour of duty.

“The emphatic claim in the letter that full repatriation funds have been given to all ambassadors, deputies and attaches remains a disturbing reality that will continue to inflame feelings and give rise to unnecessary drama surrounding this whole issue,” the letter, published online and on some of the major local publications, lamented.

It appealed to the government to reverse the decision regarding the June 30 deadline, noting that it was “impossible to go by”.

Critics, including the now main opposition All People’s Congress (APC), have condemned the development.

Raised eyebrows

The issue is just one in a series of happenings since the new government assumed office, which have raised eyebrows among prodemocracy watchers.

Last week, drama unfolded in parliament where the opposition challenged the approval of a new head of the Anti-Corruption Commission, citing the “unconstitutional” procedure in the removal of his predecessor.

There have been reports of mass dismissals from the civil and public services, and redeployments which have been interpreted as targeting people thought to be sympathetic with or who have been appointed by the APC.

President Bio, who defeated APC’s candidate in the two-round polls, campaigned on the platform of reigning in on financial indiscipline and to depoliticise governance. His office says those being removed were identified as active politicians and were part of the problems facing the country.

Civil society

Other supporters of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP)-led government say the president needed the people he can trust to deliver on his campaign promises.

APC, which ruled Sierra Leone for last 10 years up to April 4, was accused of doing the same when it assumed power from the SLPP in 2007.

But critics and prodemocracy groups say an attitude of tit-for-tat would take the country nowhere.

Last week, a coalition of civil society organisations, the Standing Together for Democracy Consortium, cited instances of “selective transfer and unsolicited leave” placed on to public/civil servants which it said threatened national cohesion. It warned that the government’s reforms, if not handled well, could hinder much needed efforts towards unifying the country after the highly divisive March elections.

“Whilst we respect the constitutional powers of the President to ‘hire and fire’, we remain cognisant of the fact that this has to be done within the spirit and provisions of the law, and the need to build national cohesion after a divisive electoral process,” the organisations said.

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