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Democracy minus Consent = X

By Moses Massa

Perhaps, this political equation; (D) minus (C) =(X) may seem strange. Well, it is not. The practice of democracy in our country can’t be denied. In fact it raises many questions as to whether we are performing an electoral ceremony every five year or empowering a few over the many, because it is fifteen years since the reintroduction of democracy in 1998, after the removal of the AFRC, and this to a large extent does not seem to have fulfilled its potential in the country.

Electoral democracy is simply the process of voting for political leaders in a given time frame, while governing democracy goes beyond this. It is not a given as the simplest of definition would want us to believe; government of, by and for the people. It is about citizens’ engagement, empowerment and participation. Over the centuries it could be argued that democracy by mere voting cycle did not bring about good governance, and this created the problem of representation without consent. With time, the significant evolution of democratic practices has given birth to the concept and practice of good governance.

Good governance is the idea that democracy works effectively to invest power and development in the ordinary citizens of a country. It is the conviction that citizens’ engagement and participation should not only happen during the electioneering process and not where elected officials are the only ones who should call the shots in governance.

Gone are those days when leaders thought they are all knowing, all powerful and universal and could make policies for and on behalf of their citizens without consulting them. Modern democracy is about seeking the consent of the citizens. It also means allowing discourse, debates and dissent to arriving at a consensus. Against this backdrop, I come to the critical issue of the construction of a 2nd International Airport at Mamamah; Mile 36, which was a presidential pronouncement on the State Opening of the Fourth Parliament of the Republic of Sierra Leone, December 14, 2012- correct me if I’m wrong.

 

When the President, Mr. Ernest Bai Koroma, on his State Opening Address to parliament made this pronouncement, there was a thunderous applause by the House. It was a remarkable gesture of political good will and respect for the highest office of the land.  It seemed many, including the opposition, did support the idea of having another airport than vigorously debated and critically appraised what the president said.

Before and after that presidential pronouncement were the citizens consulted for this project implementation? Often in development governance it is the duty of those in authority to do need assessment before embarking on humongous infrastructural projects that have the potential to affect the security livelihood of people.  It is becoming evident in this country that when a president goes to parliament, makes a policy pronouncement, he/ she gets his/ her way because the MPs do not go back to seek the consent of their constituents before debating and voting on the issue, which is even worrying for our democracy.

Having another airport is not a bad idea, because the present one is too small to handle all the air traffic and passengers. If so, how many flights and passengers use the airport? It is important to get the Airport Authority present the current data to the public domain for reviews. One is of the opinion that presently we hardly have at least 55 flights monthly with 250 passengers per flight, i.e. 55×250= 13,750 passengers. If so, is there no possibility of improving the existing facilities to accommodate the increase?; how much will the 2nd airport cost?; are there no other more important priorities to be considered and improved upon?; do we have safe and accessible clean drinking water?; are there enough, affordable and standard public hospitals in the country?; are there affordable and enough power supply?; are there standard constructed roads between Kono and Koinadugu, which are nearer to say the least?: or between Makeni and Kono?;  what about the many constructed roads that are yet to be complete as well as the current ones, some of which are badly damaged and in need of urgent maintenance? The questions and issues are so many that should the government attempt to address one or several of these, we will be on a better footing.

But do we blame the present government all the time? The opposition in Sierra Leone has never been a government in waiting. It’s disheartening to see they are not proffering better alternative policies that would improve the welfare of our citizens than simply accepting hook, line and sinker the stifling and crippling policies of this government. Arguably, if the opposition SLPP were serious these are the issues they should be bringing to the political discourse than fighting over who should be the next flag bearer. There is still time left for the 2017 Elections and my advice to Hon. Dr. Bernadette Lahai, is that you need to do your work; do it well, tease out the issues, pose the right questions and demand pragmatic not gullible answers that cannot address the present and future concerns of our people, and in doing so, maybe the people of this country will decide to give you a chance of making another history apart from being the country’ 1st female minority leader.

No doubt, some may say a democratically elected government need not consult its people for every decision taken. Still central to democracy, nonetheless, are people’s right to know, and a belief in the principles of transparency, accountability and check the wield of power. This is what participatory democracy is about. For instance, the government of President Ernest Bai Koroma has been graciously touting its Open Government Initiative Policy, but how open is it, when the APC government finalized the crippling mining contracts started by the SLPP with mining companies, and to date has it- and will not– made the terms of these contracts public?. Where is the openness Mr. President, when some of these mining contract terms,  give about One Trillion Leones i.e. $ 400 million as tax breaks to African Mineral alone, without letting the citizens know, thus bleeding our economy of such needed revenue to eradicate poverty and foster development in Sierra Leone?

Mr. President, you may have the vision but what you need most is to get the people move alongside you, imbued with the conviction and the passion to believe; that as a nation we have to accomplish the mission of self-sufficiency in our basic needs like affordable food and health facilities, energy and accessible internal transportation schemes than constructing another airport, whose services about 85% of our population will not be enjoying for the next decade as the present one at Lungi, because many of us can hardly afford the relatively cheaper in-country road travel than challenge the ever increasing dollar cost of international air travel.

Concluding, democracy is about debate, debate is about managing competing ideas; thus, this is my opinion. I’m under no illusion of any contribution, but unapologetically say effective consultation and thorough needs assessment before embarking on any given public project are important tools to ensuring sustainable development in any given state than implementing projects that do not serve the immediate or if not future needs of the people they are meant for.

Moses Massa- Senior Chevening Fellow & KAIPTC Alumni on Conflict, Peace & Security Email: mosesmsl@yahoo.com

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