Following the visit of Saudi Arabian Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al – Saud to Sierra Leone on Monday 10th June, 2013, One would call how Hon. Alhaji Alpha Sahid Bakar Kanu, Minister of Information and Communications, who also doubles as the Official Government Spokesman, to know how successful the visit was.
In an interview with him, he explained vividly about Prince Al-Waleed’s visit to Sierra Leone. Amongst other things, Hon Alpha Kanu explained about his impression with the Prince’s philanthropy because of the donation made towards two of President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma’s programmes in the ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ – the Free Health Care Initiative and Youth Empowerment. The Official Government Spokesman simply answered my questions without me interpreting or analyzing the responses, to give readers an unambiguous picture of his views on the Prince’s visit to Sierra Leone. But to err is human; to forgive is divine.
And I must confess to the public that following my interview with Hon. Alhaji Alpha Kanu, the article on the interview which I posted to many media houses through their e-mails had a factual error with regards to the amount of money the Prince donated to the Government of Sierra Leone for the two programmes through the Alwaleed Bin Talal Humanitarian Foundation. In that telephone interview conducted two days after the Prince’s visit, Hon. Alpha Kanu told me that the Prince donated one million United States dollars towards the Free Healthcare Initiative for lactating mothers, pregnant women and children under-five, and the Youth Empowerment Programme. But regrettably in that article, I initially wrote one million United States dollars each for the two programmes in error instead of the real figure given by Hon. Alpha Kanu.
It did not take me long to realize that I have made a factual error in the article I had already posted to various media houses. Consequently, I communicated the real figure to them for correction before publication. Some of the media houses that had published the article effected the correction, including, the Sierra Express Media, Mysierraleoneonline and the All People’s Communication online newspapers. The article was titled: “Saudi Prince Alwaleed’s Visit to Sierra Leone – Alpha Kanu, Sierra Leoneans in the Gulf Speak out.’’ (Check the aforementioned newspaper websites for ease of reference). However, other papers did not, thus culminating in the controversy swirling over the Prince’s donation to the Government of Sierra Leone. As a practicing journalist with some considerable years of experience in the profession, I cannot be oblivious of the fact that we are the eyes and ears of the public at large. Our role, therefore, is to discover the facts surrounding any new occurrence/development and seek out the truth about what has happened. That is why I’m always obsessed with passing on factual information. But like any other journalist, we sometimes make factual errors that could not be interpreted as playing the devil’s advocate. We become professionally wanting when we turn a blind eye to an error without correcting it. And in the case of the article I wrote on my interview with the Minster of Information, I was very swift to send a corrected version of the interview to various media houses asking them to effectively correct the figure as one million U.S dollars for both programmes instead of one million dollars each for the two programmes.
As the Official Information Attaché representing my country in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, it is evident from all my previous articles that I have always advocated and promoted the good image of my Government and country both in the Kingdom and the entire Gulf States. Under the prevailing circumstances, such a sensitive national issue has now manifested into an impasse for which someone has to take responsibility. I should therefore be honest enough as a genuine practicing journalist to take responsibility for my factual error in that article rather than the public pointing accusing fingers at the Official Government Spokesman for a mistake I did, though inadvertently. With profound apology, I also decided to take responsibility over such a factual error with the hope that this matter will finally be laid to rest!
I think the matter was also laid to rest when the Awareness Times newspaper wrote in its Thursday, 4th July 2003 edition that: ”Awareness Times has yesterday seen an email letter from the Alwaleed Bin Talal Foundation officially sent to inform State House that the money donated to Sierra Leone by HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia was only one million dollars’’.
“Regarding the grant amount it is only $1 million as per HRH directions” Nauf Al Rawaf, Executive Manager of MENA & International Project at the Bin Talal Foundation wrote, adding that, the sum of money will soon be wired in to Government’s Consolidated Fund’’.
The email, the paper went on, was sent by Nauf Al Rawaf, in response to an official enquiry from the Special Executive Assistant to the President at State House, seeking for a clarification as to the amount donated. The paper also pointed out that: “Blyden, and many others at the scene (from both the Government and the Prince’s entourage) had understood the donation to be one million dollars “each” totalling two million dollars.”
I think some Government Officials are playing a very significant role in always disseminating information on government policies and its day-to-day activities. As government official, I believe Hon. Alhaji Alpha Kanu and other officials in Government have the same focus, which is to work towards ensuring President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma leaves behind a legacy that will transform Sierra Leone from a donor-driven country into a prosperous nation capable of providing for itself and helping other countries in need of assistance.
So, using the Prince’s donation to put a wedge between government officials in some of the newspapers and on social media is just one of the diversionary tactics being used by detractors to taint the image of the Koroma led- APC administration. Knit-picking or attempting to sow a seed of discord within the rank and file of cabinet will never succeed because President Koroma’s ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ is right on course.
I also think that this is the time we should first and foremost give thanks and appreciation to Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Saud and his ‘highly reputed’ Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) for promoting the country’s ‘Agenda for Prosperity’ through the US$ 1 million donation he made towards these two initiatives hundreds of Sierra Leoneans are benefiting from, if not more because, all child-bearing fathers are benefiting indirectly from the Free Healthcare Initiative while their wives and children are the great beneficiaries of the programme.
One of the challenges in Sierra Leone is youth unemployment, which has the potential to threaten our peace. For someone to donate towards youth empowerment, Sierra Leoneans should be thankful for the Saudi Arabian Prince’s timely intervention.
The purpose of Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul-Aziz Al Said’s visit to Sierra Leone was to explore investment opportunities. And the country has potential for investment opportunities in the areas Tourism, Banking, Real Estate Development, Hospitality, Telecommunications, Agriculture, Entertainment, you name them. These are some of the areas where the Prince’s Kingdom Holding Company (KHC) invests. As patriots, we cannot allow a ‘honest mistake’ to overshadow the potential gains that our country stand to gain from such investment opportunities.
Sierra Leoneans should encourage such a multi-billionaire to invest in our country instead of dwelling on something that will portray the bad image of our country or bring divisions in some quarters. I think the visit of Prince Al- Waleed to Sierra Leone to explore investment opportunities is a golden opportunity we should grab rather than throwing it away because of pettiness. On that note, I think we should lay the matter of 1 or 2 million dollars to rest now.