That I have achieved. If anybody was at the world press freedom day, you will see that David Tam Bayoh was one of the participants and of course Philip Neville is actively in our forum and he even declared that he wanted to stand [for SLAJ presidency], which shows you that they have both come onboard. So frankly speaking the question of unity, I have achieved.
I also said that l would promote specialization and in promoting specialization l did say I would focus on training that is specific. We did a lot of training on health issues, on the Ebola, we also did training on gender issues and two sets of training on investigative journalism. We also did training on environmental reporting. So in terms of promoting specialization, I think I have started doing something very well.
I also did say that in the University [of Sierra Leone] we have Masters students as lecturers and it will not be nice for Masters students to continue to be teaching other Masters students, that we wanted to uplift the university to get to PhD level and l will be looking for scholarship or whatever to get them to move up to that level. Thankfully I got an offer from Airtel to get a bursary of US$5, 000 for one PhD student to help in their research if they are doing it in Sierra Leone or in the West Africa Sub-region. And as I speak to you l know for a fact that more than three lecturers have put in their papers to start doing their PhD. So there is motivation there. So I think frankly speaking I have gone through most of what l said I would do.
The last few months of your tenure have been shrouded in so much allegations of corruption and maladministration. And visibly you have been disturbed at some point responding to such accusations. Why would you want to continue to head such an organization under these circumstances?
Now, when I set out I did not know that there were these intrinsic problems within. And besides that, the other problem we had is that SLAJ did not have the structures. There was no financial structure before me and even the governance structure was not well defined and it was because the governance structure was not well defined. That is why you had executive after executive after executive having problems, because basically a lot of people wanted to become executive members for different reasons, not to give their services to the association. But I would say a lot of them are doing so because they want some benefits. They are looking forward to either travel or some financial benefits.
Now, because there is no well-defined governance structure it becomes an issue when you as the head directs others to do their work. They don’t want to do it and you do not have the power to sack them because they will say we are elected on the same platform, and you don’t have any power over me and all of that. And that is wrong for an administration and that is one of the things we need to fix up at SLAJ.
I am committed to transforming SLAJ. When I came in I said l was going to give back to SLAJ what I had taken from journalism. I have benefitted a lot from journalism although it is through hard work. The respect I have in this country, outside of this country, it is through journalism. So I said I would give back.
And that is why I have started a transformation process; I have started putting in place financial rules and regulations how things must be done. Of course in any society when you want to bring change you would come across stiff resistance. It took me three months to begin to convince my executive that we needed an outside firm to come in and put in place financial structures which were not in SLAJ. Before that, people were taking monies in millions of leones and going outside to pay. I insisted that ‘no, it should not be like that, you should pay by cheque. Then we would be able to trace whatever payments are made.’ Of course I got resistance, and I will tell you a lot of the resistance I am getting now, a lot of the invectives that they are pouring on me, is because I stood firm on issues of financial principles.
I am not in SLAJ to eat SLAJ money and I have been a stumbling block for people whose aim it was to make financial gains out of their positions. I would not be deterred because at the end of the day I want to retire with a strong SLAJ. I have started and I should continue because if I lose now it would be a long time more before SLAJ would start reforming again.
You made a point about some of the things you have realized that SLAJ needs to fix. For example you said when you came in some executive members were not taking instructions from you because they said you were all elected and you didn’t have the power to sack them. Like you said ‘these are the things we need to fix,’ I would like to know if you have done anything towards this.
Yes! I have spoken to people and we are looking at putting forward the governance manual that would be brought forward to the general body to have them look at it, agree on it and then pass it. It would be like bye-laws but the time is not ripe for now because now it would be too controversial. People will think wrongly that l want to concentrate all the powers into my own hands, become the super ruler, that sort of thing. So after now, we would be in a calmer state to be able to look at things objectively and say this is not for me Kelvin, this is for the good of the association.
Like your predecessor did in terms of adding one year to the term when he was going out, is that what you’re looking at?
That is what I am looking at. Then nobody would accuse you of wanting to benefit out of it, you know. Giving the opposition I am faced with for even bringing in these new rules and regulation on finance and all of those things, I know this is an election year and things would escalate and people would twist it into something different.
Briefly, how would you like it to look like, in terms of holding your executive members to account?
The question is not holding them to account. The first thing is we have to have an organogram to know that this person takes this decision and the decision comes down to so and so and so. And it should also state the extent to which each executive can make a decision on an issue. And if we have those parameters then we can go forward because everybody now knows where their boundary stops.
Are you saying that as it is now it is not clearly spelt out, as to who does what and where your power and responsibility stops. Is that what you are saying?
Exactly, that is the problem.
Are you a card holder of any political party in the country?
Certainly not. I have never been a card holder of any political party in all my life.
Do you have any relationship with any political party?
In this job that we do, you get to meet people and you got to be associated with them.
When this APC government was in apposition in the early 90s, they used to call me to interview them. Victor Foe knows my name; he calls me by my name because I did several interviews with him when he was in parliament from 1996 onwards.
So I know all of them. I have been in this business for 30 years, mind you. So I know people on both sides, but I am professional and my relationship with them is on a professional level. And that is where it would stop.
Word is that you’re too close to the main opposition, SLPP?
I think people are telling a lie. I am definitely not close to the SLPP. I have friends in the SLPP just like I have friends in the APC. I went to school with people in the SLPP like I went to school with people in the APC. I was accused again by the SLPP of being a pro-APC when the SLPP was in power because of the kind of stories we carried.
This contest for the presidency has been likened to a national one. They are saying you represent the SLPP even if you don’t hold a card, while your opponent represents APC?
I think people want to paint me wrongly. If you come into this country and for the first time and stay here for a whole month and you look at Awoko Newspaper, you would never ever be able to put your finger down and say this paper supports this party or this party. And that is how I have carried myself. So people would talk because they want to paint you and make you look bad. But I am not that kind of person.
Now, one of the issues that have come up, I think in the aftermath of the Ebola epidemic, which SLAJ was very instrumental in fighting, was the issue of the US Embassy funding. There have been a lot of talk around that but personally I have not heard you saying much about this?
This is again why I have said we need to put down rules and regulations. Now they are saying I as the head of SLAJ awarded a contract to Premier Media, headed by Dr [Julius] Spencer, without going through procurement procedures, which is bidding and all of that. But I challenge everybody to tell me or show me that document which is SLAJ’s document where they say this and this are the procurement procedures, there is none.
And you cannot hold government procurement procedures because SLAJ is not a government institution. That is one. Moving forward with that, how did that contract came to be awarded, did Kelvin or did SLAJ award the contract? No!
Dr. Spencer has been doing a lot of work with SLAJ on the Ebola and he was in fact the face of our Ebola fight. He was chairman of the committee. It came to a point when we thought that the messages were becoming monotonous. We had spoken to everybody and we were repeating ourselves. So the idea came to spice it up, bringing in sort of drama which would make the program look interesting. So on his own he [Spencer] spoke with people at the American Embassy, explaining the situation and gave them a proposal and they accepted the proposal. They paid the money. The contract was between him and the embassy that was why the embassy has not said one word. And even if the Embassy thought that we had breach procurement rules or whatever, they would not continue to deal with us.
The last training we did about two month ago which is on environmental studies, which is now running, we got money from the embassy. They have not banned us. They have not said anything we have done wrong.
They have their systems, they check it and whatever rules and regulations they have, they don’t have problem awarding that contract. It is just a matter of people thinking that the man …What Dr. Spencer brought to that Ebola fight could have cost us [SLAJ] millions and millions of Leones. He wrote the project with the UNDP, which gave us about a hundred thousand dollars; we did training with that and all sorts of things. It was that money we even used to support staff of radio stations with food, with credit for their phones to call people to interview for the program and all of that thing. That money came from the UNDP. Who wrote the project? Dr. Spencer. Did we pay him? Not a single cent.
He did also a project for the CDC and several of those projects ended up into serious training, serious programs which went all around the country for people. Who wrote that program? Dr. Spencer
Did we pay him? Nothing.
The Ebola radio program… that program was initially coming from the President’s office. It was they who said we should increase the time on the radio from the 30 minutes that we were giving to one hour and that they would pay. That program ran for more than one month. State House could not pay a single cent. It was Dr. Spencer who personally went through the UNICEF boss, spoke to him, and cajoled him, put our case across then UNICEF said okay, I think you guys are doing a great job, we would pay. A lot of the radio stations benefitted and in Kabala part of that money was used to build a multi-purpose hall and you should see that hall and you would feel proud.
But all of those radio station managers, with all of the money that they’ve got, not one has given Dr. Spencer one sweet to say thank you, and neither me.
Again, apart from that Ebola program, the education program…who sat down and drew up the contract and started the negotiations? It was Dr. Spencer. He doesn’t own a radio station but he did so much. I felt bad that we have not been able to pay him and we are unable to pay him. If we were contracting that out, it would have cost us so much money. And people were jealous because of that but the monies were not going into his pocket.
Again Standard Chartered Bank wanted to do something about Ebola; they contracted Premier Media to do it. They wanted to pay only Premier Media to do it. Dr Spencer negotiated such that radio stations would now come in and get some of that money. He convinced the people to increase their budget and to be able to spread it around but people still don’t appreciate. This is what this country is like.
Our next question will be more between you and your opponent now. Firstly, how do you feel that your own deputy (Stanley Bangura) is contesting against you?
Well I think it is a democracy and he has the right to contest and its okay by me. I am not bothered by that.
Now how would you say you are different from him to the voters, so that people should vote for you instead of him?
Well, at least I have done something that I can show and l would love to hear him talk about the things that he has done and what he wants to do. But me, I am running my campaigns on three things: One I am committed and I give my time to SLAJ a 110%. I hardly miss meeting and I do what is right.
Secondly, I’m honest. You go around the country, and you would not find my name in any police station. I have come to know police men just because I go there to beg for other people but not for myself, never!
Thirdly, I have brought into this profession integrity, and I think that people with integrity should stand up. I want this profession to be respected. That is why when I came in I introduced the “Black Tie Dinner.” Before then, the image of journalist is of wearing jeans and t-shirt all around. So I introduced to the people of this country that journalists are also respected people, they can dress well.
And I am changing the image of the association and I want to continue to do that.
Lastly, I have started a transformation agenda. SLAJ is changing. The structures are not in place. I am putting those structures in place. Before me SLAJ had employees but none of them were paying their NASSIT. Their NASSIT, Pay as you earn, NRA, were not been paid. I regularized all of that.
SLAJ registration as a body corporate was nothing. It never existed. The documents were nowhere to be found. I regularized that. SLAJ does not have a register of its members. That is what I am fighting to put in place. For a person that entered any school, you have an ID number, which tells you from the beginning up to now, how many people have gone through that school, whether they are dead or alive, everybody has an ID number. SLAJ does not have a register of its members and this is why you have people going on and impersonating. And it is something that should stop, it should stop.
So I am fighting now to have a register, electronic data base. I have developed that. And I would continue to put financial structures. Never in the history of SLAJ, 45 years, has anybody presented an audited account from a real, certified, professional, accountant. I am going to be the first to do that and I am not going to do that with any accounting firm but with the fourth largest accounting firm in the world – KPMG. And if anybody doubts the integrity of KPMG, they should look back at the Ebola funds, when people started twinkling with the Ebola funds, KPMG said we are hands off. That tells you how they value their integrity. They are doing it now and they would do it for three years and you would get to know the whole history. If I have eaten money would I open the books to an auditing firm like that, who could not bend on their integrity? I have nothing whatsoever to hide.
Some people are saying you are using the verification exercise to kick out those that you think would not vote for you. You may have heard that there has been a petition around this. What would you say to this?
This is verification. I don’t know why people are jittery but I know why. It’s because they came through the back door and there is no record of them. Before Steven [Douglas] started the number of the roll was nearly 1, 000. We are now crossing the 400 marks. So I am still waiting on the 500 ghosts to come and present themselves…who were on that list…who were SLAJ members. Where are they? I don’t think all those five hundred have died, yeah 10 or 20 might be dead. That is what the verification has revealed so far. But that is the tip of the ice bag.
I am not going to look at qualification, which has made a lot of people jittery because we know a lot of people don’t have the basic requirements, which is four WAASCE or O’Levels. That is not the concern right now. The concern right now is: did you go through…did you apply to become a member and were you interviewed? That is all what we want to establish at this point.
And even at that, there are problems, we understood. The vice president is the head of the credentials committee. Now we called a meeting, and I challenged the procedure of how he chose to accept members. And it was Umaru Fofana who stood up and said during his time that the process used to be [such that] the vice president chairs the committee, the committee interviews and each member of the committee agrees that yes, this person should be accepted and they sign and when they sign the list should be taken by the vice president to the president, who brings it to an executive meeting and they sit down and agree before they issue out letters.
We come to understand that what the vice president was doing was that the people come to the panel, they sit, they interview them, nothing is written on the forms, and then the vice president collects everything and says: “okay gentlemen, you will hear from me.”
He takes them, and he alone approves who should be a SLAJ member. That procedure is wrong and that was what was challenged, which led to the membership verification committee. He was claiming [that] nothing was wrong but according to Umaru, procedurally it is wrong. It does not mean that when you are a head of the credentials committee therefore you must take sole decision without the rest. And a lot of things are coming out and people are jittery, they start attacking the process, so that they can torpedo the process and it does not go on because they don’t want the cleansing to go on, that is the whole problem they have with the list.
Are you expecting this to be ready before the congress?
I am expecting it to be ready, the head of the Electoral Commission is a man of integrity and I believe he would address the issue. I don’t know how many people they have petitioned; I don’t know the grounds of their petition. The Electoral Commission just wrote to us asking for a two days extension, so that they can handle the issues. Let him handle it whatever comes out, if it is okay we will not oppose and we would accept it. But I respect him, he is a man of integrity and he would do the right thing.
I have heard accusations as well that you have, through Awoko, hijacked an agreement between SLAJ and Airtel. That is the SMS news update. According to what I heard it was supposed to be for SLAJ but now it is between Awoko and Airtel?
(Chuckles) You know, in 2010, I did not even think to become a SLAJ president when I sent that proposal to Airtel. That has nothing whatsoever to do with SLAJ. That had been activated even before I became SLAJ President. Like I said, people are just drawing conclusion [Kelvin presented a copy of the agreement with Airtel which showed that it was signed within 2012].
I would like to know what mistakes, if any, that you may have realized you committed within these last few years at the helm of SLAJ and how you intend to address them if you are elected for the next three years?
Frankly speaking, I think I trusted people I should never have trusted. Moving forward, I am going to be very circumspect.
Thank you very much for your time
Sierra Leone journalists vote on 3 June this year for a new executive. Two people are running for presidentK- incumbent Kelvin Lewis and his Vice President Stanley Bangura. Kemo Cham talked to the two presidential contenders who spoke about their plans for the next three years, if elected. They also responded to accusations and made counter-accusations. Here is Mr Bangura:
Politico: Why are you running for president of SLAJ?
Stanley: My decision to run for the presidency is informed by so many things; first among them is the fact that SLAJ needs leadership that can uphold the constitution.
As it is, if you read Article 15 of our constitution, which talks about regional branches; that section talks about the autonomy of the regions, which requires the region to run independently, mobilize their resources, expend them and contribute or pay 25% of whatever they collect from the regions. But what we are seeing now is an attempt to micro-manage the regions. And having served as regional chairman for two consecutive terms, we had a situation where the regions ran themselves and only account during annual general meetings. And now the president is saying all monies should be paid into one account, which implies that if the region needs a chalk they would have to write the headquarters in Freetown for it.
So I think it is against the spirit of the constitution. I believe SLAJ needs somebody that would uphold the constitution. So I am coming into this race because I believe the constitution is sacred and has to be protected.
But then also, you would realize that there is growing resentment within the association. A lot of people are shying away from the activities of the association, a lot people are attempting to suspend their membership in the association. So in other words that means SLAJ needs a leader who can bridge the gap and let members understand that there are no weak links. In a membership organization like SLAJ, there should be no weak link. If we have journalists that we call veterans, they still have a critical role to play to upcoming journalists, we should not attempt to dump them. Journalists in the provinces also have a critical role to play.
So we need a leader who has the strong absorbers to resist the falling apart of the organization by way of engaging in things that send membership away. I think that SLAJ requires that leadership and l believe I have what it takes to provide that leadership.
Let me take you also to the public order Act, which we have been struggling over the years with, previous executives lobbying and employing diplomacy to get the government to repeal Part Five of the Public Order Act. What we have not demonstrated is persistent engagement. You raise the issue and at some point it dies away. I think SLAJ needs a leadership that will persistently engage the government in a positive way to let them know that the law is bad yesterday and it is bad today and it is even bad tomorrow. So if SLAJ requires that kind of a leadership, I think I can be that leader to provide that kind of character, that kind of attitude.
When you say SLAJ needs that leadership that will engage the government positively, how is it that the current leadership is going about it that you think is wrong, after all you are part of the executive?
Yeah, I agree, I am part of the current executive. But then for every vehicle you have the driver, and so he takes responsibility for whatever. So I am saying, my own thinking might be different from his. It bothers around relationship, you cannot be shying away and you think people would work to you and say let’s us have this thing out. I have built relationships over the period and I think I can use those relationships to get those that matter, the duty bearers, to understand. It comes again to the question of trust. They must trust the leader that if he says A it would be A. And I think I am the person that can talk to anyone anywhere and he would believe I will do what I would say.
In your statement you made mention of your closeness to people in authority, which you think is an advantage for you to negotiate things like expunging that aspect of the public order Act which we do not want. You must have heard now word going around about your relationship with ruling party. Are you a card holding member of any political party?
Before even attempting to answer that question, I think the point I made, when I said I have built relationships, does not explain relationships with the government. I am saying I have friends, not necessarily those in government but those who can influence those in authority to take the necessary action. I have got friends across colors, across regions, so I am saying I can take advantage of those relationships.
To answer your question, I have never been a card carrying member of any political party in Sierra Leone and I have never attended any political meetings.
In that case argument that you are going to take SLAJ and put it on a silver platter for the APC doesn’t exist?
I would take you back to the days of Umaru Fofana, when he was accused of belonging to a particular political party. Because I believed in SLAJ than any other thing, I stood my ground together with colleagues, I mobilized, I let people understand, despite the political pressure, despite the percussion. I was persecuted for my beliefs. I don’t believe in party colors but on people that produce results, policies that inform change and so that is enough to explain that over the period I have not been thinking regional wise or party wise. Otherwise Umaru Fofana would never have been president because in 2008 he was perceived in many ways but then I don’t believe in party colors. We stood by him.
And you just have to visit one of my investments, the only person that is immortalized [there] is Umaru Fofana, and no political party member, even though I was challenged that I ought not to have a portrait of him. So this explains, I think, that I am beyond party lines. I believe in good leaders, I believe in policies that inform change. That is what I am. So it is a farfetched thought that if I am elected president I would have SLAJ on a silver platter for the government.
On becoming president, that is if you are elected, I know you have so many things that you want to handle. But I would like to know the five most important ones that are on top of your priorities?
Uniting SLAJ; having an acceptable law that will replace the Public Order Act; strengthening of regional officers; and also working towards building permanent infrastructure for SLAJ, so that we move from the era of renting. I am an enterprising man; I know how to achieve that. I am not talking the talk but I am saying I will work the talk. These are the five key benchmarks I will work to achieve once elected.
You have emphasized a lot about your work as regional chairman, which you are obviously very proud of. From our discussion you look very much attached to that but then there have been accusations that you are favoring the north where you come from. For example, in terms of the verification, the other camp thinks you have delayed accepting those who applied to join SLAJ and have been waiting for ages. Some people believe that you have masterminded all that by ignoring Freetown and focusing on the north as Chairman of the credential committee?
That is not true. When we came to office, we inherited application forms and invited new applications. In Freetown we shortlisted those applicants who met the criteria for interview. We conducted the interview and approved members. First [time] in the history of SLAJ at the national level we agreed to take the interviews up country. Before now the regions would conduct their interviews and they would send the completed forms to the chairman of the credentials committee. But then we say we can work together with the regions to ensure that applicants go through this process of interviewing, unlike in the past when people applied and you just worked through the forms and say these are the members, without going through the credentials. So we decided to reach out. I am only providing leadership for that committee. The committee is made up of other members, the secretary general, the financial secretary; the public relations officer and the floor member, who is Francis Sowa. So there is no way one man can take a decision to favor anyone without the involvement of these people.
We understand, like I said earlier, that you focused on the north where you are said to have approved so many people and Freetown in particular….and also that you have single handedly decided who should be a member [of SLAJ]?
It is untrue, like I said it is not a process that is carried out by an individual. It is done by a team, a committee, we went across the country. We did not receive application before and we informed the regional executives to put together applications. For example, in the north, when we went to the north, we found a huge pile of applications. Some of them had been on the waiting list for five years, so we conducted interviews.
Let me also remind you that if you are having 31 approved members from the north, it is because you have more radio stations there than in the south and east put together, which explains why you have more members applying from the north. In the southern region we only found eight applications. We interviewed eight people and four were approved and the other four were recommended not to be approved by the same regional executive who said the applicants were mere photographers. In the Eastern region we approved more than 17 members and this was not done by Stanley, it was done by the Committee. I did not write to these members that have been approved. It was done by the Secretary General, Moses Kargbo. He sent out acceptance after we had all agreed that these people had met the criteria and deserved to be members of SLAJ. So there is no way I can favor the northern region. For Freetown, we interviewed many people and we approved so many people.
Now, as it is, your campaign team has filed a petition about verification of members. It’s interesting that you are not happy with how the verification is going on?
The petition was actually informed by certain things. The campaign team petition the process as been flawed.
And you believe that?
I believe in that because it was a general meeting that sanctioned the formation of a verification committee with terms of reference. One is to develop a data base for SLAJ and to update members’ status in the organization. You know some people applied with an ordinary diploma but some of them are now PhD holders. So it is to provide an update on the data.
It [committee] is made of three members; that is the chairman, Steve Douglas, Theophilius Gbenda and Zainab Kanu. Unfortunately Zainab was ill and so she could not avail herself for the process but then Theophilius Gbenda was available. The chairman in seven districts decided to go alone or followed the president for the verification process. To us we think it is unfair. And this is a committee, the terms of references is very clear, it states that decisions can only be reached whether it’s consensus or two third so in other words if the three of them cannot reach a decision then you should have the two of them. But it was only the Chairman and the president of SLAJ who is not a member of the committee that went round to do the verification. This explains why we saw people that went through us, I mean the credentials committee, who were placed on a pending list, some of them were even rejected, on the verified list. So if the process was flawed then we will challenge the product.
We cannot be criticizing people of being corrupt but we are doing things that are tantamount to the same things we are criticizing. We actually call to action the commission that we are not satisfied, which the commission accepted. They accepted that our concerns are serious. So they had a meeting with us before they issued out a press release.
To corroborate the claim, we saw two letters, the one was in response to the report that was presented to the membership by the chairman of the committee, in the absence of the second person, and he did that alone.
Whilst he commended the effort of the chairman of the committee, he drew attention to many things. One of them is the persistent mention of Kelvin’s name and he warned Steven that there was no way he could be part of that particular process when he was moving with the president, who was not a member of the committee. And to him he thinks the president should step aside from the race because he created doubt in the verification process.
That is who?
That is Theo. He just did a letter to the commission yesterday, he responded to the press release and he reaffirmed that the president should leave the race because he had created doubt in the verification process.
So what do you as a campaign team want?
Well we have stated our point to the commission; you know, we are respecters of the structures of SLAJ.
Do you want to go to court?
We believe we have elders. There is an elders committee in the organization. We have SLAJEC that has the responsibility for the conduct of the election, so we petition that we don’t want that verified list to be used because it is flawed. We have seen names that have been added on the list of people who are not members. We have also seen the omission of names of people who are members in the other region. And we have provided supporting documents to the commission; we have provided evidence to ascertain our claim of a lot of discrepancies on that verified list. In the first place it should not have been Douglas presenting the verified list to SLAJEC. The terms of reference is very clear, that after completion of the job, they should come back to the executive and the completed job is presented to the general membership that sanctioned the formation of that particular committee. But here we are seeing a situation that very close to election, just one person presenting that this is the list we are going to use and if you are not verified….. imagine, we have members in the Diaspora. How do you expect them to come here to verify, we have people that are in government establishment. So if you walk to a region and just have people from radio stations and newspapers to verify, it is a blatant attempt to disenfranchise other members of the association, and these are concerns that are emerging now. And SLAJ, as they have been referring to it as being the last man standing, ought to do things the right way