By Thomas Vandi Gbow
Can we actually rely on the youths of today to be good, honest and sincere people? It is not for nothing I’m asking this question but the irresponsible and reckless manner in which the numerous projects under the Ministry of Youth Affairs were implemented under the Koroma administration. Erstwhile President Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma had promised to enhance youth empowerment and consequently, he reposed confidence in some of his exuberant, dedicated party youths to run the affairs of the Youth Ministry from his first inning. His administration ensured that the Government of Sierra Leone (GoSL) and our development partners provided the much need funds to implement youth projects that were meant to benefit millions of Sierra Leonean youths in the nook and cranny of the country.
The blueprint for the implementation of youth projects around the country was very ambitious under the Koroma administration, such as the construction of youth villages where youths were expected to be trained to become self-reliant instead of become liability to society, the cultivation of youth farms, fishing project for youths in the riverine areas, you name it. In his guesstimation, former President Koroma appointed to the Youth Affairs Ministry the best he had to actualize the blueprint for lifting the Sierra Leonean youths from the abysmal depth of abject penury to a safer land of self-sufficiency through training that could earn them sufficient income to cater to the needs of their families and also contribute to national development. Seemingly, hope sprang eternal and our development partners and the GoSL started funding numerous youth projects running into millions of United States Dollars and apparently, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
The Koroma administration invested so much in the Youth Affairs Ministry in the hope that such investment would change the narrative of the youth landscape in terms of preparing young people to become self-reliant through skills training. But the startling revelations at the recently concluded Commissions of Inquiry about how billions of Leones and millions of United States Dollars meant for the implementation of youth projects were misappropriated by former Youth Affairs Ministers and other senior officials in the Ministry are evident of how such funds were diverted into individuals’ pockets instead of empowering the youths to better their lives. Those found culpable by the Commissions of Inquiry may be either indicted or exonerated from any wrongdoing, but the fact remains that there is enough evidence to prove that the billions of Leones that were to be invested in the Youth Farm at Koya Chiefdom in the Port Loko District in particular were evidently misappropriated. Even the Nigerian Commissioner Biobele led a team to the youth farm and all they could see were a few pineapple stems where billions of Leones had been supposedly invested.
However, the appointment of an exuberant, intelligent and quintessential young man by President Julius Maada Bio as the Minister of Youth Affairs brought a new lease of life to many Sierra Leonean youths who had lost faith in the former regime. He is Mohamed Orman Bangura from Tonkolili District, a blue-blooded member of the governing Sierra Leone People’s Party-cum-Pa-O-Pa.
In the last two years, the Youth Affairs Ministry has been reportedly very active in constructing carwash centres around the capital Freetown in order to create jobs for the youths, supporting youth farms in parts of the country, providing seventy boats with outboard engines for youths in riverine areas to embark on fishing and make money to empower themselves, and many other projects or programmes geared towards improving the lives of young Sierra Leoneans.
While the reign of Mohamed Orman Bangura at the Ministry of Youth Affairs seems very promising, it is however sad that there are allegations of corruption hovering over his Ministry and this could be very disturbing if they are true. A local tabloid on Wednesday 22nd July, 2020 reported that Mohamed Orman Bangura had refused to respond to allegations of corruption in his Ministry when contacted through his phone.
Amongst other things, the local tabloid quoted sources at the Ministry of Youth Affairs claiming that “Mohamed Orman Bangura allegedly withdrew over two hundred and fifty million Leones (Le.205, 000,000) for the construction and establishment of an electronic governance platform, but the facility was never provided.” The tabloid added that “when we checked online for the Ministry of Youth Affairs e-governance platform, it was unavailable.”
Besides, the tabloid reported that the Youth Affairs Minister allegedly diverted Le400 million meant for the purchase of a blue tractor that was on display at the 2019 International Youth Day celebrations at the Miatta Conference Centre, Youyi Building, Brookfields in Freetown. The procurement procedures, according to the tabloid, according to the tabloid, were allegedly not followed but the Minister instructed the Permanent Secretary, Andrew Sorie, to withdraw such amount to by a tractor that has gone missing.
Many other allegations ranging from lying publicly about reviewing the National Youth Service Act to the improper recruitment of the Consultant to review the National Youth Policy were leveled against Mohamed Orman Bangura. The seriousness of these damning allegations is predicated upon information that evidently leaked to the tabloid by inside sources that were quoted in the story. Certainly, there is no smoke without fire. Even if the allegations may not be wholly true, there must be some elements of truth in them because it is not uncommon to have some mavericks in sensitive offices who would not hesitate to leak classified information to the media out of frustration. The authoritativeness of the story gives the impression that the inside sources were very reliable and have access to sensitive information in that Ministry.
The one-million-dollar question is if the erstwhile Youth Affairs Ministers in the former Koroma administration failed to lead by example and the current Minister of Youth Affairs is being accused of alleged corruption, can we actually rely on the youths of today to be trustworthy? And if our youths are not honest or sincere, what then could the future hold for our beloved country?
Mohamed Orman Bangura is probably one of the youngest Cabinet Ministers Sierra Leone has; he should not be seen betraying the confidence President Julius Maada Bio has reposed in him to provide leadership for the Sierra Leonean youths. This is an opportunity for him to showcase his leadership acumen to the general citizenry so that he would be considered for bigger positions in future. It is against this background that he should carry out his mandate with credibility, probity, honesty and sincerity. But it would be very disgraceful and embarrassing for someone who should be seen proudly delivering on the New Direction Agenda turning into a kleptocrat overnight. It is only hoped that Mohamed Orman Bangura will come clean about the damning allegations leveled against him by the local tabloid.