By Hoccas Siwel
After government lapdog agency ACC did an unconvincing job justifying alleged loss of 47 donated laptops and a generator plant by the Chinese, meant for the NACOVERC office that ended elsewhere, NACOVERC had been on a low key keeping itself busy with pretty much convincing the very sceptical Sierra Leonean populace that COVID-19, as we know it is happening and devastating rich nations, is in Sierra Leone.
But as the New Direction governance drama continues down what seems a road of no return from which it would require a miracle to turn things around, another case of one government agency stepping in to save the day for another unexpectedly presented itself on Tuesday 30th March when no less that the country’s Coronavirus response coordinating arm, NACOVERC, came to the aid of our national football team, Leone Stars, in what has been defined as an intrigue, for lack of a better or more adequately appropriate word.
While the people are still hopeful Leone Stars can still qualify to the Africa Cup of Nations finals in Cameroon, how the game between Benin and Sierra Leone ended up not being played after Leone Stars had failed twice to defeat the weakest link in Group L, Lesotho, after giants Nigeria narrowly escaped defeat at our hands, both at home and away.
NACOVERC’s unexpected action of stepping in to save the day, by presenting the COVID-19 test results of the Beninese team shortly before the match on game day (Tuesday 30th March) that revealed that five of their starting line-up were positive for the pandemic , has once again put them in the limelight for all the wrong reasons, for which they have become ‘Our Darling, NACOVERC’ for sports mad Sierra Leoneans, especially the ill-informed, who know more about football games, names and scores, but not exactly what’s going on here at home. Unfortunately for NACOVERC, people say their action has raised more questions about how serious and effective they are in coordinating the nation’s COVID response meant to keep us and our foreign friends safe and alive.
As the public was once again vexed by the revelation that over $700,000 of tax payers’ money was spent on a day’s game in Lesotho for 21 extra people that the National Sports Authority (NSA), Ministry of Sports (MOS) and others added to the core group of 26 players and technical staff list the Sierra Leone Football Association (SLFA) had presented to NSA, for which we were demanding answers, it is the people’s belief that an elaborate hoax was perpetrated by no less than NACOVERC in an attempt to deflect the public’s attention away from this pressing issue of continued and nearly weekly disclosure of wastage/leakage of public funds by the party that was going to block leakages.
The average Sierra Leonean believes that the only way the dreaded strain of Coronavirus would enter the country and so devastate us would be by inbound passengers entering the country by air from countries with high number of cases and deaths. For this reason, we weren’t supposed to take a chance as any and every one entering the country will be tested for us as a people to be on the safe side. Some of the hundreds of millions of aid or grant monies including equipment and machines that have come into the country since our first cases were announced to date was allocated to NACOVERC to effectively execute this country-saving mandate.
But despite claims of mass sensitisation since inception, a huge segment of the population is still unconvinced that the virus is in Sierra Leone. Added to this lack of trust in our records, as the people see our reported COVID-19 cases as a way for the government to get its hands on the aid/grant a la carte countries with cases were getting their hands on from donor, lending and multilateral organisations, agencies, and partner countries, including our generous people in the Diaspora who did not disappoint by sending us what they thought was the much needed assistance.
It is widely circulated that after Leone Stars disappointed the country by failing once again to tame the Likuena (Crocodiles) of Lesotho – for which MOF, NSA/MOS and SLFA were in a tripartite mudslinging via press releases aimed at distancing themselves from how $700,000 (Le.7 billion) was spent for a day’s game by a country that cannot feed its growing and hungry population – they would make it up and qualify to the finals by defeating Benin by at least one or at most two goals here at home.
Therefore, people want to know what happened between leaving Maseru for Freetown that got our Leone Stars/NSA/SLFA/MOS so jittery that they allegedly cooked up the COVID-19 test hoax to excuse us from facing Benin. Was it the $10,000 plus land promised to each Leone Star in Freetown, where there is reportedly no free land, except state land? Was this an elaborate and poorly planned event to bury the Le.7 billion extra spent on the Lesotho trip, after weeks of similar financial mismanagement by government employees or functionaries? Or, was it a shameless attempt to steal the game from the Beninese without our boys subjected to either losing the game with integrity, or winning fairly?
Whatever the reasons, it was NACOVERC’s actions between when the Benin team arrived on Sunday 28th March and when they left after the game was postponed that have outshone all others, as they elicited a lot of questions from the public they hoped NACOVERC would provide answers for. While a lot of blushing Sierra Leoneans thanked NACOVERC for stepping in and saving our boys from humiliation – after Benin was pumped up by their defeat to Nigeria on Saturday 27th March and Sierra Leone further humiliated by failing to easily do away with Lesotho – they still wanted to know why NACOVERC failed to test and so quarantined the players that were positive? Were they the only ones positive out of the 80 man entourage that arrived here for the game?
Should we assume that upon arriving in Sierra Leone at Lungi airport, taking the COVID test is optional? Also, can one say they are tired and so be allowed to enter our country, mingle with our people and so spread the virus, and then be tested later? After people are found positive, are they allowed to leave the country as they wish without contact tracing, or is there a proscribed period of quarantine until further tests can clear the person/persons?
The fact that 80 people from a country that borders Nigeria, currently the worst COVID-19 affected country in West Africa in terms of morbidity and mortality, were allowed to enter Sierra Leone, with one of the lowest cases, recoveries and deaths not only in Africa but the world, without being tested, but were hero-worshipped to the point of being allowed to their hotel, begs the question: what is NACOVERC’s main role again?
The message here is that testing at the airport is optional; you can enter anywhere in Sierra Leone, just tell them at the airport that you are tired or jetlagged. You would even get an official government escort, sirens and all, to your destination.
So, after conducting the tests after Benin got to their hotel on Sunday, it is clear that we do not have the capability to deliver a test in 24 hours, as NACOVERC delivered the Beninese results in 72 hours, an hour before kick-off on Tuesday 30th March that disclosed five critical players including the goal keeper, captain and other starters COVID-19 positive, for which the game was eventually rescheduled for June 2021. How effective is our testing protocol after Benin said their players were COVID negative before entering Sierra Leone?
With the game conveniently postponed to June and the $700,000 spent to and from Lesotho still not explained to the people, what became of the Le 2.5 billion budgeted for the Benin match here that didn’t happen? Were Leone Stars so unprepared for the game and feared losing especially President Bio’s promise of Le.100,000,000 and parcels of land, that we had get the game postponed by any means necessary, and so further wasting and justifying spending the country’s money willy-nilly? Where is the money going to come from for the June game?
But the most serious questions about NACOVERC’s role in this COVID-19 footballing intrigue remain: firstly, why is it that NACOVERC is being protected from releasing books on its intake and expenditures? While the people were consoled by the knowledge that the 2020 Auditor General’s Report would give us a better insight, they reckoned it would have been a little too late as the alleged did would have already been done, with the accused never brought to book.
Secondly, after explaining away our cases and deaths, why is it that such an explanation came so late after people kept asking for a breakdown of cases? Why was it that our cases seemed stuck before last week’s explanation, especially the number of deaths? Also, after the five Beninese tested positive, where was that reflected in last week’s number of new cases, especially for the outbound visitors?
Of all that has happened since NACOVERC stepped into the scene including the unnecessary and financially devastating curfews that resulted to hiked prices that keep going up, the inter-district travelling ban and restrictions, the ban on sporting activities, closure of schools and religious places, allegedly sharing COVID-19 support money to SLPP members, the inference that can be drawn from how 80 people from Benin got into the country without being tested right there and then, and that the results came out 72 hours later, is there may or could be something to the people’s doubts about NACOVERC.
At this current rate of scandals, it is without a doubt that PAOPA has a lot to answer for, 2023 and beyond.