The Information Directorate
The Information Directorate is responsible for the dissemination of Government Policies, aspirations, achievements, challenges and future plans to the citizenry. This is done through the media. The Directorate hold Press Conferences every Thursday where their responsibilities are discharged. Press Briefings also discuss topical issues of the week and the implementing Ministry, Department and Agency and the Press are given the opportunity to talk on the issue. The Directorate is a weakling in this Minsitry. There is a need for a functional review of this Directorate so that the weaknesses will be identified and appropriate action taken.
The Office of the Government Spokesman
The Minister of Information and Communications doubles as the Government Spokesman. In this respect he also disseminates the aspirations, achievements and challenges of Government to Sierra Leoneans within and out of the country. This is done through the print and electronic media as well as meetings, conferences and discussions. The Minister is assisted in his assignemnt by the Deputy Government Spokesman in the person of Mr. Sylvester Swaray and the National Coordinator and Outreach Officer in the person of Mr. Abdullai Barayatay, both of whom are contract workers. There is need to assign more civil servants to this office in the hope that the new salary scales of Civil Servants will soon be introduced to give Civil Servants living wages .
The Attitudinal and Behavioural Change (ABC) Secretariat
The ABC Secretariat was established by Government to undertake aggressive, massive and sustained campaign geared towards changing the negative attitude and behaviour of Sierra Leoneans to positive ones. The Executive Director and the Second-in-Command were appointed to the office in August 2011 charged with the responsibilities of identifying and correcting negative attitudes and behaviours which had impeded economic, social and political development in the country. The Secretariat is supervised by the Minister and the Permanent Secretary is a signatory to the Secretariat’s account.
Since their assumption to office, the Executive Director and the Second-in-Command have been very effective, efficient and pro-active in their campaign. They have taken the Secretariat to all the provincial headquarters and almost all the District headquarters of the country, visited many institutions including the police, military, schools, Universities, Ministries, Departments, Agencies etc. His Excellency, the President, in 2011 appointed an Advisory Group to guide the activities of the ABC Secretariat. However, the Group is yet to perform its functions.
The challenges of the institution include inadequate finances and staff. It is hoped that with the requisite finances, staff and logistics the presence and impact of the Secretariat will be felt in every nook and corner of the country.
The Independent Media Commission (IMC)
The IMC was established by an Act of Parliament in 2006. The Commission consists of a Chairman and ten other members, all of whom are appointed by the President acting on the advice of the Sierra Leone Association of Journalists and subject to the approval of Parliament. The main function of the IMC is to regulate Mass Media institutions and other matters connected therewith . This Ministry has worked assiduously with the Commission to review the Act and the Code of Practice of the Commission so that the relevant amendments to the Act could be taken to Cabinet and Parliament for approval, whilst the changes will be treated appropriately. The Commission submitted the final draft of the amendments and changes to the Act and Code respectively, but they have been withdrawn by the Commission with the understanding that the Commission is yet to do more work on the documents.
The National Telecommunications Commission
The Commission was established by an Act of Parliament in 2006, as amended in 2009. The Commission comprises a Chairman and six others who are appointed by His Excellency the President, subject to the approval of Parliament. The main function of the Commission is to licence and regulate the activities of telecommunications operators so as to promote efficiency, fair competition, expansion of investment in the sector, development of the sector and the protection of users of telecommunications networks and services. The Ministry is not represented on the Commission. However, the Ministry makes ICT policies which should be applied by all, including the Commission.
The Commission provides funds for the Ministry to enable it to attend important ICT meetings overseas. However the funding is always inadequate. There is need to have detailed discussions with NATCOM on this issue. Moreover you should liaise with the ICT Adviser to the Ministry to have a detailed list of all ICT meetings that should be attended by the Ministry and their financial implications for onward submission to NATCOM.
The Universal Access Development Fund
Section 13 of the Act makes provision for the establishment of a Universal Access Development Fund ‘which shall consist of a percentage of the gross income of service providers as declared for income tax purposes determined by the Minister by statutory instrument.’
According to Section 16 (2) of the Act the UADF shall be used to address the needs of the least advantaged communities in telecommunications.
There has been a lot of debate on the UADF. Whilst some people believe that it should be housed and managed by the Ministry, others believe that it falls under the purview of the Commission. The Act is very evasive on the issue which should be made explicit by the Minister by statutory instrument. It will be better if this issue is clearly resolved in the revised Act.
SIERRA LEONE NEWS AGENCY (SLENA)
SLENA is a semi-autonomous agency created by an act of Parliament and headed by a Managing Director. It was established in the early 80s with the aim of increasing access to information with the use of modern communications device and techniques. The institution, at its inception, was determined to develop free and pluralistic media, aimed at promoting democracy and the development of the News Agency across Africa.
SLENA used to function as a news wire service by gathering and selling information to deserving organisations, i.e international organisations such as Associated Press (AP), United Press International Agency (UPIA), France Press (FP) and Reuters. SLENA also supplied news to the Pan African News Agency (PANA) to enable the latter to disseminate news and information aimed at correcting what was then perceived as biases, inbalances and distortions prevalent in the Western Media against Africa. The Institution gradually deteriorated due to lack of modern equipment, untrained and poorly paid demotivated staff, inadeqaute cash flow and lack of mobility.
The Ministry has been greatly concerned with the appalling state of affairs in SLENA and tried in its own way to revitalise the institution. The fourth of the resource centres funded by the UNDP was housed in SLENA inorder to boost up the facilities of the place. Computers, tape recorders, cassettes and a motor cycle was allocated to SLENA. An application has been submitted to the Director General, Human Resource Management Office for the recruitment of a Consultant to assist the Managing Director of SLENA, but no response has been received so far. Infact, the Consultant in the person of Mr. Ibrahim Karim Sei started work in SLENA in 2012 with the hope that his recruitment would be formalised and finalised soonest. With his presence the institution recommenced its production of a News Journal. In October 2012, with the facilitation of the Ministry, Government employed 25 qualified professional journalists for SLENA ranging from Reporters, Sub Editors, Assistant News Editors and Editors. Ten laptops were provided for the institution by ECOWAS.
The challenges of the institutions are lack of understanding, cooperation and unity bewteen the Managing Director and staff, lack of adequate water and toilet facilities, lack of office accommodation in the provinces and lack of contents for the website. The greatest problem facing SLENA is the unsavoury relationship between mangement and staff. Efforts should be made to critically look into the situation so as to foster peace, unity and coopeartion between the staff and management.
National Optical Fiber Backbone Project
In May 2011, the Ministry of Information and Communications and Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. entered into a Commercial Contract in the sum of USD 15 million to build the National Optical Fiber Backbone Network in Sierra Leone. The Contract was carefully reviewed by the Exim Bank of China and the Bank proposed several modifications and finally required that both parties sign a Contract Agreement. In August 2012 the Contract Amendment was signed. On the 24th of September 2012 the Government of Sierra Leone, represented by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, signed the National Optical Fiber Backbone Project with the Exim Bank of China. In the early part of 2013 an advance payment of USD3,000,000 (three million United States dollars) was made to Huawui Technologies to facilitate the commencement of work. The company has conducted a site survey of the project taking the prefered route of the Ministry into consideration, i.e. Lungi to Koidu in Kono district. The prefered route of 350 km saves 50km out of the 300 km of fibre to be laid. It is hoped that the cost of the 50km will be used to provide power, shelter and other supportive facilities, the financial implications of which should have been incurred by the Government of Sierra Leone.
The implementation of the project is very slow. It is necessary that a meeting comprising the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, Huawui Technologies, and this Ministry is called to discuss all issues relating to the project so as to map the way forward.
Government Printing Department
The Government Printing Department was officially commissioned by the late President of the Republic, His Excellency Dr. Siaka Probyn Stevens on May 15, 1980. It was then well equipped, vibrant and productive. The staff was motivated, hardworking and committed. The equipment and machinery were superb. With time the life span of the machines and equipment was exceeded, the Government Printer and staff were frustrated, discouraged amd completely demotivated. The state of affairs of the institution is contained in a Memorandum referenced GPD1/10/9 Vol II of 29th March, 2010.
“The Present Status:
1. I am constrained to once again bring to your attention and that of the Minister our present inability to meet with our responsibilities due to the defective and obsolete machines and equipments in the Department. Our continued reliance on some facilities that are on average 34 and 43 years old respectively to meet tight delivery dates can be frustrating and it is progressively becoming a daily concern to us.
2. As an example, we started the production of 1,900,000 Local Tax Receipts on 3rd February, 2010 and completed on 24th March, 2010. During this period we worked overtime, on weekends and even on public holidays. We had to borrow Numbering Machines because ours are old and faulty. This order could have been completed within four weeks or less using facilities with minimum sophistication.
3. There are other official jobs (excluding Legislation and accountable documents) whose production and delivery we are deeply concerned about especially during the 2010 Financial Year, such as: The Presidential Address to Parliament, The Budget Speech by the Minister of Finance and Economic Development, The Recurrent and Development Estimates 2011 – 2013 and The Recurrent Expenditure actuals for FY 2009 and 2010 (the latter two books consisting of 800 and 900 pages approximately). If we are to use the present facilities, then presentation to Parliament will definitely be delayed. The present situation calls for immediate attention in terms of investment, please.
4. The consequences of using outdated, obsolete and defective facilities are: Low productivity, high overhead costs (overtime and weekend working have to be undertaken to meet delivery targets). The potential for industrial accident is very high especially because the guillotines safety mechanisms are always faulty, low morale and latent discontentment among staff caused by frequent breakdown. Under such circumstances cost can never be recovered and facilities would never be replaced. This is a situation in which secured jobs cannot be provided for employees, nor one which contributes to the well being of the Nation.
5. The Management of the Government Printing Department welcomes the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) Project that the Government is envisaging with Themis Investments Limited but it seems to be in the long term. The Project Schedule prepared by Themis Investment Limited indicates that the proposed new operation will commence 1st January, 2011 (i.e. if the schedule is met according to the timeline given).
6. We are urgently recommending that short term or stop gap investments be made immediatelty, on Offset Printing Machines, Guillotines, Stitching Machines, Numbering Machines and Materials to enable us discharge our responsibilities, i.e. the publication of Legislation (as stated in the Interpretation Act No. 8 of 1971), Government Policy in general, Printing-General orders B65, the Statutory Instrument No. 9 of 2007 – The Financial Management Regulations, 2004. Such investments would strengthen our institutional capacity, increase productivity and reduce overhead cost (less overtime working) and boost staff morale.
7. In light of the above, I would strongly urge that immediate action be taken to purchase these facilities to remedy the critical existing situiation so the present operations of the Department will not come to a complete halt in the very near future.”
With the sad state of affairs the Ministry was moved by compasssion and dedication to duty to do all it can to turn the institution round positively. The Minister, the Permanent Secretary and Senior Staff of the Ministry visited the institution, toured all the various sections of the Department and held a meeting with management and staff.
During the tour the visiting team saw the miserable condition of the Department. The roof was leaking; the floor was unsightly; the staff was demotivated, miserable and frustrated; the machines and equipment were derelict, outdated and were more of a liability than an asset to the institution.
In the meeting the Hon. Minister thanked the management and staff for their hardwork and commitment in the midst of all the challenges facing them. He promised management and staff that he will do all he can to make the institution a viable one.
The Ministry tried Romarong Printing Press of Kingtom, Freetown and the Themes Printing Press of Kenya, but both proposals were not found favourable. The Ministry found a solution in the Excellent Printing Press of Ghana. The Printing Department went into a Build, Cooperate and Transfer Agreement with the Printing Press resulting in the rehabilitation, furnishing, equipping and modernising the Government Printing Department into a modern state of the arts Printing Department. The newly rehabilitated Government Printing Department was commissioned in May 21, 2012.
The challenges facing the Department is the need to look into the Agreement in detail, identify all the action points, with time line; come up with the appropriate organisational structure and Modus Operandi, get an independent body to value/cost all the work done and machine purchased by Excellent Printing Press of Ghana, involve all the stakeholders in the discussions including the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, the National Revenue Authority, the Law Officers Department etc. get the institution to embark on an aggressive marketing drive; find ways and means to mandate all MDAs to take all their printing jobs to Government Printing Department; open an Escrow.Account where all moneys accrued by the Department are depositied and ensure proper monitoring and evaluation so that the expenditure of Excellent Printing Press could be paid within the shortest possible time, whilst ensuring excellent and timely work.