Friday, June 6, 2014

Ebola Response Magnifies Government Ineptitude in Sierra Leone

Miatta Kargbo Minister of Health
The President of Sierra Leone Ernest Bai Koroma has a rather unfortunate tendency of making most appointments in the country solely on the  basis of political patronage. No matter how crucial the position, you have to be in his inner circle or be aligned with his political beliefs before he can appoint you to that position. Your past actions and your experience hardly count, as the only thing that matters is how loudly you praise his name. Some of his close people have taken to calling this tendency 'koromaism.'

The result of this disastrous public sector recruitment strategy is a government of individuals whose ineptitude comes on full display whenever there is an emergency situation in the country, often with fatal or embarrassing consequences.
Cholera Victim Receiving Free Health

Just a year or so ago, the response to a cholera outbreak in the capital Freetown was bungled so badly that it resulted in the deaths of many people and even necessitated the institution of a task force in State House, the office of the president, and help from the international community, before the disease could be brought under control. The response to the outbreak was unplanned and chaotic. There was no system of preventive action in place, no isolation strategy and the officials thought that they could actually control news of the outbreak through the dissemination of contrived propaganda.

For two years in a row, Sierra Leone stood to gain millions of dollars from the Millennium Challenge Corporation, a US based government funded developmental assistance organization that gives developmental grants to developing countries which are identified as having acceptable democratic credentials. MCC assistance was not in the form of loans and most countries that have benefited from their compacts and grants have seen substantial improvements in areas such as electricity and water supply.

However, instead of assembling a solid team of professionals to design the country's proposal, the task was given once again to the minions that swarm round the president. The result was that Sierra Leone's bid was rejected outright and not even tabled for a vote by the board of directors of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

But in very few instances has the incompetence of the Koroma government been put on full display and in the bungled response to the Ebola outbreak, a highly infectious and fatal hemorrhagic fever that has been raging in the neighboring countries Guinea and Liberia over the past three months.
Talk is Cheap

Sierra Leone shares boundaries with only two countries,Guinea and Liberia. So it borders on the insane for anyone to assume that an outbreak of disease in these two countries would not somehow affect Sierra Leone. However, that is exactly what Health Minister Miatta Kargbo, Africa's newest model of incompetence thought. A woman with little health care experience or education other than probably a nursing home job in USA, President Koroma somehow managed to convince the country's rubber stamp parliament to confirm her nomination as Health Minister, to oversee the President's signature program of Free Health Care.

The Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone epitomizes all that is wrong with the country. Corruption in the ministry is so pervasive that both the Gates Foundation and the Global Fund have limited operations in the country citing monumental levels of official corruption and fraud in the ministry. Just in the past few weeks, the Global Funds Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found evidence of pervasive fraudulent invoicing and vendors who did not exist in the ministry, resulting in the embezzlement of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Abu Jajua Leading from Behind

For the past few months, every health organization in the world and every serious news outlet in West Africa has been concerned with and cataloged the outbreak of Ebola in both Guinea and Liberia. The only person who seems to have taken the threat of this outbreak crossing into Sierra Leone seriously was one honorable Abu Jajua the opposition MP for Kailahun Constituency 7. Heorganized a series of Ebola education workshops in his constituency, bringing in medical doctors and infectious disease experts to educate his constituents about the Ebola virus, the signs and symptoms, and what to do in the case of an outbreak. While Hon. Jajua was doing this, Minister Kargbo was posing for the press.
Hon Abu Jajua's April Ebola Seminar
This is True Leadership

Now, it seems as if the health ministry had not even considered the eventuality of Ebola crossing into Sierra Leone. So busy have they been with writing fake procurement invoices that Ebola was not even item number 10. With Ebola confirmed in Kailahun, the district bordering  Guinea and Liberia, it has been discovered that the Ebola kits sent to the district have been expired since March of this year. There was no health care drill to handle the deadly eventuality and the Health Minister actuality had the audacity to order that people infected with the disease, instead of being isolated, were to be caught and brought to Kenema, a highly populated town in a district far away from the outbreak. This is almost like reading a health care guide for idiots, but it is true! Taking a highly fatal viral outbreak from a relatively isolated area and bringing the afflicted into a town teeming with people. Only President Ernest Bai Koroma knows where he gets these characters from.
Minister Miatta and Minister Mahmoud
The Rapist

Of course, the word about Freetown is now " please let us not politicize the issue!" You can hardly care about politics in the face of such a bungled catastrophe. Ebola does not know APC or SLPP. Most of the people of the areas affected by thus outbreak could care less about what is going on in Freetown, but are now having to cope with the negative consequence of hiring an incompetent individual whose only credentials to head such a sensitive ministry is a beautiful face and the ability to dress like a model, combined with an obscure business degree from an equally obscure university.

When even the Special Executive Assistant to the President Sylvia Omotunde Blyden,  who is usually the first to manufacture an excuse for thisgross incompetence comes out and says "I told you so," President Koroma should have immediately asked the minister to transfer to another ministry, as she is probably to close to him to be fired.

Sierra Leone has all it takes to become a great country. The first step in the process is to step away from this glorification of mediocrities. We have competent people in that country. Let us forget about political affiliations and hire people based on competence. If not we will continue to remain as Gallup say, the most unhappy country in Sub-Saharan Africa.

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