Monday, August 8, 2016

Interview: Why Stanley Bangura for SLAJ President

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.
(C) Politico 25/05/16

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