Our sister country Ghana prides itself in running an open and transparent government. They are so open that they have revealed the budget for their national team’s travel and stay in Brazil if they were to go up to the finals. The figure is a staggering $20 million.
They are very open to even reveal that figure. The result however is there has been a public outcry that the figure is too much. Following the outcry, the government has listened and the figure has been scaled down to under $10 million.
The reason why we bring this up is because this is what the Open Government Initiative (OGI) should set out to do. It should not be a talk shop trying to counter each and every negative publicity that is directed at the government. It should be an initiative to make open the dealings of government so that the people are educated about how and what government does.
We have seen town hall meetings and we have seen parliamentarians going back to dialogue with their constituents, but that is not enough. The dealings of the government have to be made open and transparently shown to the people. This is why the Ghanaian example has been so instructive.
Therefore as we prepare to bury our former President can the government come out in the open to tell us what they have budgeted for the funeral expenses? It is obvious the funeral is a state affair. The coffin, the dress for the laying out, the preparation of the grave etcetc will have to be borne by the State. The hosting of international delegates to the funeral will also increase the expenses. The fuel costs, the food and entertainment for the soldiers and police in the funeral cortege, the police and soldiers providing security are all expenses which have to be borne by the government.
There can be no question that such expenses are justified. But then we deserve the right to know how much is budgeted.
By keeping such figures hidden, it can only mean that some fraud is being covered. This may even give the leeway to fraudsters to pocket substantial amounts of money all under the name of organising the funeral of the former President.
To us these are the issues the OGI should be championing such that people can begin to have confidence in the government that they are open and transparent.
In the absence of any open disclosures on public spending, there can be no claim to an open and transparent government. It can be in theory that is only talked about but in practice, there is no open government.
The good lot of people in this country are not really interested in the budget presented in parliament. This is more so because the figures appear to be falsified as we pointed out in an earlier publication.
The people will relate more when they are told, that for a specific event a specific amount has been budgeted. Then the people will relate to be proper judges to claims of the government being wasteful or frugal.
By presenting and making public the budget for events like the funeral of Pa Kabbah and even coming back to say this is what we spent on the whole funeral, could be the actions which will indicate that our government is open and transparent.
Anything short of that
… May God help Sierra Leone
Tuesday March 18, 2014