Today perforce citizens are obliged to ask governments to account but in tandem, the institutions that form the pillars for the promotion of democracy need first of all themselves to be above board. We have a whole lot of public offices which are supposed to function well in order to enhance the wellbeing of depraved citizens, but turn round and entrench the people’s suffering. You can actually count hundreds of these. What is most annoying is the fact that some of these outfits are set up by Acts of Parliament which the boards, Management and staff quickly discard and do the things they are not supposed to do and fail to do the things they are supposed to do. They actually abrogate to themselves authority.
If we want our country to move forward the pillars of democracy, good governance and human rights are to be placed in the right gears and made to work without any hindrance. Without this, we can hardly be proud of our country. Check out the landscape and you will find out that many African Heads of a States clamor to change the constitutions in order to prolong their stay in power. Even when President Obama scolded suit-tight Presidents in Africa some time ago many still nurture the idea of ‘pass a die’ presidency.
Much of our problems today are mainly systemic ones. Rotten systems have so entrenched themselves that today it is so difficult to upturn it. This is not to say that there are no honest people in some of our institutions, but no sooner they demonstrate that they want to take the narrow path, than they are corrupted to tow the rotten line. There are very few people you can class as the last guys standing. Our problem is that they easily get corrupted and you wonder where all their principles went. Name our institutions and tell me which ones are above board; very few. Check out the national audit report and you will know what I mean.
Take a look at the National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT). It was set up to help support people in their old age after working for donkey years on salaries that are nothing to write home about. In the absence of any old age scheme in this corrupt country, everybody initially thought this could well be a very laudable step by the then late president Kabbah’s government. But no! Today the pain of getting old continues as so many delays in processing retiree documents has caused many to die without receiving a dime! Even when the Audit report points out salient anomalies, that outfit is yet to sit up. See what the latest audit report says about the NASSIT:
“Some 32% of the trusts funds…are tied up in investments and loans to subsidiaries and associated companies, which are largely commercial in nature; some of these appear to have lost value significantly… The Board of trustees is failing in its responsibility to provide control and supervision as required by Section 8 (1) of the NASSIT Act 2001.”
One key delay tactic by NASSIT staff is their often erroneous claim that employers did not pay their contributions. This issue should hardly arise as the trust has the right by law to penalize any employer who fails to pay their employees contributions within 15 days of the following month. In fact the trust has inspectors who are supposed to go round to Employers whose contributions lapse. So for the Trust to wait until people retire before they know that there are lapses in payments smacks of incompetence to say the least.
An interesting provision of the Act that is in section 31, it says; “A valid social Security Clearance Certificate, being evidence of compliance by an employer with the provisions of this Act, shall be required of every employer by the appropriate authority or person in charge where the employer wishes to; (a) import, export or clear goods from a port, factory or ware house in sierra Leone”
Why is it that does not closely follow up to make sure of compliance but waits until the employee retires? Is this the way Senior Citizens who have worked assiduously to improve the lives of their compatriots are treated? Well I guess may be some of the workers are not expecting to grow old, so they will not be worried about the delays and misinformation on their contributions.
What we should take cognizance of is that the NASSIT contributions are unique in the sense that it is not from the consolidated fund, but contributed to from the remuneration of people employed by several establishments and not only government. This is why it looks absurd that some of the provisions of the Act take the pattern of other non-similar acts, like the appointment of the Board and other key employees.
Come to think of it, at the moment there is no strong body that seeks the interest of retirees and since most of them are aged, they are left to the mercy of unscrupulous staff whose very livelihood has been made possible by contributors to the fund. When you visit the NASSIT western Area office near the Central police, you find plastered all over their walls glowing deference for the customer. But you know what, this is yet to be proven and the Audit report says something quite different.
For a lot of disillusioned compatriots, they will think the whole issue of integrity and accountability is like the proverbial bee on the scrotum: do you crush it or let it remain there? Well if you care to know the audit also says that a total of 2,981 employees do not have NASSIT numbers. You will wonder where their contributions go!
What is completely lacking in the laws governing the outfit is consultations with contributors especially when it comes to investing the money in projects. The Audit report says some of the projects are hardly viable. Just remember the celebrated case of ferries bought and one had to be towed down to our seas. Indeed if our free society cannot protect the many, who are poor, they cannot protect the few who are rich.
By Ben Cambayma
Thursday March 30, 2017.