Women in Sierra Leone’s public service are still not safe in their jobs despite the enactment of the gender equality and women’s empowerment law. President Julius Maada Bio could drive roughshod at anytime he wishes.
Many women have crumbled under his sledge hammer, and those that remain in their jobs do so with sunken hearts. Their future is bleak as long as they Occupy those posts to Bio’s pleasure. The hammer could descend on any of them in a twinkle of an eye especially those tagged as APC (All People’s Congress) sympathisers.
Pending his assent on the the gender equality law amid harassment and dismissals of women appointees showcases Bio’s greatest hypocrisy. The new law, government says, resonates with the 30% quota recommendation of the defunct Truth and Reconciliation Commission. The recommendation came after a long subjugation of women in Sierra Leone. The country’s decade-long conflict worsened women’s situation. The new law, by its intents and purposes, set to enhance women’s Participation in every walk of life in society. But, its implementation is a wait-and-see affair.
According to the Minister of Gender Affairs, there will be 44 women parliamentarians, a big leap for the current parliament with only few women. By the new law, one would say, President Bio presents himself as one ready to lift women in Sierra Leone to higher echelons of society.
But, his recent dismissals of women and replacing them with men created a big doubt on women’s empowerment in Sierra Leone. Speaking to this press in an interview, a political commentator (name withheld for fear of reprisals) renders a chronology of senior female public servants who Bio has asked to lay down kits without just cause.
He begins with Lara Taylor Pearce, ASSL (Audit Service Sierra Leone) Chief who was been arbitrarily suspended from office in November last year owing to unspecified allegations. The suspension came at a time the 2021 audit report was going to be tabled in parliament.
On several interviews, Minister of Information and Communication, Mohamed Rahman Swarray found it difficult to show the offences. All that he could say, the auditor breached professional standards.
He also failed to Substantiate his claims making the dismissal one of the most suspicious of Bio’s tyranny..
Section 37 which lays down the procedure for removing a judge of the superior court of judicature is also applicable to the removal of an auditor-general. The clause succinctly says a tribunal for the investigation of the auditor-general ought to have been up and running prior to her suspension.
The clause was trampled upon by President Bio who suspended the auditor general before the judges for the tribunal are tribunal are empanelled. It took a long time to set up the investigative body which moves at a snail pace. Le17bn was budgeted for the tribunal, but sources say the money has not trickled down to the last man Since her suspension, no money was paid to Lara, a further violation of the female employee’s rights. It remains unclear whether Lara would be restored to her post. A male auditor-general currently runs the institution. Lara is just one among dozens of women who have have been illegally dismissed from their offices She Miatta French, the Electoral Commissioner for Western Area was also recently sacked by President Bio without any proper and sufficient reason. Madam French is among those who stand up for social justice, and does not mix up matters. She calls a spade a spade and nothing else. She refused to take part in going tricks, a move that created bad blood between her and the President. She made Sierra Leoneans believe that not all could be corrupted. The lure of money cannot take her integrity away.
But, she has paid a big price, but may come back one day in a different capacity. The erstwhile Commissioner has colleagues in the same boat. The sacked Attorney-General (AG) and Minister of Justice. Dr Priscilla Schwartz is also one of Bio’s casualties. Schwartz who made mark in Europe for her legal expertise was axed by Bio over false treason allegation against Alfred Paolo Conteh.
Conteh was Minister of Defence as well internal Affairs in the past government of President Ernest Bai Koroma. The former Minister was at a meeting at State House with President Bio on rolling back Corona when he allegedly fell foul of the law. The treason allegation was a ploy to take Paolo’s life away, but Schwartz’s refusal to participate in the ploy cost her the AG’s job. Priscilia was replaced by Mohamed Lamin Tarawallie.
Bio’s crackdown on women appointees did not only stop there but also extended to the ex-Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Nabeela Tunis. The former female minister was kicked out of office without justification.
In what appears a remorse or a shed of crocodile tears, a new office known as Resident Minister for the Western Area was created for her. Such office which has never existed since Sierra Leone was discovered.
Residents in the Western Area known only the office of Mayor which is held in high esteem Tunis was also replaced by Professor David Francis who was Chief Minister. The list continues. The old adage of how a man treats his own men is an indication of how he would treat others applies to Bio’s situation. Female politicians outside SLPP has seen the most inhumane and degrading treatment.
Former Minister of Social Welfare, Gender and Children’s Affairs, Sylvia Olayinka Blyden was arrested and detained for close to three weeks in a cell at the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) headquarters over allegations of sedition and false publication.
Blyden is also the publisher for Awareness Times. Spending 21 days in a police cell is a ride on the rocks especially for a woman. The Awareness Times Publisher was supposed to spend only for 72 hours in light of the crime of which she was accused. She was later transferred to a female correctional centre in Freetown where she was held for months Bail applications for Sylvia was turned down by Magistrate Hannah Bonnie who sat on the matter.
The former female minister saw the light of day only after government was satisfied that the former minister did no wrong. Founder and Leader of Unity Party, Femi Claudious Cole was also arrested and detained over criticism of Bio’s fake census. She was also released without charge: Cole is head of COPP (Consortium Of Progressive Political Parties), a breakaway group from the weak and docile umbrella body, All Political Parties Association. Former female Minister of Local Government, Diana Konomani was also threatened with arrest and detention owing to her critical views of the illegal census. Former Commissioner-General for National Revenue Authority, Haja Kallah Kamara was also dismissed and locked up in a CID cell in Freetown for three days over allegations of corruption. The matter never went to court. A notable female police officer, Assistant Inspector-General of Police, Memunatu Conteh was also harassed before she was suspended without just cause. She too would have handed laid down kits, but God saved her The dismissals and intimidation of women appointees renders Bio’s government an unfriendly environment for women.
Thus, the enactment of the new gender equality law is a sinister cover-up of Bio’s crack on female workers in Sierra Leone