By Mahmud Tim Kargbo
In all our elections in Sierra Leone, preponderantly from 1996, when our nation returned to multi-party constitutional rule, political parties released what they call their Manifesto, incorporating their vision and action plan for the nation. This has become what I refer to as a “quadrilingual political illicit affair”, whereby the political parties use semantics and charming words to woo voters. As susceptible to attack as the typical Sierra Leonean voter is, party slogans are enough to slake their five–year thirst, hunger, poverty, etc.
Deplorably, these manifestos, which are escorted by pomp and pageantry when they are being launched, are hidden in a hole and covered with a huge and bleak lid until the next election approaches. The ordinary voter hardly sees the colour of these manifestos, let alone glances through them. Parties fail to carry out these manifestos when they come into power and are left off the hook. This has reduced manifestos to mere rhetoric of political parties to hoodwink unsuspecting and vulnerable voters.
All the above happen and are repeated every five years because there are no legal backings to political party manifestos. Parties are not obliged to fulfil promises contained in their manifestos since there are no legal authorities, at least not that I know of, to compel them to do so. Interestingly, there are always nicely packaged lies to tell the electorates during elections.
For instance, both the current SLPP and previous APC governments of Ernest Bai Koroma and Julius Maada Bio promised to improve the suffering majority’s standard of living by upholding the constitution’s values. This has never seen the light of day.
The hard but uncomfortable truth is that after 61 years of independence with all the minerals we own as a nation, most of our nationals still live in abject poverty. This means our political party rulers simply cannot lead but can only rule. So do we really need a political party manifesto or Citizens Manifesto?
Not long ago, civil society organisations and journalists released a development plan for Sierra Leone, which they named the “Citizens Manifesto”. Members of various civil society and journalist organisations trekked the length and breadth of the country to solicit ideas from the citizenry before finalising the document to which all political parties committed themselves. The billion-dollar question is, how are the SLPP and APC party manifestos launched four years back, propelling the Citizens Manifesto into action? How were the other political parties’ manifestos launched fashioned along this grand Citizens Manifesto development plan?
With the current system, one party takes the nation to the right, and the other comes to power and takes us to left. Why can’t we as a nation get a national manifesto but always have to depend on the manifesto from parties which go to protect the parochial interest of the particular party?
Years of experience continue to teach us that we need to have a Citizens Manifesto to collectively tackle key national developmental issues such as education, health, economic management, and agriculture, to mention but a few. No party manifesto should supersede the Citizens Manifesto to the point that programmes, policies and projects initiated by previous governments are abandoned and discontinued by successive governments. Why should one government introduce a three-year Senior High School programme for another party to come to power soon afterwards to increase it to four years and again revert to the same party that introduced the initial three years? Did we go or did we come?
Many would not be surprised that the various political parties are oblivious of the content of the Citizens Manifesto, either than that APC and SLPP would not be fighting over who is stealing whose ideas.
With the current Citizens Manifesto, there is still a way forward. In order for us to share, politicians try to distance themselves from it. The current system has been trial and error, where our rulers are toying with our lives. There should be a common plan for almost all aspects of our nation. This plan should be part of our curriculum to imbibe in our students right from the onset.
Again, political party manifestos should be fashioned along the line of the Citizens Manifesto or Development Plan. With this, parties cannot force any policy or programme down our throats simply because it was captured in their manifesto.
We have advanced far in the wrong direction. The solution, however, does not lie in us pressing hard on the accelerator but rather turning backwards; better late than never.