Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sierra Leone president taps technocrats for cabinet

Newly-elected Sierra Leone President Ernest Bai Koroma has appointed the first ministers of his government, mixing technocrats with some political loyalists from his party which won recent elections. Koroma, a 54-year-old former insurance executive who was sworn in last month after winning a tense presidential run-off in the West African state, named 10 ministers of his new cabinet in a broadcast on national radio late on Monday. His Sept. 8 election followed the polls success in August of his All People's Congress (APC) party, which won a parliamentary majority, beating the ruling Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) of outgoing president Ahmad Tejan Kabbah. The elections were seen as a test of stability in the former British colony, five years after the end of a 1991-2002 civil war, one of Africa's most brutal conflicts. As finance minister, Koroma appointed a professional accountant, David Carew, managing partner at the local unit of international auditors KPMG. For his foreign minister, Koroma chose Zainab Bangura, an experienced good governance campaigner who had run as a presidential candidate against both Koroma and Kabbah in a 2002 election won by the latter. Bangura, the only woman in the first 10 ministerial appointments, had been working with the United Nations in neighbouring Liberia, as had the new agriculture minister, Sam Sesay. MINING IS MAINSTAY Geologist Alhaji Abubakar Jalloh was named minister of mineral resources, a key post in a country where mining is a mainstay of the economy. Illegal 'blood diamonds' had helped to finance the civil war, but Koroma has vowed to overhaul the sector and launch a campaign to stamp out administrative corruption. 'We want a government of national unity that is going to encompass people who are competent,' Koroma's spokesman, Alpha Kanu, told Reuters. He was named minister of presidential and public affairs. Civil society groups generally welcomed the appointments. 'They seem to be technocrats ... We need professionals who can do the job,' said Valnora Edwin, director of the Campaign for Good Governance group. At least three known Koroma loyalists were appointed to the new cabinet, among them Minister of Justice and Attorney General Abdul Serry-Kamal. Koroma, who defeated SLPP candidate and Vice President Solomon Berewa to win the presidency, was expected to fill the remaining cabinet posts by the end of the week. The APC-dominated parliament was due to approve the appointments. Since Koroma's victory was declared, some members of the SLPP have complained of being attacked by supporters of Koroma. The new president has called for such violence to stop.