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Sierra Leone Cabinet Minister Sparks Controversy With Comment

A statement by a cabinet minister in Sierra Leone's government that Ghanaian President John Kufuor helped a former opposition party defeat the incumbent party in last year's general election is generating controversy. The minister for labor and employment said President Kufuor helped the All People Congress (APC) party in its strategy to defeat the incumbent Sierra Leone People's Party (SLPP) by advising the opposition to employ more than seven thousand strong polling agents during the elections to ensure victory. But the SLPP described the revelation as an infringement on the sovereignty of Sierra Leone, as well as an affront to the tenets of the Economic Community of West African States not to interfere in the internal politics of neighboring countries in the sub-region. Kelvin Lewis reports for the Voice of America in Sierra Leone. From the capital, Freetown he tells reporter Peter Clottey that the SLPP, now in the opposition, is unhappy about the ministers pronouncement.

"The Ghanaian High Commissioner here has issued a statement trying to refute the story that in fact the Ghanaian president did give help to the ruling APC party. This actually came up in a report in a newspaper the Concord Times. But I was there at the opening of a real estate development, which was the first of a gated community to be opened. And it was at that ceremony that the minister of labor did say that in one of their meetings, when they were consulting, they had a meeting with President Kufuor," Lewis noted.

He said the minister's pronouncement is generating discomfort among some Sierra Leoneans.

"And in one of their intense meetings, he said that President Kufuor advised them to have over seven thousand polling agents if they were to unseat the SLPP. It has been looked on as what President Kufuor did to help the APC in winning the election," he said.

Lewis said some critics of the ruling party say if the minister's pronouncement was accurate, then the sovereignty of Sierra Leone was highly undermined.

"Exactly, that is true, and I think that is why the Ghanaian High Commissioner here tried to put up a statement to emphasize that President Kufuor and President (Tijan) Kabbah had very good relations, and the relationship that President (Ernest) Koroma is now benefiting from was actually cemented by President Kabbah and President Kufuor. And she was trying to emphasize that President Kabbah did play a role, and that President Kabbah and President Kufuor are very good friends," Lewis pointed out.

He said although there seems to be history between the Ghanaian government and the Sierra Leonean government, sovereignty should not have been compromised.

"I actually agree with the lot of critics here having said that this is not something that should have done, that the Ghanaian president should have stayed off the internal politics of Sierra Leone," he said.

Although the opposition SLPP is displeased with the minister's pronouncement, Lewis says there is very little it could do to have its concerns addressed.

"I don't think they can do much other than make public their antagonism against such an issue. All what they can do is give the public their statement condemning the action, and that is all I think they can do, and I don't think there is anymore that they can do," Lewis pointed out.

He said the ruling ACP party claims it did not consult with the Ghanaian president in isolation, but that other heads of states in the sub-region were consulted.

"Obviously they are saying that a lot of these consultations happened with a lot of other West African leaders, and that it was not President Kufuor alone. They are obviously not happy with it, but they also had that opportunity to be able to cement that relationship," he said.