Letter to editor

SRL: Mismanaging Community Expectations!

19 November 2009 at 22:47 | 915 views

By Abu Beah

A friend recently sent me a copy of Rutile News. A cursory read of the maiden newsletter(Vol.1, Issue 1: March 2009), exposes two clear and compelling editorial flaws: That the ’form’ and ’content’ are lousy and it is a PR machine talking down to readers rather than engaging them.

The low-down and misleading piece in the magazine is the article on "managing community expectations." After reading the article, it’s amazing to note what intense industrial allegiance and extravagant loyalty can do to a talent. Trying to add up those ’raw figures’ of SRL’s cash-injection" into the local economy is a brain burster. The calculator function on my cellphone crashed trying to compute the company’s expenses on social services. What a shame! I’m sure those figures are for internal use and not for publication.

To be frank, the gap between these shameless figures, splashed all over the central pages and the puny small prints of the local development scheme on the ground, makes SRL look dishonest, incoherent and amateurish.

In addition, is SRL really claiming to have spent Le. 3.7 Billion to underwrite social services in the mining communities in recent times? May be adding up more spent leones on fuel for their heavy vehicles to the tally makes them look good. Or paying out millions of leones to chiefdom authorities is the new SRL development strategy.

What’s really there to show for this over-spending? It’s perfectly good to bat for a mining company that keeps the pay-cheque coming, but to pass of cynism and falsehood as facts undermines intellectual honesty, Bald claims of mining philanthropy supported by astronomical cash payouts that do not fund sustainable development on the ground are mere cascade of reckless rhetorics.

For sure, a maiden edition should have engaged readers and set a decent ’tone’ that is free of mass communication spin. But this newsletter is a perfect model of how not to run a PR machine.

I hear that the new SRL General Manager, Sahr Wonday (I have never met him), is a hands-on manager and a man of superlative intelligence. As the first Sierra Leonean General Manager, I hope he will tell his PR Team that all should not be in the public domain- particular figures SRL may not defend in the future.

The Chief Executive, John B. Sisay’s (first Sierra Leonean to hold the post) line of demarcation between services provided by government and that of SRL was right on the pulse. He is right to say that SRL does not "replace" government in the provision of social service for the community.

But community development is about ’legacy’ and ’sustenance’! I have not met John Sisay yet, but I hear is a man of action. I hope he will push Community Affairs Department to have a Special Projects’ Supervisor. A young, sharp and untainted (preferable an indigene) person to support the building of clinics, bridges, markets, parks, schools, and give seeds to farmers. That will be SRL’s legacy and not the dishing-out of millions of surface rents, agricultural and chiefdom development funds---for the pockets of individuals. It’s a misplaced move for SRL to run a centre-page ’spread’ highlighting these expenses that do not impact on the lives of ordinary folks.

SRL must be bold enough to recruit qualified and experienced young people from the community. This group will be of some help because they monitor every move of the mines and have the right insight to the company’s public engagement. It will never hurt , as the mines recently hired a high school grad as an expartriat Engineering Manager!

Abu Beah is an indigene of Impere Chiefdom and is currently based in Pretoria, South Africa . E-mail: abu.beah@yahoo.com