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Development of the ONS and CISU, 2005-2007

This was an obvious frustration for all concerned and the lack of financial support for the PRSP hit those institutions ensuring Sierra Leone’s security particularly hard. Effectively, they would not receive any funding through the official PRSP trust fund238. The ONS and other security institutions had clear ideas about which activities to prioritize, including organized crime, drug and diamond smuggling, fisheries, customs and border control. However, none of these activities could be undertaken in isolation. In turn, the government departments concerned were either unable or unwilling to take the initiative required to develop a comprehensive strategy needed to incorporate the role of the security system. Some of these issues are outlined in Box 23. This was a lesson for both the UK and Sierra Leone: Developing competent security provision and coordination in a vacuum was becoming as much of a threat as a

The main challenge within the PRSP process was how to build the capacity of weakened and inexperienced institutions to the point where they could bid for funding in a professional manner. Frequently, the organisations themselves did not know their own capacity weaknesses and, whilst this put the security institutions at an advantage, it also handicapped them in the eyes of the Government, who knew that they needed to realign their priorities, but did not know how. Rather than the security system being the leader in enabling the environment necessary for poverty reduction to occur, it now needed to be a follower. But lead institutions such as the Anti-Corruption Commission, the National Revenue Authority, the Ministry of Mineral Resources and the Ministry of Marine Resources did not appear capable or willing to take on this role. This presented all concerned with a quandary – how could a set of institutions contribute to broader Government when there was no broader Government to contribute to?

One of the assets of the 10-year MoU between the UK and Sierra Leone was that rather than being subject to standard donor three-year bidding cycles, UK aid allocation to Sierra Leone was fixed at £40 million a year for the duration of the MoU. This is a sizeable amount of money – the UK’s largest aid per capita programme in the world – but once allocated, it allows no additional flexibility for filling development spaces created by success in other sectors. The work undertaken among security institutions, for example, created opportunities for work in trade, the diamond industry, healthcare, Box 23: PRSP Implementation, But By Whom?239

education and local government, but the funding was not there to take advantage of the opportunities.

benefit to security, since there effectively was no accompanying plan for the rest of the Government.

Compared to the inception phase of security system-related transformation in the late 1990s and early 2000s, a process of disengagement by the Government from international advisers was taking place in 2006-2007. The ONS, however, played a central role before and during elections as an objective source of advice to the political establishment in State House. As stated by National Security Coordinator, Kellie Conteh:

“The leadership that was provided by ONS was consistent, it was focused. It also provided a general opportunity for all of us to participate. That bond, camaraderie, was very, very critical at elections. We needed to tell the public that there was no fraction, and that politicians could not use one against the other. Before, politicians would split the security sector, and exploited the vacuum created. ONS largely provided the leadership. Political tolerance – we did several statements on the radio, to get people to work together. At the end of the day, both the military and police realized that a storm had blown over”240.

At the same time, the perceived disengagement of the executive made it difficult to address fundamental problems, including an exit strategy by donors from the security system transformation process, however long that exit might take.

SSR is fundamentally a political process, and in some ways politics is more important that capacity-building. Without high level political support, the security architecture was in a difficult position. However, the ONS remained politically adroit and whilst it is fundamentally dependent on the current National Security Coordinator, in 2007 a number of officers have emerged who are able to take on a variety of different tasks and take over from the National Security Coordinator when necessary. As already mentioned, institution-building is a slow and incremental process, requiring periods of consolidation where staff can learn new skills to enhance overall performance. While the ONS had gone far very quickly, new institutions with a short institutional memory need time to take root. This process cannot be short-cut, a point that is true for the MoD as well as for the ONS.

The success of the ONS is reflected in the wide range of issues that the organization has dealt with as it has come into its own, which have not always, strictly speaking, been within its original mandate. The ONS has been involved in coordinating refuse collection from the streets and responding to the water crisis in the summer of 2006; it has also dealt with organized crime, as well as establishing a workable security framework and a localised system of intelligence gathering. Similarly, the security sector implementation plan that followed the Security Sector Review became the responsibility of the ONS rather than different Departments of Government contributing their specific expertise (which was the case with the PRSP). However, because the Government seemed disinterested, it was very much external actors, DfID specifically, that stepped in to help.

By 2007 the ONS was clearly identified as a success story. It had established itself as one of the “most effective Government agencies in Sierra Leone and […] fully capable of performing the core requirements originally envisaged for it: Preparing joint intelligence assessments; acting as a secretariat for national, provincial and district security committees; and providing strategic security advice to the President”241.

Indeed, one could argue that the ONS has been a victim of its own success. A review in 2007 concluded that “the ONS is now evolving into a de facto Cabinet Office with a much wider remit than intelligence assessment and national security coordination”242. Because of the Government’s adoption of “human security”

as a guiding principle, the ONS has started to aim to provide policy research as well as coordination to much of Government.

The centralization of risk and intelligence analysis as well as broad crisis response coordination carries both benefits and risks with it. ONS may be in danger of crowding out other government institutions by being too effective, even beyond their mandate, partly due to the relative weakness of other ministries, departments and agencies. At the same time, the strength of the ONS, particularly its ability to rise above political infighting, is embodied in its leader, the National Security Coordinator, or, more to the point, the specific individual

in that position. Whilst security is frequently about human resources, the danger of this is that once independence becomes embodied in one person, this can develop into a sustainability problem brought about by the lack of a succession strategy. This can be particularly dangerous when the strength of the ONS could, potentially, be exploited by future political leadership. An organisation is only as unbiased as the individuals who lead it. In the case of Sierra Leone, the absence of current effective Ministerial and Parliamentary oversight compounds the vulnerability of the ONS.

With the change of the security situation in Sierra Leone by 2007, CISU moved its attention from paramilitary organizations to serious crimes, particularly organised crime. Criminal organisations are adept at infiltrating and undermining security organisations, partly due to their command of economic resources, such as diamonds or drugs. However, the relative weakness and corruption of the overall justice system means that arrests made on the basis of leads provided by CISU would not necessarily lead to successful prosecutions. In addition, lack of funding for CISU reflected the lack of executive political will to support the organisation appropriately.

It had also become clear that in 2005-2007, many Government officials and parliamentarians did not understand the difference between ONS and CISU.

The relative strength of the ONS had created difficulties for CISU in terms of establishing its own identity and legitimacy, something that remains an issue externally, if not internally, vis-à-vis the two organizations. Discussions taking place during 2007 of moving ONS from State House to a separate, new building was seen as enhancing the ONS’ neutrality, but also separating ONS and CISU and thus enhancing CISU’s profile.

Despite the continued difficulties establishing CISU’s legitimacy between 2005 and 2007, it was able to play a critical role during the election period by exhibiting that several damaging and destabilizing rumours about coup plots and rigging of the elections were fabricated. Given that ‘intelligence’ of this nature had been a highly politicized tool just eight years before and had led to executive and security sector inaction in general, makes this a considerable achievement.

The charged political environment in the 2007 pre-election period cannot be over-emphasized. Even the ONS, the primary advisor on security matters to the President, came to be regarded with some suspicion during the run-off period between the SLPP and APC. To some extent this was due to arrogance on the part of the SLPP, who became so sure that they would win the elections that any information to the contrary became viewed as a conspiracy. The President’s preference for only listening to a small group of trusted advisers, coupled with a general distrust of security institutions and intelligence institutions in particular, would make the roles of the ONS and CISU increasingly difficult as they sought to balance the delivery of objective advice and gain the trust of the political executive.

At the same time, there was widespread consensus among both Government officials and UK advisers that the PROSECs/DISECs had come to play an important role in coordination and conflict resolution at the local level. ONS had established representatives in nearly all of the security committees at provincial and district levels. They had become an undeniably important player by acting as a secretariat and communicating important issues to Freetown.

Even in 2005 there was considerable local involvement in preparing the ground for the 2007 elections; PROSECs and DISECs came to play an important role by inhibiting and monitoring paramount chiefs and security officials who sought to discriminate against specific political actors. In addition, their presence on the ground further allowed a far greater outreach to civil society and a greater participation and consolidation of the PROSECs and DISECs as part of local communities. Critically, the two organisations’ coordinating role at provincial and district levels has, when effective, performed the same function as ONS at the national level in bringing together individuals in key positions who, if isolated, could be vulnerable to political pressure. One observer close to the events has noted that such figures “found strength and support from being part of a collaborative structure”243.

The focused engagement of civil society in the security system transformation process as an integrated component of SILSEP begun in 2006, also made an impact, as described in Box 24 by Rosalind Hanson-Alp. With the project

Strengthening Citizens’ Security, Conciliation Resources began implementation of a project with the explicit aim of ensuring enhanced civil society engagement in security-related matters, and by extension, the security transformation process.

Conciliation Resources, an international NGO, facilitated open meetings between civil society and security personnel in Kailahun District with the aim of improving local understanding of security structures and dialogue between security personnel and civil society.

During the first meeting, when security personnel presented the structure of national security, it became evident that most civil society participants did not know that there was someone representing them in the DISEC. As one civil society participant stated:

“He does not represent us and we are not aware he sits on DISEC on our behalf”. At the same time, security personnel stated that this member was currently suspended from the DISEC while investigating allegations that he was a political aspirant, which, if true, would breach the criteria of political impartiality. In turn, the security personnel used this civil society representative to argue that civil society as a whole was neither serious nor committed to participating in security issues.

This issue highlighted some of the challenges of collaboration and at their own admittance civil participants acknowledged that civil society was fragmented. As a result they did not have a strong voice, which made it difficult for security personnel to identify civil society partnerships.

The meetings conducted by Conciliation Resources covered a wide range of issues that gave people the chance to express their views on security and directly interact with security personnel. As one participant expressed: “This initiative is an eye opener for us. I have the feeling that the frank discussions around how we perceive ourselves will go a long way to bridge the gap between them [security] and us [civil society]”. It was agreed that there was dire need for civil society to coordinate as a forum from which they could nominate representation on the DISEC. Security personnel acknowledged the importance of improving communication to the public. As the ONS representative said: “I think the issue of DISEC going to the radio to discuss issues on security that is of use to the public will be an issue to be discussed at the next DISEC meeting. I consider this to be crucial”.

As a response to recommendations, within a month of the meeting, the Kailahun District Civil Society Organisations (KAIDCSO) was formed and one of its members nominated and accepted by DISEC to represent civil society on the committee with Box 24: Civil Society Engagement in the DISEC244