By Bampia James Bundu and Abu Bakarr Dakowa: Strategic Communications Unit, Ministry of Information and Communications
Sierra Leone’s national broadcaster, the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC), is one among many state institutions being empowered by the Ministry of Information and Communications under the Bio administration.
It is presently undergoing total overhauling in terms of equipment, staff capacity, independent control of its assets in a manner that guarantees modern, fair, and responsible journalism.
The Director-General of SLBC, Joseph Simon Kapuwa, disclosed in an exclusive interview that he inherited a crippled institution with less than Le110 Million in its bank account and indebted to the tune of Le125 Million to NP alone for fuel.
He explained that before he assumed office as Director-General in June of 2018, SLBC was characterized by frequent power cuts resulting in breaks in transmission due to the fact that huge debt was also owed to EDSA over the years.
The Director-general maintained that because the Corporation could not pay its debt to EDSA, it had over time resorted to crediting fuel from the National Petroleum which further increased its debt to NP
In seeking a permanent solution to the above, the Director-General intimated that he engaged with the Ministry of Energy after government instructed the Ministry and EDSA (Electricity Distribution and Sales Authority) to work out a payment plan with a view to ending the erratic power supply to SLBC headquarters.
It was against this backdrop that SLBC was connected to the emergency power supply line that enables it to get 24 hours uninterrupted power supply.
This, the Director-General said, has helped transform the Corporation to an enviable status and the issue of blackout has now become history in SLBC’s existence.
DG Kapuwa expressed his thanks and appreciation to the Minister of Information and Communications Mohamed Rahman Swarray for his trust and support over the years, without which he said the situation would have been very challenging for him and his team.
He maintained that he inherited old and substandard cameras with very low-quality output that was responsible for poor quality pictures they were producing. He said he approached the Minister of Information with the concern and without the slightest hesitation, the minister approved the request to purchase three brand new state-of-the-art cameras costing a whopping $13000 each for the Corporation which has significantly improved the quality of pictures at SLBC.
The Director-General further disclosed that for over two decades or more, there had never been a time when the management had renovated its facility at Leicester Peak, causing the buildings over the years to become dilapidated with nothing done to fix them even though the Corporation was collecting payment from other institutions whose antennas are installed there.
DG Kapuwa said he had to write a very convincing proposal that was approved by the Board with the directive of the Information Ministry to refurbish the Leicester Peak building.
According to him, their properties located in other parts of the country are now fully protected and the morale of staff high compared to before.
As a lawyer, he said when he assumed office he prepared title deeds for all the Corporation’s properties to be legally assumed into SLBC’s right of ownership. “I approached the Minister of Lands, and over 11 surveyors have now surveyed the Corporation’s property at Leicester Peak ”.
He added that the Corporation now has in its possession the title deed for Leicester Peak with the inscription: ‘State Land granted to the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC) signed on the 2nd March 2020’ which shows that the property now belongs to SLBC.
In order to make the Corporation more effective and have national coverage, he said he instructed some of his engineers to put a proposal together for its expansion to other parts of the country. He said the proposal was submitted to the Minister of Information who in turn submitted it to the Ministry of Finance which approved the project costing almost One Billion Leones for the purchase of equipment to be installed regionally.
The Director-General furthered that with the approval of the funding, the Corporation’s capacity has now been strengthened, allowing citizens to view live broadcast from places like Bo, Kenema, Makeni, and other areas across the country.
DG Kapuwa opined that one major success he attained upon assuming office was an improvement on the programs at the Corporation which he said is now attractive with high-quality viewership.
He added that the government through the Ministry of Information and Communications has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with a Satellite Company in Nigeria that has placed SLBC on the global platform. This, he said, will enable SLBC to be viewed worldwide for Sierra Leoneans and non-Sierra Leoneans to watch its programs and learn more about the country.
He also informed that since 2018 the Corporation has been receiving subvention from the government which helps with running cost.
In spite of the challenges, the country is facing in combating COVID -19 the Ministry of Finance, DG Kapuwa said, has approved over Le7 billion for the purpose of overhauling the studios of the Corporation.
All these successes, he avered, are happening due to the confidence reposed in the leadership of the Corporation and the government’s sincerity in achieving its flagship programs.