Alusine Kainde Alu-Conteh, Chairman of the Parliamentary Oversight Committee for Sports, has dismissed suggestion that the entire funds budgeted for the Leone Stars’ participation in the TotalEnergies 2021 Africa Cup of Nations (AFCON) was spent.
Hon. Alu-Conteh said whatever amount was budgeted was for the whole of the tournament, and that with the early exit of the team, the remaining amount will be refunded to the consolidated revenue fund.
The lawmaker was speaking in the context of ongoing debate, mostly on social media, about the fate of the money, which some Sierra Leoneans believe was too much to be spent on the tournament in the first place.
The exact amount of money allocated for the country’s participation is in dispute. Some reports have cited Le27billion (US$2.7million).
But some, including Chernoh Bah, publisher of the Africanist Press, an online publication critical of the Bio administration, claim it’s Le75billion (U$7.5 million).
Mr Bah fueled the debate with a social media post earlier this week, alleging that Le75.586 billion (U$7.5 million) in public funds was withdrawn from the Central Bank in the name of the AFCON.
“With only three games played, it’s now difficult to explain how they spent the money, and if any is left,” he wrote.
Hon. Alu-Conteh, an opposition lawmaker, told Manoreporters in an interview that not every allegation deserved a response.
He also said people should learn to seek clarification before commenting on issues.
“I will challenge anybody that we cannot use all of that kind of money. That is why when I saw the report on social media, I said to myself that people must learn to get their facts right before publishing and causing a lot of noise about it,” he said.
He added: “If the FA was given Le75 bn, it was for AFCON, it was a budget for the start to the end of the competition for Leone Stars. Now, we have exited at the group stage. The question that people should have been asking is how much was expended, which piece of information I believe the providers of these monies should tell us. I will challenge anybody that we did not even spend even closer to the tune of Le50billion. It is impossible, we did not reach that threshold of expenditure,” he stressed.
The 33rd edition of the continental male football tournament, which is ongoing in Cameroon, marked the third time Sierra Leone has featured in it, and it comes 26 years after its last appearance there.
In spite of their brief stay, the Leone Stars performed well in their Group stage, notably holding the defending Champions Algeria (0-0) and another tournament’s favorite, Ivory Coast (2-2), before been defeated by a goal to nil by Equatorial Guinea.
Besides the players and team officials, over a 100 people traveled to Cameroon to cheer up the team. Hon. Alu-Conteh was one of them.
Some people say the delegation was too large for a small nation dealing with economic challenges.
But Hon. Alu-Conteh said some of those who went as supporters paid for themselves.
The APC parliamentarian also spoke about the successes, challenges and way forward for the national team. According to him, qualifying for the tournament after such a long time was just one of the team’s achievements.
“We had a great experience in Cameroon, because if you check, over 20 years we have not played in the competition,” he said, noting that no one was expecting the country to perform magic after missing out on the competition for that long period.
“The second thing that we achieved is we scored two goals. Even though we crashed out in the last game, the first and second matches were encounters with tougher teams – Algeria and Ivory Coast. We had two points, similar to Ghana and Algeria, which were top-rated teams. With this result and performance, it increased our football profile and ranking. So this is an achievement in football in Sierra Leone,” he said.
Hon. Alu-Conteh also spoke about challenges the Sierra Leonean entourage encountered in the competition, which he said pointed to poor planning and coordination.
“I will rate the planning for the competition with 40%, less than a pass, in my estimation. This is because there were shortfalls that I believe should have been addressed ever since we qualified for the competition. Based upon the advice the Parliamentary Committee proffered, we should have decided to establish a Planning Committee. I strongly believe in Committees – they put people on their toes, it brings people together. Committees will push people to do the jobs and do it well. People must not ignore this,” he said.
Hon. Alu-Conteh called out the Sierra Leone Football Association management for working in isolation and for failing to realize that the occasion was a national event on an international stage, involving a large number of Sierra Leoneans. Because of this, he said, the traveling date was altered several times, and they faced problems with accommodation.
“There was a need to think about the welfare of the players, technical side, supporters, and a lot of other different things. So had we formed at least some six committees with subcommittees, I don’t believe that some of the shortfalls we faced in Cameroon would have been encountered,” he said.
And for post-AFCON 2021 Sierra Leone football, he said the sporting authorities must start with a review of what went right and wrong in Cameroon.
According to him, there is now such heightened public awareness of issues around sports in the country that they must not be downplayed, stressing the need for engagement and correction of problems.
“As a Parliamentary Sports Oversight Committee, now that we are back, we will have to look at the various challenges that we encountered along the way in Cameroon, which we have listed down. We are going to invite or summon SLFA, NSA (National Sports Authority), and the Ministry of Sports so that in the future such mistakes cannot be repeated,” he said.