By Kebba Secka
Ahmed Kemo Ceesay, Executive Secretary of National Agency for Legal Aid in a telephone conversation on Thursday July 1st refuted some of the allegations made against him by his legal staff. He described the allegation of vehicles inaccessibility and allocation as ”not entirely correct and do not reflect the practice on the ground.” On the allegation about printing machines, Kemo, acknowledged the allegation of printers’ inadequacy and described it as a challenge which his management is trying to resolve. About pay rise, Mr. Ceesay said both management and the agency’s board of directors had engaged the Minister of Justice and President to resolve the disparity in salary pay scale between state lawyers.
Meanwhile, the agency’s legal unit on Thursday July 1st began what they described as an indefinite sit-down strike unless issues of mobility, pay rise equal to their counterparts at the Ministry of Justice and available printing machines are addressed.
On the issue of mobility, NALA’s executive Secretary said, ”I accept there is a problem with mobility in the office and it has been a long standing one since the inception of the agency. We’ve three road worthy vehicles and two of them are not too good. It is not that we are aware of their challenges and doing nothing, but the management and the governing board of the Agency are doing their utmost best to address their concerns. We are also constrained by the lack of resources and that I meant to say that we are not receiving a sufficient budget from the government. That is why we cannot address the issues of vehicle.”
According to him, in 2019, they went to the President of the Republic and asked for help and they were promised but yet to be fulfilled. Dilating further on the issue of printers, the Executive Secretary acknowledged it as a challenge but claimed that it is blown out of proportion. He said it is not that anything hasn’t been done about it but they need more investment in order to get more printers. He said ”Printers are very expensive although, we used to have couple of them but they are out of work.” He acknowledged two printers in the office, one in the finance department and the other is in legal department where his office is located. The head of NALA also agreed that the printer in his office has a technical issue because it does not recognize other computers. He said the printer is synchronized with a connected network. He claimed that his office is always accessible because he goes to work before any staff and leaves after all staff which makes the printer in his office accessible to the legal unit. He said he would expect his lawyers to approach him for reimbursement before going out to print court processes.
On the salary complaints, Kemo said prior to March, 2020, NALA’s Lawyers received better pay than their counterparts at the Ministry of Justice. ”A state counsel at Ministry of Justice until 2020 was receiving less that NALA’s lawyers,” said NALA’s boss. He said disparity in monthly salary occurred sometime in 2020 when the lawyers at the Attorney General’s Chamber were granted approval of significant pay rise over NALA staff.
He said he would love to see his lawyer having the same pay with their counterparts but in a bureaucracy operational system, things can be slowed sometimes. He described such operational delay as the nature of bureaucracy and civil service inefficiency. He explained that NALA’s Board and Management continued to engage the authorities and, in that regard, there is significant development that he would not like to delve further into. About the welfare of his staff, Kemo said ”I’ve always been concerned about health and safety environment for my staff. The allegation that people have been injured because of the dilapidated nature of our car has not been brought to my attention,” he told the reporter. He said there was no single incident where a particular person informed him that she or he was injured by the car. He said no lawyer also ever presented to him medical proof for being hurt by any of the Agency’s cars.
He acknowledged that the roadworthy vehicle which is in better condition than the two is the one that was given to the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC). He said as the head the Agency, he is not obliged to go to court but often times he would join his colleagues in the same vehicle and go to court to defence cases. He also dismissed the allegation that he used the only roadworthy vehicle for personal errands and described it as ”totally false”
NALA is an institution established by an Act of National Assembly tasked with the responsibility of providing legal service to people who cannot afford private legal services particularly children and adults who are charged with capital offences whose cases cannot proceed in court without legal representation.