At Long Last, Recruitment Begins at Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation

Apr 182011

The radio notices started in early spring. The constant television scroll made the announcement amidst reports about Libya and the Salone Stars football team. On Wednesday, March 23rd, three of the 30-odd daily newspapers in Freetown ran center spot, double-page spreads. Pages were stapled to notice boards within the Sierra Leone Broadcasting Corporation (SLBC). The new SLBC web site lists the jobs available and has a PDF of the application form. And, the media sector in Sierra Leone is abuzz… with the news of the SLBC recruitment campaign. It has started… finally. It’s the first of its kind, and it will hopefully be a model of transparency, accountability and best practice.

When SLBS and UN Radio merged – way back in April 2010 – recruitment of staff was a priority. The newly-formed public broadcasting corporation, SLBC, was under construction. A Board of Trustees had to be formed and suitably qualified staff had to be hired.

The Board of Trustees was constituted according to the SLBC Act of Parliament in August. Director General Gbanabom Hallowell, and Deputy Director S.B. Samoura, took up the reins in October. But the hiring of permanent staff remained undone.

The 160 combined staff of the former Sierra Leone Broadcasting Service and United Nations Radio were working… keeping things afloat and on air… journalists, producers, administrators and finance folks, including those reporters in the Provinces. They were paid by the United Nations Integrated Peacebuilding Office in Sierra Leone (UNIPSIL), as agreed, and maintained their positions month-by-month on a temporary basis. Well, almost a year later, SLBC is now ready to find and hire permanent staff.

Since August, 2010, many more contractors, freelancers, hangers-on, friends and neighbours were also assigned posts. Many of these folks were unpaid and unofficial. The staff count at this point is somewhere around 250 throughout various departments.

In January, 2011, the Board and management finally approved a corporate organogram, meaning the corporation now had an official structure calling for a total of 185 positions in five departments. Organizing these positions and these departments was a huge undertaking and it was long overdue. But we’re there.

And, SLBC is hiring. The recruitment of 160 positions has started and again, it’s a monumental task. The Director of Administration and Human Resources Thomas Sowa, myself and the UN Media Manager, Linda Mitchell, are up to our eyeballs in application forms, recruitment timelines, interview schedules, etc. Sierra Leone has never seen such a massive recruitment or hiring.

SLBC is looking for educated, experienced and skilled people. Three things that have nothing to do with family connections, political ties or tribal links. This is a difficult process. One hundred and sixty people will need to be hired. Some will not be hired. There will be new faces amongst the staff. And, it will take time.

There will be snags and hiccups along the way, no question. For example, the Board has decided to appoint several key management positions without a recruitment process – and has appointed people based on family and political connections. Staff moral is very low and the rumour mill is working overtime. There’s no budget for this recruitment campaign. The UN has stepped up to pay for the newspaper ads and the Knight Fellowships is covering the cost of photocopying application forms – 3,000 to date. Since there’s no physical space for concurrent interviews and practical tests over the six weeks of interviews, the newly-minted, freshly-painted training room has become the recruitment hub. It is now filled with colour-coded boxes of applications and C.V.s.

Part of the process, which I started in November, was to offer “Career Enhancement” workshops to the current staff at SLBC. These two-hour workshops were designed to help staff revamp, update and standardize their C.V.s and prepare them for the recruitment process. The information in these workshops could also be applied to applications for jobs, scholarships, internships or other educational opportunities.

The recruitment campaign is underway in an open, transparent and accountable way. The vacancy announcements are clear with a set of minimum requirements, job codes and expected skill levels. Job descriptions are available for each of the 180 positions. The application form, designed by Mr. Sowa, is to international standards and is clearly marked “there is no cost to apply.”

The management and administration is doing everything possible to ensure a clean, transparent and accountable recruitment. I’m hoping this practice will continue. I’m hoping this process will provide Sierra Leone with a model of best practice for recruitment, hiring and evaluation. I’m hoping we – SLBC – attract the best possible applicants for each position. And I’m hoping Sierra Leone’s national public broadcaster gets the best people – educated, experienced and skilled – for those positions.