State House frustrating efforts of the Mayor of Freetown to curb Ebola

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 29 November 2014

ebola burial teamsOn Wednesday 26 November, a family of eight living in one house was wiped out by the Ebola virus in Tengbeh Town – one of the most densely populated western districts of the capital Freetown, amid calls for a tougher approach to curb the transmission of the virus in the capital Freetown.

But a senior government official told the Sierra Leone Telegraph this week that, State House is using party political expediency to block measures that the Mayor of Freetown – Sam Franklyn Gibson is putting forward to help reduce the spread of the virus in the city.

Early this year, Mayor Gibson threatened to close down all market stalls operating on the sidewalks of major streets in the capital. But after protests by street traders, senior ruling APC party grandees – including the president, refused to support the mayor’s decision.

By undermining the mayor and usurping his authority, street traders were placated and so continued the cycle of lawlessness in the capital Freetown.

But with the worsening Ebola crisis in the capital, few had expected political interference and gerrymandering to get in the way of common sense.

The vital leadership role of the mayor in stopping the transmission of the virus in the capital is seriously being undermined.

With a population of more than two million people, Freetown is not only densely populated, but suffers from chronic and dangerous overcrowding that needs to be controlled, if Ebola is to be defeated.

Freetown street traders2On Wednesday, the City Council of Freetown in its wisdom, felt that by limiting the number of days people are allowed to cram together in the streets and market places, thus reducing the rate of Ebola transmission, announced that all trading on Fridays and Sundays are to be stopped with immediate effect.

Now, it is understood that State House has shockingly vetoed Mayor Gibson’s decision and effort to curb the spread of Ebola that is now in many ways affecting two million people in the capital, with more than 2,000 confirmed as Ebola positive across the city. This is over 40% of the entire Ebola positive cases recorded in Sierra Leone so far.

The overwhelming majority of people now settled in Freetown are from the northern districts of Sierra Leone – the political heartlands of the ruling APC party.

president koroma and mayor GibsonAnd it seems State House does not want to upset its electoral constituency, by supporting the efforts of the Mayor of Freetown, aimed at curbing Ebola in the capital. (Photo: President Koroma and Mayor Gibson).

Playing politics with Ebola may seem politically attractive, but what good is politics, if you lose your soul and the lives of thousands of your citizens?

Since his election victory in 2007, observers of the Koroma presidency have been aghast at the deepening wide gulf between government policy, the rule of law, and the attitudes and behaviour of those occupying the seats of power.

President Koroma’s political walk about in the streets of Freetown a few Saturdays ago, which attracted a throng of ruling party supporters, was nothing short of perpetuating the cycle of  lawlessness in the country in the face of Ebola.

The state of emergency order, which the president is conveniently using to victimise his political foes is itself being flouted with disdain by the president and his cronies.

Few weeks ago, scores of people were arrested in the south of the country for breaking the state of emergency order when they congregated in a house to watch football. The state of emergency order forbids the gathering of people in one location.

But take a look at this photo. Is president Koroma above the law, or is this a slap on the face of Mayor Gibson, as a show of support for street traders in Freetown?

president Koroma - 8 Nov 2014

In any well governed nation, parliament would have impeached the president for his flagrant violation of the very law that he himself promulgated, while happily using it to whip others into line.

The lawlessness and disorder encouraged by the president’s political walk about in the streets of Freetown was scripted as a show of political and moral support for the street traders, who are refusing to quit the streets, against the wishes of Mayor Gibson.

Such reckless abuse of power also poses serious risk to public health, in the face of Ebola and the aggressive rate at which the virus is now spreading across the capital Freetown.

Unofficial estimate puts the total cumulative number of Ebola dead in the capital Freetown at over 1,000, and the number of confirmed cases at over 2,500.

This is the grim picture of Ebola which the government continues to cover up.

And by vetoing the Mayor’s decision to curtail the movement of people and the transmission of the virus in the capital, State House is not only pandering to its political supporters, but putting million of lives at risk.

Freetown street traders3

The decision of the Mayor to curtail shopping and trading on Fridays and Sundays is a sound policy that must be supported by State House and implemented immediately, as part of other measures aimed at tackling the disturbing transmission of Ebola in the capital Freetown.

State House must stop its policy of meddling in the affairs of the City Council and its continuous strategy of undermining Mayor Gibson, who incidentally is not a northerner.

Let the City Council of Freetown be allowed to get on with its constitutional duties without interference from ‘above’.

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