Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 19 September 2020:
Following the intervention of key political actors in Sierra Leone such as Marcella Samba Sesay, Ibrahim Tommy and Andrew Keili of the NGC and the adverse publicity in the media, the Ministry of Local Government invited the Freetown City Council to a three day Technical Committee meeting held at Lakka, to resolve the on-going suspension of Property Rate and Business Licences by the ministry.
The suspension, which is still in place has made it impossible for the FCC to carry out its duties to the people of Freetown, who voted for Yvonne Aki-Sawyer, by a landslide.
While all other municipalities in Sierra Leone have issued rate demands and are collecting these from their constituents, as they are legally obligated to do, only Freetown is unable to do so at this moment, putting vital public services like flood prevention, sanitation, cemeteries management at risks.
Staff at FCC have gone for three months without pay, because of the impasse between the Ministry of Local Government and FCC.
Following the barrage of criticism directed at the government, for what is widely seen as a brazen attempt at political opportunism, the Technical Committee meeting was hastily called by the ministry on 5th September 2020 and concluded on 7th September 2020.
A set of guidelines emerged from the meeting which was viewed by the FCC as constructive. This included a small reduction of Domestic Property Mill Rates, with no change to Commercial and Institutional Mill Rates and a reduction in Domestic Mill Rates of properties owned by persons aged over 70 years and to persons who are disabled.
The exact discount and the additional qualification for both these groups is to be determined by the FCC. Thirdly, and crucially, the guidelines which emerged from the Technical Committee meeting, were to be presented to the Minister of Local Government for consultation with the Minister of Finance.
Fourthly, residents were to continue to use the existing rate demand notices issued by FCC and for FCC to make the necessary adjustments on the MOPTAX system and will recognize that amount received from rate payers as full settlement of their payment.
FCC are willing to comply with these proposals in the guidance, notwithstanding the financial impact on the municipality.
Knowing the impact that their game of brinksmanship would have on the municipality and its residents, FCC were asked to submit a budget of its costs from now till December 2020 to the Ministry of Finance.
Although this would provide the FCC with cash in the short term, while parliamentary approval is sought, it is unnecessary and inconsistent with the way other municipalities are being treated by the government.
In effect, it means that the FCC’s powers to set out its own budget to run its affairs, have been taken over by the Ministry of Finance.
The continued impasse between the government and the FCC, files in the face of the Vice President’s (Photo) claim at an Inter-Ministerial Committee held at Bintumani Hotel on 15th September 2020, that devolving more powers to municipalities is a key priority for the Bio administration. That meeting met to discuss the government’s draft National Decentralization Policy.
Yet the main proposal which emerged from the meeting was the proposed creation of the position of Resident Minster – Western Area and new additional administrative units such as districts, chiefdoms, and wards in the Western Area.
According to Dr Jalloh, the proposal underlined the New Direction Government’s commitment to support the decentralization process to ensure the financial viability of councils and build the requisite capacity to undertake devolved functions.
However, these proposals if adopted, will undermine both municipal authorities in the Western Area; and it appears to be an attempt to gerrymander the political landscape in the Western Area, by creating devolved units at district level, enabling the SLPP to make political inroads into the Western Area, which they are so desperate to do.
To further underline the government’s ploy the WhatsApp message below attributed to the Minster of Lands, Denis Sandy, contains specific instructions of the government’s agenda for MDAs.
It states that “This should be the trend henceforth, as its President Bio that should be considered doing all this, en nobody!… All such efforts should be done by the president in the form of any donation and all government MDAs must get full understanding en render maximum support on this. Nothing should be given to Mayor Aki-Sawyer or Freetown City Council from d government for such. Leh we no gee am natin, dis tem around. We should be in charge of everything and President Bio should be in full control of all.”
As the government now intends to bring the guidelines agreed by the Technical Committee to Parliament for approval, it provides parliamentarians with an excellent opportunity to demonstrate to the people that Parliament can act independently of the government and that it would uphold the law.
It must not allow procedures of parliament to be used as a means of preventing the FCC to do what it is legally obligated to do under the Local Government Act 2004.