Freetown City Council starved of much needed funds to deliver public services

Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 5 September 2020:

Why is the Ministry of Local Government holding up the tax reform proposals – and by implication local taxes which are due for the Freetown City Council (FCC), thus preventing the council from collecting the revenue it urgently needs to deliver basic services to its residents, when other municipalities across the country are not prevented from local tax collection?

On 7th July 2020, the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyer issued a public notice confirming that FCC had received a letter from the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development on 3rd July 2020, and that in the light of the letter, that the FCC would put on hold the implementation of the Property Rate Reform until the requested consultation with the Ministry have been concluded.

Yet, two months after requesting that the FCC puts on hold the Property Rate Reform, consultation has not started let alone concluded.

The new Property Rates has a significant and vocal minority who object to the changes proposed, despite the FCC’s efforts to explain to residents and businesses how the changes may affect through a comprehensive set of FAQs, which is available online.

To the question – Why do I have to pay a property tax / business rates? The FAQ gives the following response: “You need to pay the Property Tax/Business Licence to support the FCC’s Transform Freetown agenda and provide essential services. We worked hard to modernize our property tax system to make it as fair and equitable as possible. We are proud to say that we now have a system in which every property owner faces the same rules – from the valuation criteria employed to the consequences if you do not pay. Therefore, every property and business owner in the city will be expected to contribute your fair share.”

It goes on to state – “Note that it is a legal requirement to pay your property tax and/or business licence” in accordance with the Local Government Act 2004, Sections 56 and 69.

As Property Rates had already been issued and were due for collection before the FCC received the letter from the Ministry of Local Government, FCC is now in an unenviable position, facing severe financial constraints as a direct consequence of not being able to collect any revenue.

The Mayor’s office has confirmed that staff salaries have not been paid for three months, operational vehicles have been grounded, cemeteries are being overrun and the city’s remaining financial lifeline, i.e. funding received from DfID for street sweeping is due to end.

Given all the efforts made by the FCC under the leadership of Aki-Sawyerr, is this a situation that Freetonians and the government are prepared to countenance?

The ministry’s failure to enter consultation with the FCC and to conclude this quickly, raises further questions. Is the Minister or the Ministry of Local Government above the law and do they have any business prohibiting the implementation of the Property Rate reform, under the guise of a bogus consultation exercise, they appear not to be interested in conducting?

So, what does the Local Government Act 2004 say about consultations between the Ministry of Local Government and local government, regarding the setting of Property Rates and Business Licences?

Regarding Licences for Trade, etc., the main provisions are contained in Sections 56 and 57, and those for Property Rates are contained in Part 8, Sections 69 to 80.  None of these provisions empower the Ministry of Local Government to unilaterally suspend or prohibit a municipality from raising local taxes. Section 71 makes it the responsibility of local authorities to appoint valuers and an assessment committee.

The Ministry of Local Government only has a duty under Section 76, who may after consulting the Ministry of Finance, issue guidelines for issuing and levying rates. Any such guidelines would be applicable to all local authorities and will not target the FCC only.

Evidence obtained from other municipalities suggest that residents elsewhere have faced significant rate increases which have not resulted in any intervention by the ministry.  For example, a property in Koidu had a 105% increase in Annual Rateable Value from Le3,396.57 to £6,962.97 and Property Tax due of Le557,037.68.

Another property in Bo saw its Rateable Value increase from Le1277.30 to Le4790.3 and a Property Tax of Le399,000.  Another in Makeni, saw its Rateable Value increase from Le151,200 to Le582,120 and issued with a Property Tax of Le69,854,400.

With these significant increases elsewhere, it begs the question, is the Ministry’s intervention in Freetown, politically motivated or not?  If it is not politically motivated, why are all local authorities not subjected to the same action?

In view of the severe financial constraints the Ministry’s action is having on FCC, and given that the calls from Civil Society Leaders like Marcella Samba and Ibrahim Tommy, for the Ministry to end its unlawful suspension of FCC Property Rates and Business Licences, then it is now time for the Bio government to bring this to an end, and if not for the FCC to take legal action against the Ministry.

Alternatively, FCC should simply ignore the Ministry and collect its taxes in accordance with the law, so that it can continue to provide and deliver vital services to the people of Freetown.

For more on the Local Government Act 2004, see link below:

http://www.sierra-leone.org/Laws/2004-1p.pdf

5 Comments

  1. I personally believe that the Mayor is very competent but unfortunately she is currently surrounded by mostly “ APC thieves” that have encouraged corruption within the municipality of Freetown for decades. The New Direction government is very cautious of total devolution of power to the local government based on the fact the whole FCC needs total reform and transforming which will take at least 5 years.

    Even during the past 11 years of APC misrule, our Capital was regarded as one of the FILTHIEST in our region. Even the middle of the Clock Tower at the Eastern Police Station was a massive dustbin or dump site. Thanks to the New Direction government we once again have a Samba Gutter which is the main drainage in western Freetown.

    Finally, increased properties tax during Pandemic is a recipe for unrest, so although the intentions of the Mayor is good but the timing is poor. Let’s continue to pray and pray for total reform within the FCC so that the collaboration which has already started with the New Direction government will continue in good faith.

  2. At play is the seemingly topsy turvy that characterizes the grotesque inner workings of the POAPA regime, all designed to frustrate and derail any meaningful urbanization or development plans in store, formulated by one of the rarest talented and gifted superwoman politician the continent of Africa has come to know. Since this fine daughter of the soil stepped onto the political arena, with a commanding popularity across the divide, extremist POAPA elements have singled her out as a target, stopping at nothing to derail her political career.

    If arrogant POAPA officials are not verbally abusing her, drugged up thugs from the ruling party headquarters are ever ready to rain insults at her, besides the numerous physical attacks of pelleting her official vehicle with stones, injuring her on one occasion. The word abhorrent is an understatement in describing how despicable this current regime have treated a popularly elected local government official to run and manage the affairs of our only capital city that is light years away in catching up with numerous capital cities in the subregion in terms of development and modernization.

    It’s ironic and ludicrous for a regime that has touted the idea of a revampedrevenue generation, made possible mainly by an increase in taxes across all business sectors, being the main factor our nation has regain its credit worthiness with international banking institutions like IMF, to be vehemently opposing these same lofty ideas, polished and sold by economic advisers from the central government.

  3. It is a ridiculous situation that the Freetown City Council (FCC) finds itself in. Here we are with an enthusiastic Mayor of Freetown, in Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, determined to create an impact in the transformation of this historical city, only to be impeded by a bunch of past-timers, because of her association with modern way of thinking – the APC. So, what should Mayor Aki-Sawyerr do in the ensuing stalemate? Should she surrender to the achaic demands of these crude thinkers, or send them back to their villages?

    The reality is, the origin, structure and composition of Freetonians have always leaned towards a red (APC) metropolis. This fact was intensified during the decade long senseless revolutionary war, when a lot of northerners joined their ‘cousins’ in Freetown to take refuge. Now, as it stands, even the construction of a profligate Lungi Bridge will not be sufficient to neutralise the shade of colour of this over-populated city to green – or SLPP. Ironically, any attempt to change the demographics of Freetown, would just strengthen the resolve of the majority of the people in this city to maintain their red identity. Therefore, it is a futile endeavour for these out-of-touch bluffers to keep holding the Mayor in ransom, at the expense of delivering critical services to the residents of Freetown.

    The FCC should not dillydally on such a crucial issue, but to take legal action against the Ministry of Local Government. Irrespective of the outcome of such litigation, the main concern here is that FCC should be seen by the public as an institution that is prepared to support and defend the provision of basic services in the city. On the other hand, the government would not like to see the polarisation of their predatory stance, as this would be detrimental to their chances of commanding any influence in this important and strategic city. Ideally, the Ministry of Local Government is BLUFFING. Unless there is a card up their sleeves. Whichever way, the FCC should go for it.

  4. The Bio government, is starving the Mayor and Freetown city Council much needed funds by denying the city Council the powers to raise much needed taxes to meet the city Council operational needs. Maybe the reasons why the minister for local government is denying this housing tax rises, is because majority of the houses that fall within the band of paying higer rate is going to affect Bio and his ministers. They are the ones that own big villas. Its like asking the turkey to vote for Christmas.

    This corrupt bunch will stop at nothing to frustrate the Mayor from asking them to pay back their ill gotten wealth in the form of taxes to the city coffers. There are no silver bullets to overcome this impasse between the Mayor’s offcice and this corrupt and inefficient government. The Mayor should ask for a town hall meeting between the MPs representing the Freetown area and residents to chart a way forward. The local MPs should put pressure on the minister to try and resolve tbis issue. The Mayor has done her bit, now its over to the local MPs to start working for the interest of their constituents.

    Otherwise since every thing in Sierra Leone is seen through the lens of political divisions, I wonder what it will take to remind the minister for local government and his ministry, about their statutory duty to the long suffering residents of Freetown. These Bio ministers are so intoxicated with power and money, they are blind to reality of everyday life. They think tbey know all the answers to tbe problems of our country. When will these people get a grip and start to do things that benefit the population of Freetown. May God bless Sierra-leone

  5. If Mayor Sawyer doesnt put her foot down then she is certainly not going to achieve anything credible,tangible and sutainable for the city of Freetown and its residents.
    Its all a political game to them,in which the notorious SLPP purposefully stacks the odds against anyone belonging to the opposition,or with a progressive mindset giving them no chance whatsoever to thrive and succeed at all.

    Unless Madam Sawyer becomes totally firmly resolved to go all out and mount a formidable resistance against this criminal SLPP cabal in power then there’s no hope – no hope for a cleaner prosperous and modern city of Freetown is ever going to be realized.Its time to strap your boots tightly and become focused,and innovative.

    And bend the rules also to your advantage lady,for we are aware that a broken arrow is sometimes the most deadliest because as it flies,it disintegrates to pieces in the air hitting and destroying a multiple of targets with just one deadly strike.Madam when confronted with wolves you must think like wolves and not like fragile ewe lambs – Sierra Leone is now under the watch of
    werewoves.

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