Government’s allocation of funds to Local Councils is politically driven

Abdul R Thomas

24 August 2012

The government of Sierra Leone  announced this week that it has allocated over Le3.5 Billion to eight Local Councils, which ministers say is for the for the delivery of devolved services in the period – April to June 2012.

The current outbreak of cholera in the country is set to test the resolve of the president and his ministers, as pressure on resources rises. At the best of times, Local Councils are unable to respond to the daily needs of their communities.   

The government has been heavily criticised for its poor and inadequate response to the crisis. Yet Local Councils are powerless and incapacitated to deal with the unfolding crisis.

With general and local elections just three months away, there are suspicions that the government is using funds meant to pay for the delivery of devolved services to bribe Local Councils and their Communities in return for votes.

Freetown – a massive electoral ‘swing vote’ district, as well as key districts that are believed to be the oppositions’ stronghold are being deprived of much needed funds.

They are now faced with crippling difficulties to meet their legal and civic obligations.

Of the Le3 Billion allocated to Local Councils, announced this week by the government, almost  Le2 Billion will be disbursed to councils located in the north of the country – the political base of the ruling APC party and home of the president and key ministers.

Sierra Leone has 13 districts and 6 major cities, but ministers do have their favourites – depending on their importance to the survival of the government at the forthcoming elections.

The Eastern Province has a population of 1.2 million and is divided into 3 districts; Kailahun District – capital Kailahun; Kenema District – capital Kenema; and Kono District – capital Koidu City.

The only eastern district to have received subvention from the government for the quarter ending June 2012 is Kono/Koidu, with an allocation of Le589,048,785.

Kono is considered a political hotbed for the forthcoming general and presidential elections. Whoever wins Kono is likely to be returned to State House, and the government knows that.

But after five years in power and the country’s vice president himself a son of Kono, very little development has taken place in that diamond rich district.

Will the Le589,048,785 be enough to  sweeten-up the voters of Kono to keep the government in office?

What is striking about the government’s funding decision is that key eastern districts – Kailahun and Kenema, considered by the government to be opposition SLPP strongholds, have not received a single cent for the quarter ending June 2012.  

Next is the Northern Province. It  has a population of 1.7 million and made up of five districts; Bombali District – capital Makeni; Kambia District – capital Kambia; Koinadugu District – capital Kabala; Port Loko District – capital Port Loko; Tonkolili District – capital Magburaka.

With a population size slightly higher than that of the capital Freetown, the government has decided to allocate the lion’s share – over 50% of the Le3 Billion to the northern province, totalling Le1,973,793,041.

Port Loko has received Le873,906,820; Makeni – Le587,942,787; and Tonkolili – the home of iron ore mining and Bumbuna hydroelectricity dam – Le511,943,434.

Children in Bumbuna walk several miles to the nearest school for their education, while few homes enjoy electricity supply, despite sitting on the doorsteps of the Bumbuna hydroelectricity generating dam.    

The ruling APC has historically dominated the northern political landscape, with the two largest northern tribes – Temne and Limba forming the backbone of the Party.

But electoral competition for the heart and soul of the north is intensifying. The main opposition Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) is fielding a female northern-born Muslim – Dr. Kadi Sesay as it’s vice presidential candidate for November’s elections.   

With the government being accused by large sections of the deprived northern population of neglect, the opposition is set to exploit those political cracks that have been opened by rising poverty at the polls in November.

The north is equally suffering from the lack of basic services – health care, inadequate education resources, poor supply of clean water and the lack of electricity, just as much as the rest of the provinces.  

Yet, despite the resurgence of iron ore mining and the sale of hundreds of hectares of fertile land for large-scale commercial agriculture by the likes of ADDAX, there is widespread poverty in the north of the country.

Will the almost Le2 Billion deposited by the government into the bank accounts of northern councils be sufficient to buy the votes of the electorate?  

The Southern Province is undisputedly an opposition SLPP stronghold. Divided into 4 districts, it has a population of 1.4 million; Bo District; Bonthe District – capital Mattru Jong; Moyamba District – capital Moyamba; Pujehun District – capital Pujehun.

Few analysts would be surprised that the government has chosen to allocate a total of Le977,314,068 to only two of the districts – Bonthe and Bo, where they are hoping that this political capital will pay off at the November’s elections.

But the people of both Moyamba and Pujehun have not received their funds.  

The presidential candidate for the opposition SLPP – Julius Maada Bio was born in Bo, where he was badly injured last year, when political violence erupted during his ‘meet the people tour’ – the country’s second largest city.

The ruling APC is determined to hotly contest the home town of Maada Bio in November’s elections.      

The Western Area of the country – Freetown, the capital of Sierra Leone is an overpopulated city with a population of 1.5 million and rising. It is the seat of power and home to the creoles who once dominated the landscape.

But today, Freetown has become a cosmopolitan melting pot of diverse tribes, competing for the share of not only the city’s limited landscape, but overstretched water resources, dilapidated and overcrowded housing, poor health service, declining education standards, congested roads, intermittent electricity supply and limited job opportunities.

The Freetown City Council is struggling to raise and collect revenue from its residents and businesses operating in the city. Corruption in the corridors of the Town hall is rife. Local tax defaulters and dodgers are everywhere.

It therefore comes as a surprise that the government should have decided to withhold funding from the council for the delivery of devolved services for the quarter ending June 2012.

It is estimated that over 70% of the population of Freetown are living below the poverty line, the majority of whom are living in slums.

But politics is the hottest topic in town and everyone seems to have a view and an opinion of what’s best for the country.

The city’s mayor representing the ruling APC was last week convicted by the High Court of large-scale corruption and misappropriation of public funds.

Politicians of all colours are aware that no party can win the general elections without carrying at least 50% of the city’s votes.

Freetown has the highest literacy level as well as the highest percentage of swing voters, whose voting patterns and behaviours are complex and difficult to predict.

As the people of Freetown battle to survive the current outbreak of cholera amid rising poverty, November’s elections may seem like light years away.

But there is little doubt that the impact of their votes and the choices they make in November will have considerable implication for the complexion of post-2012 Sierra Leone political landscape.

What is certain though, is that while the government may be in control of the country’s purse strings, the people no doubt decide who gets to sit at State House. And the day of reckoning is nigh.              

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