Alan Luke: Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 June 2020:
Living in the UK, I have asked for the rate increase for our property in Freetown to be forwarded to me, so I can see what the increase is, as I have heard a lot of complaints about the impact on pensioners and the most compliant payers.
Whatever it is, I have no objection to paying, because I am used to paying property rates to live comfortably here in the UK, in a good environment and to gain access to services. To put into perspective, my annual property rate for 2020/21 is £2,347 or Le27,929,300 and I don’t live in a mansion, like some of the monstrosities you see in Freetown.
Have we considered that property rates in Freetown have not seen a proper adjustment for 24 years. During those years, when we had mayors who showed a disregard for their office and dereliction of duty to Freetonians, the same pensioners and the better off, sat back and watched our beautiful city become a shithole and byword for filth. Did they complain as loud as they are doing now? Not really. They were more inclined to push the filth in the sewers further along to the next property.
In those 24 years, if these poor pensioners were diligent, they would have put aside the savings made from not having a rate increase. Had property rates increased annually and the city’s funds not diverted into private bank accounts, the Mayor would not have been in this position, where she has to introduce the new property rates which has caused an offence to some. She has been diligent to ensure that the majority are not impacted by the proposed changes. The majority would see no increase or marginal increases.
How can anyone advocate for FCC to leave their rates at Le250,000 ($25) per annum but expect the municipality to hire armies of street sweepers, sanitary inspectors, and metropolitan police officers. Minimum wage is Le600,000 per month per person.
Initially, when the Bio Government came into office in April 2018, it provided Le3 billion a month to the National Cleaning exercise for the first three months.
Then the government stopped publishing the disbursements and any reasonable person must be able to see that the responsibility for funding the cleaning exercise is now being met by the municipalities. It takes money to live in a clean environment.
Asked by the media recently why she wanted to be mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown, Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr answers without hesitation: “My heart was breaking at what the city was becoming.” In her two years a lot has improved. Gutters have been dug in flood-prone districts. Dustbins have proliferated throughout the city. Grass is sprouting from a roundabout once strewn with litter. But there is still much to do. Electricity flickers. Taps run dry. Rubbish heaps bigger than football fields still fester.
Last year the cash-strapped city council got around 70% of its budget from foreign donors. The mayor is revamping property taxes, which she hopes will bring in five times more revenue this year. Not only does she want the rich to cough up more, she also wants payments to go directly into the bank, rather than be paid in cash. These are big reforms on a continent where property taxes bring in less than 0.4% of GDP, compared with about 2% in the rich world.
There are a lot of items on the Mayor’s to do list. We want the Mayor to take action on our cemeteries. Graves are repeatedly vandalised because security in the cemeteries is non-existent. Their grounds are overgrown, but the same pensioners (and their families) would want to rest in perfect peace but building a cemetery wall costs circa Le100m.
FCC has a responsibility for municipal schools. I had the benefit of a private school education, but back in the day, Tower Hill School and Regents Square pupils used to give the private school kids, a run for their money. Would anyone send their children to these municipality schools today, out of choice.
Remember, because of the so-called Free Quality Education, the government has a prescribed formula to fund each pupil in school, which would not necessarily take into account the investments required to improve school infrastructure. Donor agencies are not prepared to fund infrastructure either. If we expect the Mayor to make improvements to education, where is the cash coming from? Money does not grow on trees.
You want her to address flood mitigation and congestion problems in the Central Business District, among other issues. Take flood mitigation. The Mayor does not control Western Rural District Council. The Chairman of the WRDC has not shown any leadership since his election. He has no incentive to do similar flood mitigation work in Bathurst, Charlotte, Leicester, and Regent.
When the rains come, it washes all the filth downstream and into the city below and FCC must do the clean-up time and again. Similarly, folks living in WRDC come into the city for work and leisure purposes, create congestion and pollute the city, and there is very little the FCC can do to make them contribute to the city.
The FCC cannot deliver the services it wants to provide by relying on donor funding and government allocation. Isn’t it absurd that the IMF can provide our leaking central government with $140m, but cannot directly allocate a proportionate share to the FCC under our mayor who has demonstrated transparency, proactivity and vision in managing the affairs of our beloved city?
If you want to find out more about the property reform and the new rates, see the FAQ below.
Please see FAQs https://fcc.gov.sl/property-reform-faq/