Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 June 2020:
Following her announcement last week of a new local council rating system for the capital Freetown, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr has failed to win the political backing and support of the Bio-led government.
After much pressure from sections of the population in Freetown, as well as internal party political pressure, the government’s minister of local government wrote a letter to mayor Aki-Sawyerr telling her to scrap her new Freetown city council rate payment policy decision.
This has provoked strong debates across the political divide, as well as households who possibly never voted at elections.
“The government needs to draw attention on payment of city rates. If this issue is not properly addressed I’m afraid there’s going to be a serious problem. The new rate is three times higher than before and people are seriously complaining. The rate needs to be regulated and should not be arbitrarily imposed,” someone wrote on social media.
Others say that the mayor is failing to address key issues facing the city. “What about all the by-laws that should be in place and enforced? Mosquitoes are killing us every day, loud music from the neighbours, and nothing is being done to fix all the problems and they are expecting us to get millions of Leones to pay by September. This is too much.”
“Regardless of the fact that we are having the corona pandemic, it is very wrong for the council to increase property rates now. For the past three to four years, the council has been increasing property rates every year and its wrong. Property rates should only be increased after every five years. It can be otherwise when and if the structure of the house is altered or there is an extension built or addition made to it. There is what we call the Valuation Act that guides the Valuer on property assessment and property rates. When doing assessment for that reason, the Valuer assesses the effective floor area and not the assets and valuables of the property owner.
“Also the council must note that Freetown City Council (FCC) is not a business or a profit making organisation. The council has its social aspects too. For me to pay city rates, call it property rates, the rate payer must enjoy clean pipe-borne water. That is the reason why FCC has a representation on the Guma valley Water Board. The rate payer must have electricity, a clean and decent environment.
“How do we expect people to pay rates when traders are occupying their frontage seven days a week or when a church keeps service for 24 hours regardless of the fact that neighbours must sleep and enjoy some peace; or when there is a masquerade, citizens put up with all kinds of indecent behaviours. Look at state of affairs in the local markets and cemeteries even despite the increase in burial fees. I can go on and on.
“Can the administration of FCC wake up from their slumber. There is no free lunch. How can Council pay staffs they don’t utilise and then outsource the collection of rates, and at the same time expect to have money. FCC should not expect the few willing ratepayers to pay for the 80% who do not even bother with them. Let Council go out and do their jobs.
“If every house in the municipality pay a minimal Le 30,000 city rates, council will collect enough to manage it affairs. Did the Council think of pensioners who live on Le250,000 a month, thanks to the former Minister of Labour – Adekunle King, and yet must pay rates, medical bills, feeding and other needs? The welfare of the citizen should be the council’s supreme priority.”
Also, condemning the decision of the council, another writer says: “People have to understand that the ministry of local government is the general overseer of all local and district councils. All planning and operations are staged at the ministry, headed by the minister and his deputy followed by the civil servants.
“No mayor or council official should not and will not take any major decisions without consulting with the political leadership in the ministry. This is not a federal system of government where there is an expanded bureaucracy. We are a unitary system where directives come directly from the office of the president down to the ministers who in turn swiftly send those directives to their areas of governance.
“The focus of this government is to make life easy for citizens and lift us out of the economic quagmire of the past 12 years. We are trying to understand the ambiguity or path the mayor of Freetown wants to take by making life difficult for the residents of Freetown; and we do not want to make hasty generalizations. However, in a hasty response to her unexplained actions, the honourable minister has stepped in to stop her in her tracks.”
But supporters of the mayor’s decision to increase rates think otherwise.
“The city rates over the years have been abysmal and much cannot be achieved from that. You cannot be in the city and pay the sort of rates we were paying and expect it to make a difference. I was paying Le32,000 for a property in the commercial business district for over 10years. They increased it in the last 5 years to Le62,000 per year.
“It’s laughable, coupled with the fact we had past mayors who did bugger all about it. Now we have one who has under very trying circumstances, really doing something about it. Let’s pay and hold her accountable for it, and not the other way round as we all seem to be doing. As I mentioned, I agree the timing could have been better advised, however she is on the right path.”
Another wrote: “Thanks very much Mayoress Yvonne Aki Sawyer for this beautiful initiative of reminding property owners that they have a duty to the state to pay property tax. A number of persons are vexed concerning the increment as if they have been paying city rates and other rates in the municipality before the increment was sounded in our ears like the sharp trumpet welcoming the second coming of our Lord and personal Saviour Jesus Christ.
“Less than 35% of property owners are actually paying their dues to the Freetown City Council. Property owners have been evading the payment of property tax. They charge exorbitantly for their houses and in some cases – huts, much to the killing of their tenants. But when it comes to honouring their own side of the bargain they renege. This is unacceptable in a civilized society like this.
“The World Bank recently stated that if 35% of property tax is actually paid by property owners to the government through the local councils, it will help in a long way in addressing many of the problems in the cities and booming our economies.
“Local revenue generation is one sure way to gain true independence and to help us independently undertake developmental activities. See how the National Revenue Authority has been able to cushion the economic effects of the Corona virus on our Government. Don’t forget the GTT Report describes the economy before Corona as the worst since independence.
“I am thanking Mayoress Aki Sawyerr not because of the increment but for the level of awareness raised just by that increment. It sounded a bell reminding us all that property owners in this municipality owe it to the municipality and us all for them to pay their taxes and rates. People now know to a very large extent that you can build your own property like Bai Bureh did and be required to pay property tax to the city council because you are residing in the municipality and enjoying all the beautiful services that come with being in the city.
“So for those of you who are annoyed with the mayoress and her team for the increment, I am pleading with you to get your knees off the neck of the mayoress and the Freetown city Council. The Council needs the money to undertake development projects in the municipality. The mayoress needs the money to deliver on her promises to city dwellers who voted her.
“Yvonne Aki Sawyer is one of those elected officials that have clearly shown transparent, accountable and transformative leadership. She is poised to see a new city. She has taken giant steps to give the city a huge facelift. As a feminist myself, I am so proud of the leadership qualities this WOMAN has displayed where men are struggling to find their feet . When it comes to delivery, the sex of a person matters not! Let’s give more women leadership roles and see more Yvonne Aki Sawyerrs.
“Alas! Now that you all are crying for a reduction in property taxes and rates I will join the Mayoress in pleading that we get it reduced to where it was before the pandemic and also plead with you property owners to pay your taxes at the said reduced rate.