Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s proposed rate reform for Freetown in troubled waters

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.

10 Comments

  1. Joe Koroma,People like you,without any hesitation, are dangerous for Sierra Leone. To watch an educated person shadowing the truth in the name of a political party affiliation translates to our dear country having an infinite way to go to reach hope. you are so predictable that the political party you support can feel secured,even if it is the devil incarnate. My party is Sierra Leone,that’s why no one can straitjacket me to stop me from doing or saying anything which I believe is good for my country. Yes I would like to see Dr yomkella at State House for the country to get a much needed break from both APC and SLPP, who in nearly sixty years have only succeeded in tightening the noose around our neck.

    Once again I urge you to closely analyse my comments.In an instant you should be able to see,even if you are blind, that I don’t put up lame arguments and I most definitely do not criticise the government frivolously. You may deny this,but in one of my responses to you,I unambiguously said that in the absence of KKY,I would maintain Bio in power;I still have not forgotten the revelations at the Commissions of Inquiry tying APC to the most malicious display of disdain for the country.Have you now discerned who I am?

    Mayor Aki Sawyer is the most progressive Mayor Freetown has ever had.Given the chance she would transform Freetown into something we can all be proud of. Was it evil for me to suggest that if the Mayor’s proposals could not be implemented immediately because of poor economic conditions,it would be a good idea for Maada Bio and his team to try to recover the billions that disappeared at various government departments earlier this year and use it to finance some of the Mayor’s projects? Alternatively, I said the President should force those whom the COI found guilty of stealing the nation’s money to pay up and use some of the funds to help the Mayor. Where is your proof that APC employees at the City Council are thieves? An educated person like you should not be used as a propagandist. You can support your SLPP,but I urge you to do so within the bounds of propriety and love of country. My comments are never misguided because they can be proven. I await your response and we can then enter the realm of Economics.

  2. Pa Foday – firstly,let me clarify some things for you;not all Talk is Cheap;only those coming from tribalists in the notorious SLPP perhaps;And their delusional supporters,far removed from reality.In case you were not aware please be informed that there are intelligent individuals,motivational speakers,comedians,lecturers,and actors who get paid a fortune just for giving ordinary speeches. Not all talk is cheap. Had it not been the the Sierra Leone Telegraph,you would’ve been waiting in line,booking an appointment,and paying a consultation fee just for me to listen to your nerve-wrecking SLPP sob stories (lol)

    Again,what i am about to say will serve you very well,if you listen,comprehend,and put to practice – Wherever there are facts to authenticate ones utterances,and claims,and whenever the quest for truth,and transparency serve as catalysts that transform our lives,for the better,rest assured,irresponsibility can never be found there. Now answer this – Since the SLPP came to power,what exactly has your sluggish Minister of Local Government done,to enhance,improve,beautify, and help transform Freetown into a modern city? Where are your innovative proposals,like those of Madam Sawyers’,that are designed to create sustainable employment,job security,better salaries,health insurance coverage,sick leave entitlements,and so on and so forth?

    The Proof of your incompetence is there for all to see – two years,and counting,and the streets of Freetown are full of holes resembling little fish ponds,and swimming pools.(lol) Why wont you dullards just stand aside,and allow the Mayor to get on with her honorable work?

  3. As I understand the proposal of the Mayor, rates will be based on the monetary value of property – which is fair. It is a progressive system. It’s running into trouble simply because the mansion owners are mostly politicians who came by their property through corruption and other diabolical means. If Tamba Lamina is so concerned about the hardships the proposal would inflict on the city dwellers for whatever current reasons, why doesn’t he prey on his boss (the President) to quickly get those who the commissions of inquiry found guilty of stealing government monies to cough up what they stole and use some of it to subsidise the Mayor’s amazing program to transform Freetown into an enviable city?

    Alternatively minister Lamina should get his boss to pursue those guilty of disappearing the billions of Leones at various government departments which the Auditor-general reported earlier this year and pass the loot over to the distinguished Mayor to help her pursue some of her goals? The truth is Tamba Lamina and the President are unable to understand that there is no free lunch. It’s the misguided idea of a free lunch that has kept the country backwards because the free lunch should only be eaten by the powers that be, nothing should be left to prepare the next lunch.

    Now, ordinary people are being fooled to think that Yvonne Aki Sawyer is out to get them. The progressive aims of the Mayor are being upstaged for political gains. The poor lady is making the kind of tough decision which the former soldier that we have as President dodges. Surely no one expects APC to rush to the corner of the Mayor; they cannot distinguish between cleanliness and filth; when they held State House the streets of Freetown were made even narrower by mountains of refuse. Mayor Aki Sawyer, you will never walk alone for as long as you have some of us out here who couldn’t care less about party politics – we just want to be proud of our city

    • “As I understand the proposal of the Mayor, rates will be based on the monetary value of property – which is fair. It is a progressive system. It’s running into trouble simply because the mansion owners are mostly politicians who came by their property through corruption and other diabolical means…” Santhkie Sorie

      Santhkie Sorie,

      Once again you have used a terrible and misguided idea to launch your usual attack on the central government. The minister of local government, Hon. Tamba Lamina, is not saying that taxes are bad. All the gentleman is saying is that raising taxes in an economy that is experiencing negative growth rates due to COVID 19 is a bad idea. The minister’s position is consistent with modern economic thinking that a slowing economy means diminishing disposable incomes for consumers. Therefore, tax hikes would only lead to a further fall in consumer spending and by extension a further drop in aggregate demand. And for a country that is in the throes of a fight to reduce inflation rates, a tax hike in Freetown would render that fight useless since it would lead to a rise in the price level in the city. It is also instructive that although taxes are a reliable source of revenue, they do not create wealth. Production does.

      Perhaps an issue that should be debated is whether in lieu of a tax hike, the central government should consider increasing its subventions to local governments. That would be a legitimate debate although I have my reservations about the efficacy of the Freetown City Council in handling an increase in government subventions. A council whose ranks are filled with greedy and thieving APC operatives cannot be trusted to transform a decaying city. Indeed, one wonders why Freetown with its numerous revenue-generating streams could be perennially filthy while places like Bo with a relatively smaller revenue base continue to be a breath of fresh air. Is the mayor in the wrong political party?

  4. Yeah. Let’s wait and see when two champions meet to discuss the Mother of all issues. God bless Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyer and Local Government Minister, Mr Tamba Lamina.

  5. Isn’t is strange that a regime that came into power prioritizing revenue generation/mobilization, with subsequent removal of fuel subsidies and business tax increase, is now sluggishly approaching a unique opportunity to transform our only capital city? Are these people really serious about developing our nation or just playing the usual political games?

  6. Come on property owners. Do you want your country to be modern, with all the facilities? Pay the tax – its very small. Your citizens need you to pay it. I will pay mine gladly. This is for our grandchildren and future generations – pay, pay, pay!

  7. I hope the new direction government will continue to collaborate with this popular mayor in transforming Freetown through the new tax policy, which should be implemented after the coronavirus is defeated. The proposed increase is very reasonable and I hope and pray that the citizens of Freetown will cooperate and be patriotic.

  8. I knew it will finally come to this – the Mayor is now up against partisan politics; it is easy to see that, she has an extremely brilliant mind, as sharp as a brand new razor’s edge, coupled with a vision, that is as clear as daylight. No wonder her innovative ideas and proposals, to modernize the city of Freetown has just been too much for their little, dim-witted SLPP minds to grasp. I mean seriously, how backwards and incompetent are these people? Instead of finding common ground and pragmatic ways, based on mutual respect and understanding to help Madam Sawyer bring her futuristic, groundbreaking ideas to fruition, they have arrogantly decided to totally cancel them, because of fear that she will outshine and outclass their obsolete, regressive, diminutive suggestions and proposals.

    Oh well! Let’s wait and see what happens when Mr Lamina and Madam Sawyer finally meet on the 26th of June for what is supposed to be a fruitful, meaningful, productive discussion. The Criminal SLPP believes in nothing, has nothing to offer, even though they have been advised many times by sensible minds, that any achievement no matter how small, is better than nothing.

    • Talk is very cheap, Mr. STARGAZER. And with that said, your statement with regards to SLPP is totally irresponsible, misguided and has no base. Give us the proof.

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