Sierra Leone Telegraph: 14 July 2021:
An elected ward councillor of the Freetown City Council, yesterday spoke to the Sierra Leone Telegraph about what he described as “the disgraceful behaviour of political zealots” whom he said “belong to the ruling SLPP party and working for the Council – are holding the management of the Council under siege.”
“They are sabotaging the work of the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, simply because she is an opposition politician who is determined to improve the lives of the two million people living in the city. Elected councillors of the Freetown City Council held a conference with council taxpayers last week, and it is obvious rate and taxpayers are fully aware of the political war being waged by the Bio-led government to frustrate and prevent the Mayor and her management team from implementing her development programmes for the city. This has to stop,” he said.
He told the Sierra Leone Telegraph that; since the start of Mayor Yvonne Aki Sawyerr’s administration in 2018, the council is faced with huge challenges, many of which are engineered by the Chief Administrator of the Council – Mr Festus Kallay – who is a patron and financial sponsor of the ruling SLPP party, aimed at crippling the work of the Mayor.
The Mayor has written several letters of complaint to the Ministry of Local Government but there has never been a response, suggesting that the Minister of Local Government – Mr Lamina himself is in connivance with the Chief Administrator of the Council to sabotage the work of the Mayor Aki Sawyerr.
Several attempts at building a cordial working relationship have been made by internal and external mediators but there has been little progress as the Chief Administrator always return to business as usual to sabotage the work of the Mayor’s Transform Freetown agenda.
Most recently, following an incident in mid-May in which the Chief Administrator shouted at the Mayor in the presence of other staff, he has not spoken to the Mayor for the past eight weeks, creating a working environment that is inimical to the development of the city of Freetown. Yet, the Mayor visited him at his residence when he was sick in June.
This practice of not speaking to the Mayor for protracted periods of time is not new and has happened at least three times since she was elected (it is documented in letters she has written to the ministry previously).
The impact of this bad behaviour and poor work ethic is highly destabilizing for the council, as the Chief Administrator and inevitably other key staff do not attend meetings, do not report on progress and generally foster an atmosphere of chaos and unaccountably in the office.
Staff that focus on work are accused of being disloyal to the Chief Administrator and are intimidated and harassed by him.
Because of the Chief Administrator’s micro-aggression, there has not been a management meeting at FCC since February 2021.
All attempts by the mayor to have the Chief Administrator introduce performance management measures for staff have over the years been consistently thwarted by the Chief Administrator.
After carefully engineered resistance to the property tax reforms last year, including a staff strike that was actually planned in the Chief Administrator’s office, efforts to sabotage the digital property rate system have been renewed with vigour, putting the council’s rate collection programme at serious risk.
A strike by staff at the council’s customer help desk located in the council’s Banking Hall was carried took place in early May with the knowledge of the Chief Administrator but without the Mayor being informed. She learnt about it after the 4th day by which time hundreds of property rate payers had been turned away at tremendous loss to council.
Subsequently, the Chief Administrator refused to renew the subscription for the virtual hosting of the property rate system, resulting in the system being shut down for another nine days during which period no one could pay property rates or business license.
The Mayor was forced to ask the project donor (DFID) to step in with emergency funding to cover three months subscription in order to get the property rate system operating once again. DFID agreed because the system has been highly successful and will enable the council to sustainably deliver improved services to the city.
Several meetings have been held since January at which it has been repeatedly agreed that field visits will be made to resolve the over 800 queries that have been raised by property owners. To date these field visits have not been conducted, leaving the queries unresolved and the property rates unpaid.
Resolutions to provide a 30% discount to hotels because of the Covid pandemic and to address other industry specific issues have not been implemented. This has created tensions and misunderstandings that will lower property rate compliance.
Additionally, the six Transfer Stations across the city that were completed two months ago, which are critical to improving sanitation in the city, remain closed. The Chief Administrator has refused to approve the purchase of the machines required for their operation, attempting to render redundant this significant donor funded investment that will drastically improve sanitation in Freetown.
Payments to the tricycle groups that sweep the streets of Freetown daily have been held up regularly and the June payment remains outstanding.
These actions by the Chief Administrator – Mr Festus Kallay, which can only be described as politically motivated, are designed to ensure that the council becomes dysfunctional. Staff who choose to work are being accused of “supporting the Mayor”.
The most damaging impact is on the revenue generating functions, that is reducing the council’s ability to deliver services, bringing it back to an institution that struggles to simply pay staff salaries, with no revenue left to serve the people through infrastructure improvements and investments.
Donor funded projects which have been implemented are also being sabotaged. The current situation is untenable.
Furthermore, the clearing of three sanitation vehicles donated to the council by the Japanese government has been delayed and the vehicles remain at the seaport in Freetown.
The Ministry of Local Government refused to grant the duty waiver for months and when this was eventually granted after Ministry of Planning and Economic Development intervention, further deliberate delays have resulted in the vehicles still being in the ports with demurrage charges being incurred by the council.
The Freetown City Council local tax which was agreed by the Ministry of Local Government and Ministry of Finance as Le10,000 in 2020 and which was included in the 2021 parliament approved budget as such, was ordered by the Ministry of Local Government to be reduced to Le5,000 in contravention of the LGA2004.
This single action has reduced the council’s budgeted local tax revenue by 50%, thus removing the planned funding for budget community projects.
Central government utility ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs), are digging up roads and sidewalks and do not make good afterwards, leaving the city looking unsightly and adding to flooding risks. Letters written to these utility MDAs requesting that they cease this practice and pursue better coordination have been ignored.
“With all of the above political sabotage ongoing, it is difficult to see how the Mayor and the elected councillors of the city of Freetown who mean well for the people of Freetown, can deliver programmes aimed at improving the wellbeing of people let alone transform the city – all because of party politics,” the elected councillor told the Sierra Leone Telegraph.