The Sierra Leone Telegraph: 24 March 2013
But perhaps the most profound of policies aimed at returning the country to a democratically governed nation, is the 2004 Local Government Act.
The Act called for the active participation of local people and communities in public policy discourse and decision making, through devolved governance, especially as regards economic, social, environmental, health and education issues – matters affecting their life chances.
But, although successive governments in Sierra Leone have invariably attempted to implement a decentralisation programme, since the introduction of the 2004 Local Government Act, there are serious questions as to the commitment of those ruling from the centre, the international community, and many of those elected to represent their local communities.
Will the people of Sierra Leone ever enjoy the fruits of local empowerment and active citizenship, through a fully devolved and decentralised state?
Reporting from China, government’s spokesman – John Pa Baimba Sesay is optimistic. This is his report:
One cannot overstate the relevance of devolution of state functions, through the process of decentralisation in building the pillars of democracy and good governance in society.
A government that encourages public involvement in the decision making process is one that is likely to get the support of the citizens.
Sierra Leone presents a good case study, in terms of the progress made in the decentralization process, since 2004 when the process was reintroduced.
The legal provisions for the re-establishment of the decentralization process in Sierra Leone are contained in the 2004 Local Government Act.
But to successfully work towards proper decentralisation planning, demands the input of all stakeholders, especially those mentioned in the Act.
Local Councillors are as relevant in the whole process, as those who provide the political guidance and supervisory role – the Local Government Ministry.
This is so in terms of stakeholder’s participation, especially local people who elect their councillors and in whose interests, actions and decisions are taken for the general good of their localities.
Narrowing this issue down to the community level, we have the ward committee members. Part 13 of the Local Government Act 2004, makes provision for the establishment of Ward Committees.
According to Law, ward committees shall consist of every Councillor elected in that ward; the Paramount Chief – in the case of localities with a system of Chieftaincy; and not more than ten other persons – at least five of whom shall be women, resident in that ward and elected by the ward residents in a public meeting.
We cannot overstate, also the fact that by law, the councils encourage the participation of women more in local activities, since as stated above, in each ward committee, there should be at least five women involved.
That said, Section 96 of the Act states that the committee members are responsible for mobilizing residents of the wards for the implementation of self-help and development projects; providing a focal point for the discussion of local problems and needs and take remedial action where necessary or make recommendations to the local council; organizing communal and voluntary work, especially with respect to sanitation; making proposals to the local council for the levying and collection of rates for special projects and programmes; and educating residents on their rights and obligations, in relation to local government and decentralization.
Thus, the roles of ward committee members are as crucial in the decentralisation process, as the elected councillors.
And the expectation is that, where there is a collaborative approach in the advocacy role for development, most wards should be able to not only bring about development, but should also effectively complement government’s effort in this direction.
But this also should be discussed from the perspective of the committee members, being able to fully grasp what is required of them, with regards to the provisions of the LGA 2004.
Thinking also of encouraging past councillors to become members of local committees should also be to the good, as they could bring some valuable experience of local governance.
Regular and effective training could also help in developing ward committee members to become effective and efficient in the delivery of development plans and programmes.
And this is where the Decentralisation Secretariat could comes in. The Institutional Reform and Capacity Building Project (IRCBP) had in the past played a leading role in this regard.
Once local committee members have fully grasped their roles and responsibilities in the decentralisation process, they stand a better chance of supporting the councillors and the councils in meeting the challenges ahead.
This is so, because at the ward level, it is only local people – residents of given wards, that possess in-depth knowledge of the problems they face and hence are likely to have the solutions.
The need for continued collaboration amongst the ward committee members, councillors and Members of Parliament cannot be disputed, especially in promoting good governance.
Strategies outlined for its achievement include, but not limited to reviewing the Act; rolling out the decentralization policy, ensuring its periodic assessment and review; ensuring MDAs devolve residual functions and build local council capacities; and establishing procedures for revenue collection and sharing between local and chiefdom councils, and the administration of property rates respectively.
In a work, titled, ‘Decentralization and Good Governance in Africa: Institutional challenges to Uganda’s Local Governments’, Michael Kiwanuka et el, argued that devolution of power and authority to sub-national governments – generally referred to as decentralization – is increasingly being adopted and applied in many African countries, as one of the tenets of good governance.
They suggest that this general trend across Africa “is based on the premise that decentralized governance provides a structural arrangement and a level playing field for stakeholders and players to promote peace, democracy, and development.”
But they also argue that “the political rationale for decentralization has always been good governance, through enhancing local democracy, promoting transparency, accountability, integrity, and representation in the management of public affairs.”
Sierra Leone has made a promising start, but there is yet a very long way to go before the dream of complete decentralisation is achieved.