The Local Government Act of 2004 ushered in a second tier of government, and this was in apparent response to the need to bring governance closer to the people.
Over the past nine years the local government system has worked very well as acknowledged by stakeholders and donor governments and institutions supporting the decentralization programme. Indeed the local government system and all its ramifications are now part of the everyday life of Sierra Leoneans.
|Paramount Chief Madam Theresa Vibbi of Kandu Lepeyama Chiefdom, Kenema District attended the meeting in Kenema.She is one of the longest serving paramount Chiefs in Sierra Leone
But for twenty two years prior to 2004, the local government system was in limbo, having been suspended due to doubts about its usefulness. Its re-introduction in 2004 ushered in a change from the old established order, a change which even the architects of the LGA did not foresee initially. The result is that the LGA conflicted with many other laws in the land leading to arguments about who does what when and where. To forestall this, a decentralization policy was formulated to serve as a source document for the revision of the LGA to ensure clarity of roles and responsibilities of players in both tiers of government.
One more attendant issue is that despite the fact the LGA 2004 clearly states the roles and responsibilities of Councillors, they often prove not to be knowledgeable about what those roles and responsibilities are. And menacingly too, the electorate seem to have little knowledge about what to expect from the councilors they elect into office.
|Recess time at the meeting in Deputy Minister Hadiru karloko (right)confers with Mayor Harold Tucker and other officials of Bo City Council
The common but inarticulate and wrong belief is that Councillors are people to run to for assistance in a range of issues like payment of school fees and even payment for initiation into one secret society or another.
However, the Decentralisation Secretariat of the Ministry of Local and Rural Development had found a way of orienting the minds of newly elected councilors at the initial stages of the re-introduction of the local government system. Following local council elections, and this started in 2004, the Secretariat organizes orientation/induction sessions for all 19 local councils with the obvious purpose of letting councillors know what their limitations are and what roles they are expected to play in the business of governance. They also serve to highlight the required working relationship between the elected and administrative staffs of councils.
|The high table at the meeting in Makeni: Centre is Minister, Diana konomanyi. Holding mike is Mayor Sunkarie kamara
Following the elections of November 17, 2012, the Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development held orientation sessions for newly elected councillors across the country in April and May, 2013. The sessions end in the Western Area in the week beginning Monday 6th May.
Two teams of Local government Officials comprising Ministers and technocrats undertook the orientation sessions. One team led by the indefatigable Minister, Diana Konomanyi, covered the North, Kono District and WARDC in the Western Area, while another team led by Deputy Minister, Hadiru Karloko, covered the south and east as well as Freetown City Council.
|The meeting at Pujehun District Council; Director Lebbie (standing right) listens to a point of clarification by Finance Officer, kemoh Satti
The sessions proved extremely worthwhile as demonstrated by their highly interactive nature.
Ministry officials went over the top to pin point some facts based on the provisions of the Local government Act of 2004:
ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF COUNCILLORS
· Councillors are not implementers of projects; they are supposed to confer with the people at Ward level, identify projects to be implemented and contribute in the preparation of development plans and subsequently the budget at council meetings. Councillors can visit project sites as an oversight measure. An example sited by Salieu Kamara of the Local Government Finance Department is the need for Councillors to oversee the distribution of text books to school authorities. He said that Councillors can also request for evidences of revenue expenditure. It came out clearly in all the meetings that the work of Councillors involves a lot of sacrifice.
· Councillors should appreciate the importance of the Institution of paramount Chieftaincy. They are not overlords in their wards; they should honour the authority of paramount Chiefs.
· No individual Councillor should at any time pretend to have the authority vested in a local council. In the words of Deputy Minister, Hadiru Karloko: ‘Be a Councillor, don’t be a Council’.
· Councillors must be in possession, and have full knowledge of the provisions of all relevant documents like the Local Government Act and the respective Standing Orders.
· Councillors should know the limits of their responsibilities and must endeavor to improve service delivery to the people. The challenge facing every Councillor is to ensure better living standards for the people by helping them to change their mind sets. According to the Director of Local Government, A.J.P. Lebbie, an example is that councilors must ensure that every household has a toilet. The days of open-air defecation, he said, are over.
· The Director of the Local Government Finance Department, Adams Kargbo, advised Councillors to pressure their Chairmen and Mayors to send timely returns to Freetown if allowances are to be paid on time.
ADVICE TO COUNCILS
Councillors and the various councils for that matter were given very salient pieces of advice, vis-à-vis, how they can improve their performance. Councils were urged to realise that the days of relief and rehabilitation were over, and that Sierra Leone is now working on a development agenda. In this vein, Councils were urged to redouble their revenue generation efforts. Own-source revenue is what councils can use to implement whatever project they are desirous of implementing unlike the case of grants from outside sources, they were informed. They were also urged to Stimulate economic growth in the rural areas and therefore provide a weapon against poverty; generate higher incomes and increase productivity at the local level and enhance security and Improve on the delivery of services to the rural communities. They were admonished to give greater control of local people over their resources by involving them in the mobilization, allocation and utilization of funds.
In the area of transparency, Bai Sesay of the Public Financial Management Reform Unit told the councils that they must endeavour to ensure that the people are informed about whatever development venture they were undertaking. It is only by this means the people will see the need to pay their taxes. They were advised to make adequate use of notice boards at locality and Ward levels to keep their subjects informed about various issues such as expenditure patterns.
Councils capable of raising their revenue base can independently increase the sitting fees paid to their councillors. This provision of the LGA was sited to stress the importance of own-source revenue generation.
THE ROLE OF DISTRICT OFFICERS
The re-introduction of District offices was registered as a source of misunderstanding in terms of apportioning of roles and responsibilities. However Officials of the ministry successfully clarified some basic points. Alison Sunderland, a Commonwealth Adviser attached to the Ministry described District Officers as the Protocol Officers of Government in the Districts. She made it clear that District Officers are not superiors of District councils, but specifically play an oversight role over Chiefdom administration. District officers do not interfere with the work of Local Councils. The essence of their office is to ensure that chiefdoms are governed well so that councils can carry out their duties in a peaceful atmosphere. In collaboration with Paramount Chiefs District Officers are responsible for the administration of estates and they report to Provincial Secretaries, she said.
SOME MAJOR CONCERNS OF COUNCILS
In some local councils members of the core staff were clearly disgruntled over what they saw as transfer of staff to ‘punishment grounds’. The strongest allegation in this respect came from the Bonthe Municipal Council where it was alleged that Finance Officers in that locality were changed several times in a short period of time. It was claimed that Bonthe Municipality was considered to be a punishment ground for core staff who fall short in one way or another. However, Bockarie Idriss, the Executive Secretary of the Local Government Service Commission debunked the allegation, claiming that no locality was regarded as punishment ground. He pointed out that transfers are not done by any single individual but by a Transfer Committee within the Commission.
The Chairman, Development and Planning Committee of Bo City Council, Moses Bob Tucker, echoed the concern of Councillors across the country when he said that Councillors should be paid monies in the form of Ward facilitation even if not at the same rate as that paid to parliamentarians. To justify this demand he pointed out that some councillors cover long distances to attend meetings and need to pay transport fares.‘And public expectations are so high that it become very difficult to turn a blind eye to the demands of the people’ Bob Tucker said.
In some councils, Councillors claim they are not considered as relevant and are looked down upon by Chief Administrators. But in all such cases, staff of the Ministry explained that it was necessary for all parties to work in collaboration and complement each other’s work. Councillors were told to channel their concerns to their Chairmen or Mayors who are the Supervisors of CAs. It wouldn’t make for a good working relationship if every Councillor should approach the CA with one request or another, they were cautioned.
At the concluding stages of all the meetings the consensus was reached that the local government system was working well so far and that the system will be perfected with the passing of the revised Local Government Act.
Paramount Chief Madam Theresa Vibbi of Kandu Lepeyama Chiefdom in the Kenema District expressed absolute satisfaction with the local government system. She said categorically that Councillors now bring development to their chiefdoms. As an example she sited the construction of a markets at Levuma and Gbado, a Health Centre at Gbado, and a school at Palima.
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Newspaper in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
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