Members of the general public gathered for the Freetown City Council Debates for Mayoral candidates at the Family Kingdom Resort in Aberdeen last night.
The five candidates – Acting Mayor Herbert G. Williams (APC), Abraham B. Sesay (SLPP), Rosaline M. Kargbo (PMDC), Alexandra Peters (Independent) and Pateh Bah (Independent) – were given a chance to answer any and all remaining questions and concerns before the upcoming elections on Saturday.
In the opening segments of the debates, Chairperson Leon Jenkins-Johnston sent a message to the candidates, explaining that the local elections were aimed at keeping participation and public delivery at the local level and urged them to stick to their election manifesto.
Mr. Jenkins-Johnston also strongly addressed political corruption, saying that if any future officials couldn’t be held accountable for their funds, “the Anti-Corruption Commission will tear you apart and your flesh will be given to vultures.” The comment prompted a round of applause from the crowd.
The event was organized by The Sierra Leone Association of Journalist (SLAJ) in collaboration with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and United States Agency for International Development (USAID). SLAJ President Phillip Neville shared a few thoughts, telling the candidates that elections are not war but ideologies, and urged them to frown at election violence.
“The debate is a non-partisan platform for candidates to present their programs,” NDI Director Honorine Mouteya said. “It is a platform where candidates will focus on issues. This platform will help electorates to make decisions on voting. The platform promotes tolerance. The process promotes dialogue amongst stakeholders. Lastly to be able to diffuse tension and build confidence.”
The first question of the debate proper asked the candidates what they planned to do to create revenue for the city, asking: Even though council rely on the central government for grants or subventions to run their council. The delay in the release of these grants remains a thorny issue. The delay causing a setback for the smooth running of council. What plans do you have to reverse and transform council into a viable and a self-reliant one?
PMDC candidate Mrs. Kargbo was the first to respond, and she rather spoke of how to provide basic facilities at the PCMH hospital and also how to tackle the sanitation problems in the city as she will lobby and draw up programmes to generate revenue.
Next up was Acting Mayor Mr. Williams. He answered that any council that wants to survive must not survive on government revenue as it has to generate its own revenue basing it on education. He said he shall also ensure that people pay municipal licences as it is presently evident in the task collection drive.
Independent candidate Mr. Bah said despite appreciating a lot from the answers of the acting mayor, he shall ensure that people know that paying taxes are their “civic responsibilities,” stating that he shall not rely on the central governments as he will go on a foreign policy exercise.
Mr. Sesay of the SLPP disclosed his ten ways of raising revenue as he presented his Freetown Development Fund which he intended using if elected. He also spoke of generating revenue from the ward level.
Mr. Peters, another Independent candidate, spoke of expanding the private sector as the basis of anybody who wants to become the mayor.
The next question addressed sanitation.
SLPP Mr. Sesay spoke about pole-to-pole initiative dealing with sanitation. He intended purchasing garbage in small rice bags, which would be transported to the dump sites at Kingtom and Kissy road for bio-gas. On the issue of transportation, he talked about building terminal points for loading and off loading passengers. With regards to housing, he spoke about building store houses to deal with the problems.
PMDC Mrs. Kargbo said she will encourage entrepreneurs to go into agriculture in order to get the influx of people in the city to go to the rural areas and embark on agriculture, especially rice production. Her housing project is to engage entrepreneurs to build affordable houses for people in the city.
APC Mayor Mr. Williams intends building pilot houses for people in order to eradicate slums. He talked about building health centers and employment for youth, as well.
Independent Mr. Bah said he intends to open Freetown to ‘Greater Freetown’ so that young people will have access to housing facilities. He also intends taking ‘Bomeh’ out of Freetown, pointing out that malaria is killing more than HIV/AIDS. He intends “decentralization of this city to self sustained communities.”
Fellow Independent Mr. Peters said, “If you cannot clean the city and keep it clean, you have failed as a mayor.” He then showed a prototype garbage box he has designed to keep the city clean. The only way to deal with congestion in the city, he said, is to build new cities.
The next question was about street trading: What plans do they have to address the rampant street trading in Freetown, if elected as mayor?
APC Mr. Williams answered first: “Street trading have been politicized by the past regimes and it is now a menace to the society,” he said. “I will ensure that adequate markets are constructed at ferry junction, central and King Jimmy with adequate facilities like toilets and water wells.”
Independent Mr. Peters said he plans to improve the market with facilities to reduce the rampant street trading in mega parts of the city which will create alternative sources for revenue income. “Problems of the market will be addressed through the formation of cooperatives and allocation of micro credit loans to traders,” he said.
SLPP Mr. Sesay mentioned that he was a street trader at age seven, and he knows the challenges they face. He will ensure that a five story building market will be constructed for the central part of Freetown. He plans to build facilities for petty traders with adult literacy education. Then he will also construct a one stop shopping center at the center of Freetown with accommodation and ware-house facilities to ease traders’ constrains. He also plans to renovate existing markets with adequate facilities like electricity, water, and toilet facilities. The non-citizen trade act will be implemented to discourage foreigners from retailing goods which are meant for citizens. Then councilors will run the market and ensure that all traders are registered with the city council.
Next, Mr. Bah the Independent candidate said construction of more markets for the city to accommodate traders. He will also construct markets for all communities within the city and ensure that the non-citizen’ trade act is enacted because the act has not been functioning. He will also support traders morally and financially.
PMDC Mrs. Kargbo answered by saying, “The economy is in shambles and there is a need to revamp the trade industry.” She said that women at various markets will be sensitized about trading and modern markets will be constructed. Then she’ll construct ware houses for all the markets to enable them to safely keep their goods. By Ophaniel Gooding, Yu Nakayama, Ishmael Bayoh & Saidu Bah