All things being equal, we shall be having our next local council elections come July 5th this year. Sierra Leoneans, including this writer have begun flexing their muscles in preparedness for that day. That is one way people want to show their appreciation or disapproval of the stewardship of the current councilors. Councilors, though not all are bound to face the nemesis of the electorate due to their poor performance during this four years of council existence.
When we voted for these councilors four years back, they came with a lot of promises. Some spoke of plans to develop the infrastructure of their wards, some saw the need to develop the human resource of their people but to this very end, most, if not all of these promises were accomplished. Promises are meant to be made from the view point of politicians but such promises must be followed by strong action.
It is but true that, the first four years of council could be seen as a trial period; a period meant to look at the loopholes of the decentralization process and then corrective measures be put in place where necessary. The decentralization secretariat did its very best in this move as today, many, if not all of the councils could boast of being able to develop their own development plans as compared to other countries and for that, the leadership at that secretariat must be commended.
Also, today, with the support from the World Bank and other donor bodies, the central government can boast of actually decentralizing some of its function to the local level, thus bringing the people closer to the issue of governance.
Irrespective of these and many other areas, the decentralization secretariat must do more especially in the area that has to do with capacity building for council officials, ward committee members and even councilors. Helping to improve on the human resource of these people in itself, is a plus to the developmental process of the country as we are seeing today. Many women are vying for council seats as a result of these trainings and no wonder that most ward committee members are now competing. Non Government Organizations like Search for Common Ground must be given a pat on their back for promoting and building the capacities of female aspirants especially in Enciss operational area. It is but hopeful that, others too will follow this good precedent that SFCG has been exhibiting. My only problem, maybe has to do with the fact that, much attention is being given to women which to me is ridiculous for I see no reason why women should be asking for special attention. I am yet to see men asking for the same anyway.
That said, I am attempting to help the National Electoral Commission in its voter education drive for it is crystal clear that, in the just concluded presidential and parliamentary election, the party that contested under the ‘void’ symbol was able to even defeat political parties like the NDA and CPP to name but two.
In the July 5th local council elections, we shall be voting differently for councilors and council chairmen or city mayors as the case may be. And as such, we shall be voting on two different voting slips. One of these two slips shall be for a councilor and the other for a Mayor or council chairman. We must as well note that, there are 19 local councils in the country among them, five city councils [Bo, Makeni, Kenema, Kono and Freetown], one municipality [Bonthe Municipality] and 13 district councils.
Again, there has been the issue of who would be allowed to vote in the pending local council election. According to the National Electoral Commission, the 2007 register will be updated and as such, if you did not register in 2007, you will be allowed to register, but only if you are eligible. Eligibility in this sense means, you must be a Sierra Leonean, you must have attained the age of 18 or above and you must be a resident in the locality or ward in which you may want to register.
I have seen or heard of situations where somebody transfers to another locality which automatically changes his or her address. In this case, there is every need for that individual to reach the nearest NEC office for clarifications. Again, how do we treat people that are physically challenged? It is not in anyway a legal provision that, pregnant women or disabled people be allowed to vote first but from the point of humanity we need to allow them.
In our recent past elections, polling centers were filled with voters who have misplaced the voter IDs, and in an effort to prevent this come July 5th, ensure you take along a document that could help in identifying you like a birth certificate, a passport, an ID card [but not in this case because our national registration center has deliberately in my view, failed to provide people with national IDs]. Many people must have paid their taxes to council and their receipts could as well be helpful.
Now imagine yourself being at the polling centre and faced with the problem of who to vote for. It is simple. We have seen the performance of our current councilors. We have seen their academic output as well. We have also seen how politics has helped destroy developmental projects apart and also we have seen how some councilors could not effectively represent us in council. With all of these in mind, I am definitely certain that you shall be voting with the intention of seeing development in your ward. Party politics must be put aside. Hesitate not to vote for it is your right, I mean your democratic right. Demonstrate you democratic power as is the usual case in a democratic dispensation.
Mindful of the fact that, the first phase of the councils was just efforts to show case the importance of the process of decentralization, Sierra Leoneans must as well this time round investigate those that are clamoring for council seats. Following the operations of councils, I have seen where some councilors go to council for the monthly council meetings, only to sit and make no meaningful contributions, thereafter, receive sitting allowances, which is morally wrong. This, in my opinion, needs not be allowed come July 5th if only the process of local governance is to be achieved. Councilors ought to be people with performance qualities, they are our government officials at the local level and so when people with little or no sober minds are elected into councils, am afraid, it won’t make any good.
This then even brings me to the special call to give support to women as they have been advocating for 30% representation in governance. This in itself is discriminatory. Why ask for special attention? Many questions have been hanging on people’s lips among them, whether in reality some of these women have the qualifications. It is not just an issue of allowing women to be involved in the country’s decision making process but the will and human resource aspect must also be taken into consideration as well as the performance index of these women.
Women are human beings just like men. We have seen the hard works of people like Zainab Bangura in both the political and diplomatic aspect of her life. Her contribution to national development cannot be downplayed. I am of the opinion that she, like other women, was picked for that office based on their qualifications and performance indicators and not because of her gender. So let the women compete and then they will be voted if they have what we are looking out for. With that, Sierra Leoneans must be reminded that it is their right to vote and this, they must do come July 5th.
By John Baimba Sesay