Round about 2006 a senior civil servant asked a very interesting question during a workshop on Transformative Leadership. We were talking about sharing power and authority. In other words devolving power or responsibilities. The female civil servant became very uncomfortable and had to raise the question whether power is something to share with other people. She said if you are given power you have to exercise it. The facilitators tried hard to say why in these days of democratic ideals one man or woman should not wield all the power, and that people demonstrate ownership when they are part of the process. In fact much of the reason why our young people joined the rebels was the fact that they were not part of decision making processes and as such their voices were not heard. Governance issues are very critical to the observance of the Rule of Law. Until various sectors are part of decision making, we can hardly talk about successful governance. This is why youth, gender and disability issues have become paramount and are gaining prominence in development circles.
The old fashioned way of having one man handling everything…being chief of a village, chairman of the village development committee, chairman of the child welfare committee and also youth leader, is no recipe for progress and good governance.
When the local government was re-introduced in 2004 it was welcome news because it was seen as a bold step towards bringing governance to the door steps of ordinary people. The first local government players seemed to have played the game without the goal posts and referees. A lot played it on ant hill fields—far from the level playing fields that NEC guys are wont to preach. So much was not achieved in terms of reaching set goals. One could not really blame them, most councilors vied without understanding their roles and nor did the voters give a damn. The chairmanship positions were in many areas tampered with by politicians.
When the devolution schedule was drawn to take effect from 2005 or so many thought decentralization was on course. However many ministries proved reluctant to move the process. One thing that became clear was that there was confusion over the council’s role as far as the devolved functions were concerned. The Ministry branches in the regions continued to implement the devolved functions and the council played a sort of monitoring role. Some of us felt this was like giving the cow and holding the rope. Many civil society observers thought it should have been the other way round, whereby council actually takes care of the devolved functions, using the expertise of the ministry’s staff. Anyway at least in some places this arrangement was okay. Now we are hearing of a revision of the devolution schedule. This time round we hope that careful thought will be given to the issue so that councils will not get frustrated.
The 2008 local government elections brought about a very interesting phenomenon. That is in the strongholds of the two main parties the votes were swept by the party having the areas as their so-called heart lands. Another glaring fact is that Sierra Leone has been split since the 2007 elections. We have the APC taking the North and the West, while the SLPP clings fast on the East and South. Indeed tribal regional feelings seem to have sprang up. One wonders how long this will continue.
With President Koroma stressing on agricultural productivity, the relevant ministry should take this into consideration when reviewing the devolution schedule. We all know the seasonality challenges that agricultural projects face. Indeed there is no use supplying agricultural inputs at the wrong time. We can actually use agriculture to unite the people once more by supporting the agriculturally viable areas with no bias towards party links. This will drive home confidence in the government and actually help to diffuse the apprehensions of people.
Many times when people have discussions on radio they assert the fact that Freetown is not Sierra Leone. This is true but is the realism of this demonstrated in our ministries, departments and agecies? Even our civil society organizations find it difficult to get active members beyond the regional points. This Freetown mania is definitely affecting the decentralization process. The decentralization secretariat has done a lot of capacity building but the ministries have to do more and fast too to let go devolved powers together with the funds and resources. If so much is expected of our councils then the central government should expedite the smooth process. If this is not taken seriously the tail will continue to wag the dog till thy kingdom come. We definitely cannot afford to reverse the democratic wind that is blowing across the world. Transformation has to do with the development of people who are self-reliant, accountable and passionate leaders. They must practice shared leadership. Transformed leaders need constructive engagements. At the heart of transformative leadership is the liberated outlook and attitude. Perhaps our best bet for improving the lives of citizens is through the local councils.This is why the decentralization process should not be treated with levity.
The relationship between the Central Government and Local Governments should be structured and strategic. It does not do us any good to drag partisan squabbles into the viability of the councils. We have witnessed times when because a local council head do not belong to the same party as the one in power things do not move smoothly. I think if the objective is development, then partisan consideration should not arise. This is why some people really think local government elections should not be run on partisan basis. Our problem of decentralization begins with our laws… too much power is concentrated in the hands of few people. One definitely cannot export what you do not have. You cannot perform beyond your capacity. Take most of our offices, you cannot get certain things done just because a particular person is not in. There used to be a time at ministries when only one person had the competence to easily locate certain files. I wonder what the situation was like when he passed away.
A big challenge we face as a nation is how to democratize the civil service. By nature a lot of delays in doing work appear deliberate. Files take ages to move to the next desk and at times just get lost only to appear again when the right palm greasing procedures are met. In the civil service creativity is hardly encouraged. Even letters have to have certain formats that are almost unchangeable. You find expressions like “your obedient servant” abounding there. The issue of decentralization is not just an issue for government, it cuts across all spheres of life. Even in a small office some people concentrate everything on their desk. This old way of running offices is no longer tenable as it does not only slow down the process but also reduces effectiveness. The idea of every staff coming to see the big boss sitting behind the big executive table is no more effective. Even in a factory situation it does not work any longer. Managers have to – as the Americans say, get off their arse and see what is going on in the different departments.
As there is currently a move to relaunch or better still review the devolution schedule for decentralization, I think a whole assessesment should take place to see how it has been. The devolved functions should indeed go with the necessary resources to make them tick. That is the cow should be handed over together with the rope. You see democracy and good governance have no middle- of –the road position. You cannot decide to be conservative during the day, get liberal at night and nine months later you go into labor… if you see what I mean. The president’s contract with Ministers of government should include their compliance with the devolution schedule. The councils for their part should not take a lukewarm stance on the devolution. They should create awareness on the implications of the devolution. The decentralization secretariat which has been doing a great job should really interface on this issue. Governance should not be by chance but based on conscious plans with viable strategic directions. Remember that politics and government is nothing if the people’s livelihoods are not improved, rights upheld, poverty reduced and the rule of law maintained.
By S. Beny SAM