I was at the national stadium yesterday to witness the inaugural ceremony of the Councilors, Chairman and Mayor elect of the Western Area Rural District Council and the Freetown City Council, and what I heard from the president and even from the Minister of Local Government was very pleasing, to say the least.
Looking at the way the decentralization process has been going since the coming into office of Ernest Koroma, I must say, much has been happening positively, and no wonder that, the president himself has again disclosed yesterday that he will continuously support the councils to see them succeed.
In his state opening of parliament, President Koroma was very firm in saying that he was going to ensure a sober and an effective decentralization process in the country, for he knows, if he is to succeed, he needs to work with the local councils. We are moving as a country, in the decentralization process and that is indeed appreciable.
When the Tejan Kabbah led-government was in power, much was not given to the councils especially those that were perceived to be mainly dominated by the then opposition party, the APC. One cannot deny the fact that, the decentralization process was reintroduced in 2004 by the Kabbah regime, and that tribute, I will ever remain to give to Kabbah. But the determination that has been demonstrated by the current national leadership towards the process of decentralization is also very encouraging.
Ernest Koroma has said that, his administration will continue to work towards strengthening the democratic process in the country; especially in the decentralization process and it is good to get such words from the President and I salute him for that. The words of Ernest Koroma yesterday at the national stadium emphasizing his government continuous commitment towards the working of the local councils must be seen as good moves in the right direction. The councils are partners and agents of development and I entreat the President to keep treating the 19 councils the same, whether APC, SLPP, or PMDC led.
This must be a challenge on the part of government, for it is true that, every political entity would want to make political gains at a given point in time, with particular reference to national development. This, President Koroma and his team are bound to succeed with the concerted efforts all Sierra Leoneans, including those who won under the SLPP party, especially in the Freetown City Council.
When the local councils were introduced, it was done out of the desire to see national development and cohesion, especially at the ward level, but again, the fact that, local council elections are normally being held on a partisan level, must not be seen as an opportunity for councils to be divided along party lines.
The local councils are a process of enhancing effective governance in place and this was said by the president yesterday.
I have said it a thousand times and again that, the central government, of which President Koroma is the senior prefect, cannot and will not be able to provide all that, is needed at the local level with regards development.
But with the local councils in place, the government is definitely certain to succeed.
The president has asked the councilors to have the principles of service delivery and development in their minds, because with that in mind, development will be made available at the door step of people. I have seen how councils have helped in addressing problems at the local level, from Bonthe, down to Moyamba to Kabala, and to Kono. People in Bo, Kenema, or Kailahun would appreciate to see His Excellency treating their councils the same way, as the ones in Bombali, Kabala, and Port Loko, to name but three APC strongholds.
The president was very realistic yesterday when he told all Councilors and Chairman and Mayor elect to ensure, they move along with the national call; call to change of attitude. If that is not done, the entire national endeavors that this government is trying to achieve will never come to reality. Attitudes must be changed with the way council operations are perceived. Councilors are not elected to serve the self but the nation.
The words of Preso Koroma yesterday to councilors on the need to ensure they move in accordance with the dictates of a transparent and accountable council impressed me most. Corruption brings down national development, and a nation that is prone to corruption is bound to fail at all levels. This is a reality, and all government ministers, and other state functionaries, including local council officials must bear that in mind.
I worked with most councils during the first phase of the decentralization process, and I still recall the way some councils were exhibiting corruption. In fact, it was like; the act of corruption was legitimized by the then government. I am saying this because, when people like Deen Margona of Pujehun Council was misleading people with regards the purchase of rice under the RRI project; the then government did nothing to get Magona account for his misdeeds.
In the Western Area Rural District Council, the then Council Chairman, Ali Badara Mansaray was removed from council as a result of corruption allegations. In the Freetown City Council, the same almost happened with the then Mayor, Bankole Johnson. He was allegedly involved in some corrupt activities. This factor, coupled with others, almost led to the dismal performance of the Freetown City Council and the Council in Waterloo.
Even in the Kono City council, most council, projects were never completed and this must be associated to corrupt practice. The issue of giving out contracts to people for the implementation of council projects must be at the look of the ACC. As I write, the Council office in Waterloo is yet to be completed after years, when the contract was awarded.
The councils must be supported, because we have seen how the Freetown City Council, during the last three months to council elections, was able to raise billions of Leones in local tax alone. I learnt over 2.5 billion Leones had been raised by the council and that is commendable. If that trend continues in all other councils, then the central government must be assured of meeting the needs of people, with the cooperation of the councils.
So Mr. President, your words must not only be limited to them, being pronounced but must be followed by action. You have proved to be a president that listens to the views of those who elected you into office, and that trend must be made to continue, so that you could succeed within 36 months. Your commitment towards the decentralization process is being weighed for evaluation. Till then, [email protected] is my electronic mail. By John Baimba Sesay