By Winstanley R Bankole Johnson
Two words caught my fancy as I listened to the Minister of Local Government Mr. Tamba Lamina and the Local Government Expert on Decentralization Mr. Floyd Davies advertise the proposed policies for Local Councils that is purported to have (not unexpectedly) sailed through Cabinet. Those two words are “Democratic Travesty”. “Democratic” because according to Mr. Davies that was the basis from which they emerged, and a “Travesty” because instead of promoting same they reflect a grotesquely incongruous contradiction to the spirit of any truly competitive democratic environment, which if (God Almighty Forbid!!) they become enacted into law will end up eroding all the gains this country has made in the past three decades on political pluralism. That could further erode all our Constitutional Freedoms – and ultimately usher in a culture of One-Party-ism. From what we have experienced in the last twelve months regarding the introduction of a State of Emergency without the requisite regulations, you will agree with me that is a palpable fear.
For starters I cannot recall ever hearing about ongoing public consultations with constituents and communities by this government to discern perceptions on the matter, but Minister Lamina and Mr. Davies asserted they were run countrywide. The Hon Sahr Charles was however evasive when discussing the same topic of Radio Democracy 98.1FM on the next day. He unequivocally qualified and restricted their own Parliamentary consultations to Local Councils – not with constituents and communities countrywide. One thing is certain: those consultations did not reach my own constituency, which gap compels me to now appreciate why our Members of Parliament (MPs) were so annoyed about the methodology of the Institute for Governance Reforms (IGR), Center for Accountability and Rule of Law (CARL) and the Afro-Barometer to have concluded that from their own perception surveys, Parliament as an institution is corrupt.
Accordingly, our All Peoples’ Congress (APC) Parliamentarians must exercise every legal muscle fiber as lies in their sinews to ensure that those proposed policies are not enacted into law. But if, try as they would our concerns are (as usual) ridden rough shod over, then it behooves the entire APC Party membership to make it a national obligation to overturn it immediately time and circumstances restores the genuine, in the same way we continue to play “Tom and Jerry” episodes with the nomenclature of the Siaka Stevens Stadium at every change of political governance between SLPP and APC.
Of the five or six proposed revisions to the Local Government Policies concluded by Cabinet, the three that irked me most are:
1. Conducting Local Council elections on non-partisan basis
2. Allowing the representations of MPs, Paramount Chiefs/Traditional Leaders within the locality into Councils – but without voting rights
3. Restricting candidacies for Mayors and Chairpersons of Councils to University degree holders – Only.
And my annoyance stems from an assessment that they do not seem reflect sound reasoning. But let’s treat them on a case by case basis.
Conducting Non-Partisan Local Council Elections
This has been an SLPP flagship concept for decades dating back to the sixties under the Sir. Albert Margai regime’s attempt to eliminate the APC and introduce a One-Party State government. Their reference to 2004 as the start date of this conversation is a ploy to confuse the younger generations that their political convictions transcends selfishness, greed and the innate desire to subsume all other regions. But even for his choice as their hatchet man, Mr. Floyd Davies is too young to know that. The SLPP tried it again between 2002 and the enactment of the Local Government Act of 2004 under the late President Ahmed Tejan-Kabbah, when the APC had 27 MPs in the House. But the former President being a UN retiree conversant with the wave of political pluralism engulfing nations then, consciously declined it. So if the APC with just 27 MPs then could have done that, I don’t see why we should not be able to forestall this attempt to stifle democracy now that we have about 57 MPs in the House.
The bottom line about this SLPP government is not about enhancing or fast racking development to local level or eliminating violence at electoral cycles as they would want us to believe, but because they are determined not only to surreptitiously ultimately kill the APC as a vibrant alternative political Party in this country, but first to neutralize APC dominance and efficacy in their perceived Northern and Western Regions strongholds. As at now APC leadership controls about 9 of the Local Councils countrywide, and the SLPP knows that they are so loathed that in most localities that even if they replicate the name of Denis Sandy as substantive minister in every Ministry in this country, it will be far easier for a Camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for them (SLPP) to clinch electoral victory in any of those perceived APC strongholds. So they would rather behave like a spoilt brat who, unable to demonstrate game spirit because he owns the ball and has not been selected by either side, would rather either burst the ball or grab it and run away with it when it goes out for a throw-in so to abruptly end play completely, they want to end the rivalry now – once and for all – by figuratively running away with our political ball.
Now let’s be realistic, if the reason to forego party politics at local level so as to curb electoral violence and engender development were the case, why didn’t they start from Presidential and Parliamentary levels? After all Local Councils are a microcosm of the central government, and when you consider that it is from the center that everything is decentralized – including violence and development – then the logical starting block should have been where everything originates: the central government. But they wouldn’t begin there because they (SLPP) are in power and their main objective is to obliterate everything RED or the APC. Haven’t we heard that every member of APC is either a Terrorist or is neither Sierra Leonean nor patriotic? Those are the kinds of statements that invoke fear in the APC membership that is making us unable to “trust the process”. God alone knows what other description awaits us if this plan should succeed. Reptiles??
Your guess is as good as mine as to whether the SLPP would have broached these proposals if (a) they were not in power or (b) if in power and they were in absolute control of the Freetown Urban and Rural Councils. Why the Local Government Expert Mr. Floyd Davies never for once proposed this concept both during his lengthy stay at the Decentralization Secretariat under the Institutional Relationship and Capacity Building Project (IRCBP) or even afterwards as a Consultant to the APC government under former President Ernest Bai Koroma is another baffling question. The main reason why I am unable to buy their explanations about elimination policy inconsistencies and fast tracking development to local levels is these problems are neither new nor can they be solved by simply introducing new policies geared towards sustaining a culture of multi-political party intolerance in the arenas it matters most: The Grassroots.
To buttress his point Mr. Davies postulated that most countries have moved away from party politics at Local Council – citing Ghana. Like the devil in the scriptures trust the average Sierra Leonean to cite copious references of incongruity when it suits them, but to craftily avoid same when it doesn’t. As a self-acclaimed Local Government Expert myself, what Mr. Davies didn’t tell his listeners as well was that many African countries have not only dispensed with the title of “Mayor”, but have also transformed Councils into “Authorities” – e.g. Accra Municipal Authority; Nairobi Municipal Authority etc. This is on account of accelerated dilution of metropolitan cultural values attendant upon mass rural migration into the urban areas that was making references to colonial relics redundant. But here’s a couple of advices for this government:
– In this our intolerant political climate so polarized in the last 30-odd months, attempting to introduce all-independent candidates’ local council elections is sheer folly. Scriptures say: “By their fruits ye shall know them” – Matt: 7:16. Every candidate’s names is a give-away as to which region and party colour is their religion. Sorry but that’s how dangerously we’ve been trained to monitor each other since April 2018.
– If we really want to end elections on political party basis why not start from the Presidency? If the SLPP knows too well that to kill a snake is to start from its head, they must also know that to kill the snake of tribalism, nepotism, regionalism, hatred and political intolerance is to start from the head of all those menaces. And the best starting block should be at Presidential and Parliamentary elections. And I am sure citizens will agree wholeheartedly with me on that. But to start by killing political party colours at the local levels only when we are in power is disingenuous. When we reach that point we will consider addressing the logistical constraint evident in such arrangements in the event we begin to have up to a thousand candidates for particular positions. That can be worked out by the NEC.
Allowing MPs, Paramount Chiefs/Traditional Leaders within the locality into Councils – but without voting rights
Allowance for Paramount Chiefs’ representations in Local Councils – without voting rights – ostensibly “to protect their interests” per Sec. 4. 1. (c) of the Local Government Act of 2004 is restricted to provincial Councils. Sec.108 of the same Act gives the Ministry/Minister a fiat to include/involve wider citizenry participation in governance, and that is where the Minister/Ministry draws authority for inclusion and participation of as captioned in the proposed policy. But here’s the caveat: The fact that Councils are prefixed by the description: “Local” should by no means misconstrue them for systemic retrogression because if anything, it is from the Capital that the democratic enlightenment should ensue forth into the hinterlands, not the other way round.
So when all the MPs and Tribal Heads within Western Urban and Rural areas become so represented in the two Local Councils as to make them unwieldy, what a great administrative chaos that will result in. Worse of all beyond that administrative chaos will lie deliberate attempts by government to be undermining efficiency in any Council with perceived opposition sentiments by planting their own hand-picked Local Tribal Heads within those Councils. Of what relevance are Tribal Heads within a Municipality – and I daresay in the Western Rural District also – without “Chiefdoms” anyway? They are tools of retrogression and as their titles imply are meant to represent their tribes only.
So whose interests will they be promoting/defending within the Western Urban and Rural District Councils? Their inclusion will be counterproductive of the quality decision making processes contemplated. And hasn’t it occurred to this (and the previous APC) government that in all their deliberations about recognizing and prioritizing the interests of Local Tribal Heads right up to a proposal to now provide them with vehicles and include them for salaries and pensions from the Consolidated Revenue Fund, not a single consideration is given to us Krios – neither here Freetown nor in the provinces? And what do successive governments take us for? Or are we not Sierra Leoneans? I have been trying to arrange appointments with the Minister seek answers, but he has been consistently elusive.
As for the MPs representation in local councils they will be downright bullies, given their long held but misplaced perceptions about their superior status over and above Councillors. A lot of work will need to be done in the areas of defining limits if at all.
Restricting candidacies for Mayors and Chairpersons of Councils to University Degree Holders
Now let me address the most ludicrous of my angst which is as captioned, especially coming from a government that prides itself in human capacity development. So does it mean even technocrats with proven competence are not eligible to contest for the positions of Mayors and Chairpersons of Councils just because they don’t have a University first degree certificate – not to talk about us with Tech-Voc papers from the Institute of Bankers London? I mean papers that has helped me in particular to set a National Record as the very first Sierra Leonean Expatriate Banker to have been seconded to more than one country in my career? And does it mean someone in my category with decades of solid corporate management experience, exposure and leadership competence at sublime levels that even some University lecturers with years of service could only dream about, would not qualify to contest for positions of Mayor and or Chairperson because he doesn’t have a University certificate?
“Me Laff Dae @ Seff!!”
What has obtaining University degree got to do with competence in political governance and leadership? Mr. Floyd Davies knows me very well. We shared common values in the past, but we’ll leave that for our memoires. One thing I can bet on is that I was not only his type of Mayor, but that twelve years after my Mayorship, I am still assured of his vote if he ever sees my names on a ballot paper.
Here are more pieces of advice for Minister Lamina who piloted the policy through Cabinet, and Mr. Floyd Davies the Local Government Expert and Spokesperson:
– The qualification to become an MP per Sec. 75 (c) and (d) of the 1991 National Constitution are much lax and you could have taken a cue from that if indeed your actual desires were to eliminate inconsistencies in policy relations. This is because becoming and MP involves much greater national risks than becoming a Local Councillor. Thereafter your next step should have been the automatic disbanding of the failed Institutional Relationship and Capacity Building Project (IRCBP) outfit that has since 2004 been supervising the Decentralization Secretariat.
– It is on record Sirs, that per capita more people with University papers of up to doctorate level have exposed this country to odium and contempt through their unacceptable demeanours including issuances of bounced cheques to governments. Name me one Local Councilor with just a WASCE and through whose misdemeanours our country risk profile has been downgraded. So university degrees are not the be all and end all as to warrant anyone’s disqualification from Council representation without them, because it is one’s personality – not the University certificates – that determines ones’ progression in life. After all what does it profit a nation if someone gains all the University degrees available but then is lacking in morals?
– If quality representation and participation in our Local Councils is a priority, then it’s about time all political parties seriously begin to consider restricting candidacies to only properties owners. In the provinces no matter how unwritten their codes, Councillors would never be selected from Ghettos and Attaya bases.
– Remove Paramount Chiefs from central government participation. Without diluting their relevance, government should create their own special National Chamber in which they can be articulating their interests. The fact that Chiefs rule “Subjects”, whereas national leaders rule “Citizens” underscores both their status difference and a need to give that matter priority consideration.
Thankfully the proposed policy is not yet a law. Government should find the time to revisit them by reading this and many more other concerns – particularly views of opposition party members – before enacting it into law.