By: Joseph Margai
If someone was never wishing his/her relative to be a Mayor or Chairman of a Local Council in Sierra Leone, because of the unavailability of end-of-month salaries, that person should now change his/her mind.
The reason is simple-the ‘New Direction’ administration championed by President Julius Maada Bio-has now taken a decision to start paying end-of-month salaries to Mayors, Chairmen and their deputies of all Local Councils in Sierra Leone by 2020.
Themed the “Fiscal Consolidation for Human Capital Development and Job Creation”, the Appropriation Act of 2020, which has been branded the “the Bread and Butter budget”, has made provisions for councils’ political heads to start receiving salaries.
Minister of Finance, Jacob Jusu Saffa, fondly called ‘JJ Saffa’ by his admirers, said while reading the Appropriation Bill of 2020 in the Well of Parliament on 8th November, 2019, said the role of the political leadership in councils is critical in the delivery of services that support local economic development.
“However, this has not reflected in the remuneration of Mayors or Chairpersons and their Deputies. This has negatively affected the morale and effectiveness of councils’ political leadership. Whilst we expect the review of the Decentralisation Policy and Local Government Act to substantively address these issues amongst others, a first step is taken to introduce payment of salaries to Mayors/Chairpersons and their Deputies effective April 2020. In the same vein, sitting fees and transport allowances for Councilors will also be increased,” he noted.
The Local Councils in Sierra Leone were reintroduced by the then Sierra Leone People’s Party (SLPP)-led administration of the late President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah in 2004.
When the councils were reintroduced, there was not enough time for the SLPP government to put preparations in place especially in the area of remuneration for Mayors of City Councils, Chairmen of District Councils, and their deputies including Councilors of Wards.
Why? Because the SLPP government was voted out of power, which subsequently led to the washing away of dreams and aspirations of the then elected Mayors, Chairmen and their deputies.
They were only given sitting allowances at the end of every month and those allowances do not attract end-of-service benefits.
Then came into governance the government led by the All People’s Party (APC)’s Ernest Bai Koroma in 2007.
Former President Ernest Bai Koroma showed no mercy for elected Mayors and Chairmen including their deputies.
In fact, he neglected them entirely. His administration made no provision for the payment of salaries for them.
Morale of Mayors, Chairmen, their deputies, and Councilors, was very low.
Hopes for their future under the APC-led administration were on the brink and things were falling apart.
They beat the drums for almost 11 years but there were no dancers.
Even the one they were expecting to be a ‘master dancer’ refused to be part of the party and their dreams were crushed.
Some of them even regretted their action of voting out of power the SLPP.
They were sick and tired of the then status quo but they swallowed their bitter pills for almost 11 years.
They worked without end-of-month salary and their homes were running dry.
There were no ‘bread and butter’ on the table for their families to eat, and things were no longer at ease.
But in 2018, they never made a mistake by voting into power the SLPP government led by President Julius Maada Bio.
In just a year-and-a-half in President Julius Maada Bio’s reign, the government had made a commitment to start paying end-of-month salaries to Mayors, Chairmen and their deputies.
This time around, the Mayors, Chairmen and their deputies, are no longer drummers, they have become the dancers and celebration rents the atmosphere.
There are smiles on their faces and their impressions across the country have been that of hope and progress.
Local Councils Association of Sierra Leone (LoCASL)’s President, Joseph Munda Bindi of the governing SLPP government, who also doubles as the Chairman of Bo District Council, told me in a mobile phone conversation on Monday, 18th November, 2019, that this is the first time since the reintroduction of Local Councils in 2004, that the government has made a commitment to pay salaries to Mayors, Chairmen and their deputies.
“This group of the working class of Sierra Leoneans were neglected for almost 11 years by the then APC-led administration that governed the country from 2007-2018. Our hopes were really high when former President Ernest Bai Koroma was elected in 2007. We thought he would have started paying us salaries but he neglected us as if we were not contributing anything to the development of Sierra Leone. We are happy with this government’s decision,” he told me.
Kasho J. Holland-Cole of the main opposition, the All People’s Congress (APC), who also doubles as Chairman of the Western Area Rural District Council (WARDC), welcomed the SLPP-led administration’s decision to start paying end-of-month salaries to them.
“When you look at our workload and the billions of Leones that we handle to enhance service delivery in our respective districts and cities, you would think that we are well paid at the end of every month. Sometimes, we even come to work on Sundays but at the end of the month, we are given sitting allowance of Le2,280,000 and our deputies are given sitting allowance of Le2,100,000. Working without salaries encourages corruption,” he said to me on Tuesday, 19th November, 2019, in a mobile phone conversation.
He said the then APC-led administration did not think about paying end-of-month salaries to us throughout its 10 years in office.
“Members of Parliament (MPs) have one constituency but they are well-paid at the end of every month. I have eight constituencies in my district but I’m only given sitting allowance at the end of every month. It’s not fair. We are the government at the local level and expectations from us are huge,” he noted.
Similarly, JJ Saffa said in addition to the political leadership in councils, the core staff of councils is working in a very difficult condition with low salaries and morale.
“This situation has posed a challenge to attract and retain competent and qualified staff to work in local councils. This must change if councils are to truly deliver improved services at the local level. As a first step in this direction, the salaries of core staff of councils will be increased effective April 2020,” he said. With these pronouncements, there are signs that service delivery at the local level would be enhanced, thereby curbing corruption amongst local councils’ officials.