By Hassan Bruz
Northern Bureau Chief
It is close to or a little over a decade when the development of Communities was shifted to Local or City Councils as the case may be. The enhancement of the Development of Communities was even designed as a core reason for the establishment of Local and City Councils. The idea was very highly welcomed by both Parliamentarians who saw it as an obvious relieve, and the Chairpersons of Local Councils together with City Council Mayors who thought it is an opportunity for them to showcase their capability to administer well. Consequently, a lot of Sectors were devolved to the respective Councils. These include Health, Education, Agriculture, Fire Prevention, Youths, Social Welfare and Solid Waste Management.
Council Chairpersons and City Mayors were determined to showcase their abilities to govern well and deliver according to the expected standards. But things have not turned out to be with the anticipated smooth flow. There seems to be key challenges here and there. The entire process is now under serious threat with no clear understanding on what to do next especially with the Development of Villages, Wards, Sections, Chiefdoms and Constituencies, which are the core and direct responsibilities. It has now become clearer that the City Mayors and Local Council Chairpersons do not seem to have what is required for the execution of such an expensive function. This is not because they lack the human resource and competence, but it is largely due to the untimely disbursement of funds from the Central Government.
The Central Government is supposed to pay Grants to each Council’s Administrative Bank Account on quarterly bases. It means there ought to be 4 slots of payment in a year for the effective functioning of Local and City Councils. Each Council is therefore required to prepare a 12 months Budget in accordance with the Activity Plan of each of the devolved Sectors. It is in line with this principle that the Budget for 2019 was prepared in 2018 and approved in December of the same year. But the Grants were not paid on time or in full. For instance, the Second Quarter for 2019 Grants were paid in October 2019 while the 3rd. and 4th. Quarter Grants are yet to reflect on the Bank Accounts of the various Councils. I am told only 20 percent of the 1st. Quarter and 25 percent of the 2nd. Quarter which accounts for a total of 45 percent, were paid to the Port Loko City Council while the 55 percent is yet in limbo with no clear understanding when it would be factored or if it would paid any longer. However there is rumor that the Director of Fiscal Decentralization in the Finance Ministry has done a correspondence for the transfer of the outstanding Grants for 2019 to be remitted into the respective Bank Account of Councils.
It would worth the while to note that the Budget for 2020 was prepared and approved long time ago and are now into the Second Quarter of 2020. You could imagine what the situation is bound to be, if these Grants are to be used for running the administrative affairs of each Council as well as the operations of the Devolved Sectors. Let us have a glance at the Port Loko City Council which is undeniably the Newest City Council in Sierra Leone. It is situated in a place where there are no major economic activities and where the Inhabitants do not seem to see the need to pay their taxes. Or better still they do not have enough to pay. It implies that the Council would then depend on a miraculous miracle to be able to actualize any of its dreams especially when Grants are so clumsily paid.
I am told some of the Activity Plans of the Port Loko City Council slated for 2019 included the Construction of the Munku Market and Rehabilitation of the Maternal Child Health Aide Training School at the District Health Management Center. This Training School is currently being used as the Port Loko District COVID -19 Command Center. The Building is marred with leaking Roofs and its Conference Room is often a total embarrassment whenever there is a heavy downpour of rain. The situation is almost the same even when there is a hot sunny day because there is no reliable source of electricity supply. It is really suffocating now that people are conditioned to put up facemasks.
Mr. Moses J. Massaquoi is the Social Service Officer in Port Loko City. He said most Projects scheduled as Activity Plan for the year under review if not all, are at a standstill due to the unavailability of funds. He cited the case of ‘transportation refunds’ for Victims of Sexual Penetration, ‘Reunification Packages’ for such Victims and ‘Support to Care Givers’ of Orphans and Separated Children which as some of the most crucial challenges he is faced with. It is only the Deputy Director of Education in Port Loko District –Mr. Foday Conteh who refused to share his challenges. He appeared to be so comfortable despite the fact that there are so many vivid concerns in the Education Sector. His complacent and flimsy excuse is that he has directives from his Head Office in Freetown not to talk to the Media. He could not even see the need to throw light on the plight of Pupils with regards the prolonged stay at home or better still the need to encourage them on the Radio Learning Program. I would not even bother myself on the nonentity of which he says a journalist should first travel to Freetown and seek permission to enable him speak. To me, it is suggestive that Mr. Foday Conteh is not on top of the situation and might not also be the appropriate person to serve in the capacity of District Deputy Director for Port Loko District.
However, several other Sector Heads were quite willing to share the prevailing situation in their respective Departments. For instance, the Monetary and Evaluation Officer at the District Health Management Team, Mohamed Sesay, was quick to point out what he referred to as the ‘appalling’ situation at the Primary Health Care Sector. He on behalf of the District Medical Officer disclosed their plans to procure Essential Drugs for Health Care Facilities within the Municipality, the Rehabilitation of the DHMT Complex, the Procurement of IPC Materials and the provision of furniture for the MCH Aide Training. He said in an interview with the Sierra Leone News Agency [SLENA] that they had long prepared, submitted and repeatedly defended that Budget several months ago.
Even though it is pointless to state that much has ever come out from the double assurances of the Authorities, it is worthy of measure here that the delay in factoring the Funds to the Councils’ Bank Accounts is doing more harm than the intended good Plans to develop the District. Perhaps the inability of the District Health Management Team [DHMT] to actively participate in the fight against COVID -19 is hinged on the limited vehicles and motor bikes as there are no sufficient funds to repair and maintenance the bulk of them. But there is a more scary aspect which has to do with Diet or Food for Patients admitted at the Government Hospital. I am reliably informed that the person contracted for the supply or provision of Food to In- Patients was so much indebted that he or she had to abandoned the offer. It means any Patient admitted at the Government Hospital shall have to cater for him or herself otherwise …. People say this could be the most worrisome development that might provoke the immediate intervention of Government to ensure that Grants for Local and City Councils are paid without further delay. But is anyone going to be bothered at all