January 28, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Grave diggers at four cemeteries in Freetown – Ascension Town, Circular Road, Kissy Road and Race Course – have complained that the Freetown City Council (FCC) has not paid them since November 2015.
Speaking to this reporter on condition of anonymity, one of the grave diggers said they were hired by the defunct National Ebola Response Centre (NERC) and FCC in August 2015 to dig graves for burial of Ebola corpses at the four cemeteries, which are in the west and east of Freetown, adding that the contract should end on 31 December, 2016.
“NERC used to pay the money to Freetown City Council because all cemeteries in Freetown belong to the council, and because we were always coming to clean and design graves for relatives of dead ones, the council deemed it fit to hire our services. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the council and we started to do what we were told to do,” the anonymous source claimed.
He further said that after receiving their pay in November last year they did not receive a cent in December, and that there is no hope they would receive payment for this January because none of the authorities has spoken to them about it.
“We have decided to organise a peaceful demonstration if we do not receive anything again this January,” he revealed. “Probably NERC has been paying but the council officials have been siphoning it into their pockets; we really cannot tell where the holdup is at this present moment.”
The same information about non-payment of salaries since November last year is re-echoed by grave diggers in all the four cemeteries, who have called on the government to quickly intervene before things get out of hands.
However, the Environment and Social Officer at the Freetown City Council, Sulaiman Zainu Parker, said the FCC owes nothing to the grave diggers as all of them had been paid their last salaries as per the termination date on their contract.
He disclosed that council has two sets of grave diggers – the regular ones who are deployed at the various cemeteries are paid by the council, while those that were hired by NERC to dig graves for Ebola corpses were paid through the council by NERC.
He recalled that when the government centralised the burial of Ebola corpses at the Kingtom cemetery, Concern Worldwide was paying grave diggers, but when the government later decided that Ebola corpses should be buried at various cemeteries in Freetown because of fear that the one at Kingtom was almost full to accommodate large number of Ebola corpses on a daily basis, council signed an MoU with NERC to be paying grave diggers at other cemeteries.
“The council in turn signed an MoU with the grave diggers, which states that the FCC is offering a monthly contractual agreement to them for the purpose of providing services in the cemetery. This agreement was never for two months or one year; when you do the work within 30 days you will be paid and it was to be renewed monthly based on behaviour, comportment and personal discipline,” he disclosed, adding that there was a projection by NERC that the Ebola situation would continue into 2016 although the outbreak ended in November 2015, and they were paid for that month.
Parker said the grave diggers were paid the sum of Le900,000 per month and provided with protective equipment like raincoats, boots and gloves, pointing out that the agreement did not cover terminal or social security benefits.
He added, however, that council officials have called and spoken to the aggrieved grave diggers and explained the situation to them, as they thought the contract was still alive.