March 31, 2016 By Abu-Bakarr Sheriff
Only 60 to 70 percent of powers have been devolved to local councils since the re-introduction of local governance structures in Sierra Leone, according to Mayor of Freetown, His Worship Sam Franklyn Bode Gibson.
Speaking in a rare presser Tuesday, 29 March, in Freetown, the embattled Freetown mayor told journalists that education – from primary to senior secondary schools – peripheral health units, and agriculture were among their devolved powers.
“The devolution process has gone only about 60-70 percent along the line; devolved powers to council include education: we look after schools from primary to senior secondary schools; rehabilitated several schools and distributed science and sporting equipment to schools,” Mayor Bode Gibson told pressmen. “We also monitor public examinations and plan to distribute 2000 furniture to schools; only 500 have been distributed to various schools so far.”
Local Councils were re-introduced in Sierra Leone in 2004, more than three decades after they were abolished by the one-party dictatorship of Siaka Stevens. The Act that established local councils in 2004 earmarked powers which the central government should devolve to local councils.
But almost 12 years after their re-introduction, local councils around the country are still grappling with a lot of challenges, not least interference from the central government in their devolved powers.
Thus, during the Ebola outbreak for example, the Freetown City Council and other councils across the country were initially sidelined in the fight to defeat the virus, with dire human and economic consequences for the post-conflict nation.
More than 4,000 persons died eventually, while the economy, which was largely dependent on the booming iron ore trade and investor confidence, plummeted.
At the height of the Ebola outbreak, when Mayor Bode Gibson announced a moratorium on Sunday trading in the city, the central government kicked against the decision, only to turn around two weeks later to impose the same restriction.
When asked if he felt undermined or betrayed by the central government and whether he was happy on the job, he waxed philosophical: “I am happy with myself. The Ebola issue only went well when councils were called to strategise and intervene in wards,” he said and added, “a man’s glory dies in the hands of God, not men.”
Mayor Bode Gibson also lamented the state of lawlessness in the city, which used to be peaceful and pristine. Now with a population of almost two million, Freetown is a shadow of its former glory, with youth gangs perpetrating mayhem every now and then, debris littering streets and gutters, while street trading has overtaken the central business district and many hitherto residential areas.
In 2014, President Ernest Koroma announced “Operation WID”, which had as its objective to clear street traders from the central business district and to restore sanity in the city.
However, the operation failed woefully, with many blaming State House for putting political expediency ahead of the public good and benefit of clearing the streets of petty traders and restoring law and order.
According to Mayor Gibson, “Operation WID started in Lumley [in the far west end of Freetown], but by the time we came to Sani Abacha Street [in the central business district] I was told to stop!”
Although he refused to tell journalists who gave orders for him to stop, it is open secret that the presidency caved in to pressure and blackmail from the infamous Abacha Street traders, who picketed State House to urge the president to abandon the operation.
Mayor Gibson, who is known to be a disciplinarian, was determined to press on with the operation to clear the streets of Freetown, but his hands were apparently tied, as political higher-ups brought pressure to bear on him.
Consequently, the Operation was abandoned unceremoniously. He had this to say about the failed operation: “I can fight when it is physical, but when it’s political, it is difficult.”
Meanwhile, he said it was his vision to superintend over a “peaceful municipality”.