April 21, 2015 By Jariatu S. Bangura
Councilors and staffs of Local Councils across the country have cried foul over low sitting allowances on the one hand, and the non-payment of National Social Security and Insurance Trust (NASSIT) benefits on the other hand after the end of their services.
Speaking to members of the Local Government Committee in Parliament yesterday, Councilor Moses Kalilu Fofanah of Ward 308 in constituency 88, Pujehun district, said they receive Le250,000 as sitting allowance, which amounts to Le750,000 quarterly. He described the amount as “embarrassing”, adding that they were not entitled to benefit at the end of their four-year term, neither do they receive rent nor health allowance, as in other jurisdictions.
“It is sad that some of us do two terms which is eight years, but after that we do not have end of year benefits as compared to those in the civil service. It is a shame for us to go back without anything to account for after all those years in governance,” he said. “It will dishearten you to know that some of us could not buy clothes to wear as we only have those that we wear during our swearing-in ceremony, which should not be but we are still working in the interest of our people and not material things.”
Councilor Fofanah said councilors across the country, who number over 400, do have access to loan for vehicles to facilitate their movement within their respective wards. He said they do not also benefit from capacity building which “will help us become future leaders if we want to contest as MPs or otherwise”.
He noted that one of their responsibilities is to mobilize revenue in accordance with sections 56 and 57 of the Local Government Act of 2004, but District Officers have usurped that function from them.
Councilor John Kalawa of Ward 359 in Constituency 100, Western Area, said being a councilor was a noble job no one should neglect as they provide education, agriculture, health services, among others, to their wards. He urged the Committee to take into consideration salaries instead of sitting allowances when reviewing the Act.
Councilor Kalawa noted that some councilors seldom have the time or opportunity to discuss issues with NGOs as many concentrate their activities in provincial towns instead of in the Western Area, and that even when projects are implemented in their constituencies they are not involved in the implementation phase as only community stakeholders and land owners are involved.
Speaking on behalf of staffs of councils across the country, Peter Bangura said they were also grappling with the same challenges as councilors as they are not recipients of terminal benefits like civil servants.
He said: “The issue of transfers [of staff] is becoming a menace across all councils and that is disturbing our work as we sometimes start a project and before the end of the project we are transferred to another council.”
He said staffs at local councils were still not being paid the slated minimum wage as Communication Officers are paid Le470,000, while an estimated 20% of council staff have quit their job because of poor conditions of service.
Deputy Chairman of the Committee, Hon. Abdul Salam Kanu, said the committee has noted their concerns which he added they had documented during oversight visits to councils, and have tabled those concerns to the House which now awaits debate.
“Having being a councilor, I do know the entire predicament you are going through. We as a committee have inserted all those challenges and we have tabled them in the House, and we hope that the ministry and other stakeholders will adhere and act in a responsible manner,” said Hon. Kanu.