By Jariatu S. Bangura
Members of Parliament have on Tuesday amended Section 5 of the Local Government Act and extended the tenure of office of councilors, mayors and chairpersons from four to five years.
The Minister of Local Government and Rural Development tabled the bill in parliament, which sought to extend the tenure of office of councilors, district chairpersons and mayors from four to five years, so as to reduce budget costs for elections.
Section 5 of both the Local Government Act 2004, and the Amendment Act 2016, provides for local council elections to be held every four years.
Subsection 2 of the said Act provides that where local council elections were due under Section 5, but localities have not been divided into wards following clause 2 of the Wards Boundary Delimitation Regulations 2008, Constitutional Instrument No 2 of 2008, “the President shall on the recommendation of the Electoral Commission and by statutory instrument, directs that each election be postponed.”
Section 3 of the said Act further provides that where the local council elections are postponed under sub-section 2, the tenure of the councilors shall be extended for a period not exceeding six months or until the Electoral Commission shall have divided the localities into wards, whenever is the earliest.
Minister of Local Government and Rural Development, Tamba Lamina, told MPs that the reason for the postponement was to save resources as the economy of the country was currently being embattled by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This has negatively affected revenue mobilization in the country. Evidence shows that the same amount of resources to be allocated for the conduct of the 2022 Local Council elections will be used in the 2023 general and presidential elections. Consequently, the government in its desire to minimize expenditure and maximize the efficient use of national revenue and other resources, has prudently reasoned the need to postpone the Local Council elections from 2022 to 2023,” he said.
He said the postponement will enable the country to expend revenue for the singular conduct of multiple (presidential and local council) elections in 2023.
Earlier contributing to the debate, Leader of the Coalition for Change (C4C) party in Parliament, Hon. Emerson Saa Lamina, said the bill before the House was appropriate and noted that had the then Minister of Local Government in the previous administration would have brought it to the House for discussion, MPs would not have been discussing it by now.
He said the postponement of the local council election was right in place because the process costs the government US$ 24million.
He urged that the parent Act be brought to parliament for an overhaul as it has so many lacunas.
On his part, Hon. Abdul Karim Kamara of the main opposition All People’s Congress (APC) from Kambia, argued that the extension of the tenure of local council elections based on the fundamental reasons advanced by the minister was as easy as saying that “we do not have money to run the next elections.”
He noted that he was taken aback on whether to amend the laws based on what the minister stated, which, he said, raised several unanswered questions.
Hon. Moses Jokie of the Sierra Leone Peoples Party (SLPP) recalled that the past APC government introduced the 444 system of elections and that all political parties supported and participated in the process, hence it high time it became a law in the country.
Hon. Daniel Koroma of the APC commended his colleague for reminding them of the 444 strategy which was a test case for the APC then, adding that the current Minister of Local Government was in Parliament for the amendment and approval of that strategy in the local government law.
“We are glad that you know it’s our baby. It was a test case, the only difference is that during our time we tested it twice and now the minister is here to make it permanent. Thank you Mr. Minister for making this amendment a permanent law, no more suspension and the term of all councilors, Mayor’s and Chairpersons now moves from 4 to 5 years, so the 444 will continue,” he stated.
Leader of Government Business, Hon. Matthew Nyuma, also commended his colleagues, stating that it was good that they were trying to bring a shift to the conformity of suspension of the law.
He said the frequent shift of the law brought to mind a lot of issues that will bring some problems to the country’s democracy, and now that the law was in parliament, it would be good to have a calendar date for elections.
He said they were hoping to look at the White Paper and determine a permanent date for general elections.
Presiding Speaker, Hon. Solomon Segepoh Thomas, said the House should note that as per law the country was already late for the election, stating that “because the laws are to be followed then we should be conducting local council elections next months, which is impossible. This nation cannot conduct elections next month or in the next months. There is no way we can cure a situation like this without an amendment.”
He added that, “If we decide to conduct the elections in 2023, without this amendment, it becomes illegality, except probably we decide to rely on the supreme executive power of the president to appoint chairmen, mayors, or councilors, otherwise, there is nothing that we can do about it and we do not want that as a nation. That to us will be undermining our democracy”.
He said there was nothing that they could do other than amend the law.
“If we say we are not going to do anything about this, then conducting local council elections after probably one or two months from now becomes illegality, which we cannot tolerate as a Parliament,” he reiterated.