…an unending misunderstood battle
April 29, 2016 By Joseph S. Margai
Criticism that Members of Parliament and councils have been getting from their constituents for failing to deliver development projects in their constituencies and wards have left many of them scratching their heads as to why they opted to take up elective political office.
Such criticism has been brewing for almost 12 years since Act. No. 14 of 2004 re-introduction of Local Councils.
There are currently six municipal councils and 13 district councils, totaling 19 Local Councils nationwide. The six municipal councils include Bo City, Bonthe Sherbro Island, Kenema, Makeni, Freetown, and Koidu New Sembehun City Councils.
Local Councils are the highest political authority in the locality, and have legislative and executive powers that are exercised in accordance with the 2004 Act or any other enactment, and are responsible generally for promoting the development of the locality and the welfare of people in the locality, with resources at their disposal and those they can mobilise from the central government and its agencies, national and international organisations, and the private sector. (Section 20(1) of Act No. 14 of 2004)
Councils are also tasked by the Act to mobilise human and material resources necessary for the overall development and welfare of people in their locality, promote and support productive activity and social development in the locality, initiate and maintain programmes for the development of basic infrastructure and provide works and services in the locality, as well as be responsible for the development, improvement and management of human settlements and the environment, in the locality, and initiate, draw up and execute development plans for the locality. (Section 20 subsection 2 (1) a, b, c, d & e of Act No. 14 2004)
Before the advent of Local Councils, parliamentarians used to get what was known as constituency allowances (some amount of money that was used for development projects in their constituencies). When the councils were reintroduced, constituency allowances stopped being paid to Members of Parliament because all development projects were directed to the councils.
“Currently, the Members of Parliament have three main functions, which include law-making, representation and oversight. I will add one more to those that I have named, which is lobbying,” said Hon. Claude D.M Kamanda of constituency 95 in an interview with this reporter.
Hon. Claude Kamanda noted that they make the laws in the country, represent their constituents and talk on their behalf in the House of Parliament and also conduct oversight function on ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs).
In the area of lobbying, the ruling party lawmaker said MPs have the right to be lobbyists so that development projects would be realised in their constituencies. “Even though it is not the absolute responsibility of the MPs to take development projects to their constituencies, but they should lobby around donor organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to do so,” he said.
This new political arrangement stipulates that it is the statutory mandate of Local Councils and their councilors to take development projects to wards, constituencies, chiefdoms, cities, and districts where they are located and not Members of Parliament.
Over the years, there have been lots of complaints by constituents that their MPs have not failed to take development projects to their constituencies. As a result of these complaints, the relationship between some MPs and their constituents has been strained, with the result that many sober-minded lawmakers have lost their Parliamentary seats.
In Sierra Leone, the political trend at present is that Members of Parliament are elected based on their affiliation with certain political parties, which in turn have their strongholds in a given region. Many voters exercise their franchise based on the ‘political party ticket’ the aspirant chose to contest for.
Even if an aspirant has done many things or is capable of bringing development projects to their constituency, that person will only be elected if he/she belongs to a political party that commands acceptability in that constituency.
This parochial bias that the electorate has imbibed over the years is partly responsible for why many constituencies choose the wrong political representatives. If our constituencies are to develop, the electorate should not vote for political representatives based on their party affiliation; instead they should elect those that have the capability to facilitate development projects.
Lawmakers, according to Hon. Claude Kamanda, who is also the Chief Whip of the ruling party in Parliament, should be lobbyists. If MPs do not have requisite skills to lobby for development projects in their constituencies, their constituencies will not realise much in terms of development.
However, it is no secret that in our Sierra Leonean society, MPs make many pledges and promises in their campaign manifestoes, with the said pledges and promises sometimes having negative implications on them. They are the very ones that have ignited the blames that they are faced with in their constituencies. Some MPs make promises to construct public toilets, boreholes, schools, health posts, among others, and spectacularly fail to do so when they are elected to political office, thus leading to dissatisfaction and souring their relationship with constituents.
Councilors, on the other hand, have the mandate to facilitate development projects in their localities. They should be the ones that should assess constraints in their wards and table them at council meetings for redress. They should also engage their MPs to tell them what should be in place that are not in place.
In fact, it is clearly stated in Section 57 (a, b, c, and d) of the Local Government Act No. 14 of 20014 that Local Councils shall charge fees for the following: the use of markets, the use of bus, taxi, car or lorry parks, the extraction of fish, timber, sand and other building materials, as well as services provided by the councils. These fees should be used to deliver development projects to the people.
On the contrary, councilors have failed to assess and take note of their constraints and therefore there has not been much development projects in their wards since some of them were elected to represent their people.
In fact, many councilors, like MPs, were elected to political office based on the colour of the political party that they chose. They were not elected based on their capability and ability to deliver development projects.
This unending battle, which is misunderstood among MPs and their constituents, on one hand, and Local Councils and councilors on the other hand, has been brewing for many years now. For it to be won, MPs and Local Councils should engage in a collaborative effort to sensitise their constituents that all funds for the delivery of development projects have been directed to the councils. If this is done, MPs would be relieved from the many criticisms that have been levied against them by their constituencies.